The Internet has forever changed the world of doing business in art

How has the Internet affected the world of art, antiques and jewelry? The real question is how has it not?

We can all agree that in the 21st century, things move at a rate exponentially faster then they did in the past. It becomes commonplace for inventions and innovations to be so ingrained and so part of normal operating bases as to be taken for granted.

One of the most radical and progressive inventions of humankind was the printing press. It probably took one or two hundred years (or even longer) for most of the world to become “matter-of-fact” about printed books. Another such monumental invention, in more recent times, was the World Wide Web and Internet. This is an invention that has radically changed most all of our lives, most all of our businesses and has created the greatest number of opportunities as well as pitfalls for human kind since the invention of fire.

Just last night at the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles, there was an event celebrating 25 years of the Gem & Mineral Council, a membership group connected with the museum. About 150 people were in attendance who were involved in the buying, selling and collecting of minerals, gems and jewelry. At our table was a world famous jewelry designer and various mineral experts as well as an “old time” miner.

The conversation turned to how things have changed and I boldly proclaimed to all that the Internet has changed completely how gems, minerals and jewels are bought and sold or learned about. What I said literally was that “the Internet” has totally changed the playing field.

There isn’t anything you can’t find on the Internet. If you want to know how much a pair of 1-carat diamond studs might cost for your wife’s birthday, you have hundreds to choose from online. If you want to know about the recent mining of a mineral in Tanzania, all the data is available. If your grandmother passed away and left you an Art Deco platinum and diamond bracelet, you can shop it online. Literally there is hardly anything that can’t be done online that needed to be done in the old days through personal contact in a store, through glossy photographs, and through various and sundry antique shows, etc.

If a client wants to see pictures of a piece of jewelry, your “megapixel high definition camera” will download the image and you can e-mail it and it will arrive in moments. If you are looking to buy that pair of earrings for your wife but want to see the Gemological Institute of America report, it can be scanned and sent to you immediately. If you want a three-dimensional view of the mineral specimen, there are cameras and programs now that can do this rapidly and cheaply. I could go on and on, but you all know what I am talking about.

Each and every day, there are millions of items related to antiques, jewelry and gems being sold online and millions and millions of viewers looking. Let’s go one step further. Where are these viewers located? Where are these sellers located? The answer is “anywhere and everywhere” on planet Earth. And even in what you might call “Third World” countries or countries with restrictive governments, there are public Internet cafés. And even where there are now high speed or Wi-Fi connections, there are still modems and on my many travels I have seen people hook their laptops up to their cell phones for dial-up connections. It truly is a World-Wide-Web.

In my own business of antique auctions, our client base has become fully international and you might say, more Web-based than the norm for auctions in the past. Inquiries come from all over the world when people view our online catalogs. With our online bidding platform, we have clients all over Asia, Europe, Canada, South America, Australia, South Africa and even one in a weather station near the North Pole who can sit and relax, with a cup of coffee, in his pajamas, watch the auction and bid just by clicking the mouse. The most interesting part of all this is that now-a-days we all consider this “the norm.” ?

Isadore M. Chait, owner of the I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills, has been a dealer of Asian and fine art for more than 40 years. He is also an appraiser, and auctioneer of Asian and fine arts.

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