We sat down with Yan Walther, who specialises in condition reporting and scientific art analysis – a service recommended by the Natural Le Coultre group.

What services does SGS Art Services offer ?

Y. Walther :  We primarily prepare condition reports and provide scientific analysis of artworks. As the term suggests, these reports describe an artwork’s condition at a specific point in time, at a specific location. They are performed by conservators, who visually inspect the artwork, examine the work under UV light and document findings photographically. Condition reports are used during logistics operations such as transporting, warehousing and exhibitions. They may also be required in connection with insurance policies or an art sale. The purpose of condition reports is to uncover damage, reveal any previous restoration work and determine possible fragility. We offer several types of reports depending on whether a work of art is being sold or merely moved. It also depends on the type of artwork itself, which may be a three-dimensional object, painting, paper-based work or exhibit incorporating audio or video.

Scientific analysis is performed in a laboratory using state-of-the-art technology, such as stereomicroscopy, infrared reflectography, X-ray radiography and X-ray fluorescence. These techniques help determine an artwork’s authenticity or age, uncovering possible forgeries.

Your division opened its doors as recently as 2015. Where and how do you offer your services ?

Y. Walther :  Yes, the Art Services division was founded in April 2015, but our team already had several years of collective experience under its belt. We have not wasted any time developing our global condition-reporting business, which we already offer in key art hubs such as New York, London and Geneva. We are also working on expanding to Paris and Brussels by the end of the year. Next stop will be major cities in Asia. Our Geneva-based scientific-analysis laboratory is also up and running. Because the equipment is mobile, this unit can travel anywhere. It is currently working outside Switzerland. Additionally, we plan to launch scientific analysis services in New York and London this autumn in cooperation with local experts.

How do your services fit into the big picture at SGS ?

Y. Walther :  What we do lies at the heart of SGS’s line of business, which is to provide independent inspection, analysis and certification on a broad range of products, from several different industries, all over the world. It is quite a profitable niche, because – as I’m sure you know – the art market is really taking off. The volume and overall value of art transactions have skyrocketed in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, it is also a market that sorely lacks industry standards. But it just so happens that SGS boasts an excellent track record in improving information and encouraging self-regulation in many business segments. Our stringent procedures and renowned “SGS reports” have become de facto standards in several industries and areas of activity. We are convinced that the art world is ready to step up to this new level of professionalism. Last but not least, the SGS group stands firmly behind us, and there is a lot of interest and support for these new and – let’s admit it – rather remarkable services.

Are you worried about drawing the ire of art conservators, whose job it is to report on the condition of artworks ?

Y. Walther :  Not at all! We made sure that we surveyed the market thoroughly before launching our services. Today we have a growing network of carefully selected conservators with whom we partner in the key art capitals I mentioned before. And we are actively working on keeping this momentum going. It is a win-win situation: clients have access to a top-notch global network and standardised reports all from the same source, while conservators benefit from SGS-developed software to prepare condition reports more efficiently. Our network attracts quite a lot of business, so most of the experts we reach out to sooner or later join us. Forging ties with us allows them to offer their client base a new service. And let’s not forget that a conservator’s core business is restoring artwork, which we are not involved in at all, leaving the market wide open.

Who can use SGS Art Services, and how are services priced ?

Y. Walther :  SGS Art Services are aimed at anyone with an involvement in the art market. We work with collectors, art galleries and auction houses as well as insurance firms, museums and logistics companies. Our prices are very competitive, especially when you take into account the added value that SGS offers. A basic condition report in Geneva costs CHF 250 per work of art. This is a reasonable price for any valuable item. And it is worth remembering that a meticulous condition report can, for example, help a collector and their insurance firm identify damage that occurred during transportation or while a work of art was on loan. Hence they can determine when the damage occurred and under whose watch. Alternatively, condition reports can give a prospective buyer an independent assessment of the condition of artwork on sale, with potentially substantial price implications.

What can clients expect from a condition report ? What techniques do you use ?

Y. Walther :  Basically, a condition report is a visual inspection supplemented by systematic photographic documentation. The only “scientific” instrument used is a UV lamp, where appropriate. This differs from laboratory analysis, which is much more sophisticated and uses several methods combined. The true added value of an SGS Art Services condition report lies in our rigorous, standardised methodology, thanks to which reports can be compared throughout an artwork’s lifetime. We commission licensed conservators who have received training from us and who use our proprietary software to manage operations effectively. The entire process is digital – no more papers getting lost during a move. We also offer our network partners and clients a dedicated access platform to ensure the traceability of all documents while maintaining full confidentiality.

Have you received any feedback on your Art Services ? Are clients satisfied ?

Y. Walther : We have received excellent feedback from our initial clients, who claim that our reports were produced faster, cost less and were better quality than previous reports they’d received. They also like that our reports are traceable and delivered in a secure, electronic format. Because our reports are standardised, many clients applaud how easy it is to compare them before and after transportation, for example. But instead of resting on our laurels, we are constantly adapting our software to the experience we garner. Our laboratory analyses have also been well-received on the market, which has been keen to welcome a global group with an outstanding reputation in this, at times, sensitive field.

Yan WaltherYan Walther

Managing Director of the Art Services division of SGS, the Geneva-based world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 85,000 employees, SGS operates a network of more than 1,800 offices and laboratories around the world.