Earlier in the month, the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating story titled "Are Strads Really Worth the Price". The term "Strad" refers to the incredibly "iconic maker" Antonio Stradivari, who produced classical string instruments between 1664 and 1737 and is most famous for his violins. Today, these command many millions of dollars at auction. But what value do they really hold from a musical perspective compared with fully functional alternatives? The article cites a study from a British physicist, Colin Gough, noting that "Science has not provided any convincing evidence for the existence of any measurable property that would set the [these instruments] apart from the finest violins made by skilled craftsman today ... it is extremely difficult to distinguish between a particularly fine Stradivarius instrument and an indifferent modern copy.”
One wonders if there are some lessons here in the sourcing and design world today. I wonder what different premiums organizations are willing to pay -- and how it varies -- for a proven or established material when a substitute could be equally as effective. With the cost of a truckload of zinc nearly at that of the auction estimates of a lesser Stradivarious, perhaps it might be worth appealing to the "trained ear" of design engineers to explore different alloys and alternatives in certain applications.