Having sent the pictures of your items for authentication, have you ever wondered who is the mysterious person behind the scenes who returns a verdict on the item's authenticity?
Today we'll dive deep into who are designer handbag authenticators and more to the point, what skills and knowledge they must have in order to authenticate luxury bags, sneakers, sunglasses and other accessories from brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci etc professionally.
How To Become A Certified Authenticator?
Designer bag authentication is quite a gray area.
If luxury brands were checking their preloved items at the official boutiques, it would have been much more simple. The manufacturer's verdict on their item would certainly be hard to contradict.
In reality, authenticating luxury handbags is certainly not as straightforward as becoming a lawyer for instance (no hard feelings, straightforward doesn't mean simple).
Nowadays, there's no official entity who certifies authentication professionals.
However, you can learn from experience and from your peers. Experience is your best teacher. Here's what you need to know to gain this experience.
6 Must-Haves to Authenticating Luxury Items
Being an authenticator of luxury handbags is an extremely demanding role. You are daily involved in the high-cost transactions between buyers and sellers, meaning you're constantly responsible for someone's money. And you don't want to make a mistake.
While the job may seem easy from the outside, its hidden part implies that each authenticator must have knowledge of a variety of different aspects.
Let's examine the aspects one by one.
1. Years of hands-on experience with authentic handbags
This is a must. Not only should the person be familiar with authentic handbags in general, he or she must have proven experience with the brand that they are verifying. One needs to know what each item under examination is supposed to look in real world.
Where do people typically gain such experience?
Former sales assistants definitely have vast experience with luxury brands' authentic items, however, they are not trained by the fashion brands to tell authentic handbags from fakes. Thus, not all former sales assistants are good authenticators.
Collectors and lovers of preloved luxury are a better option generally because they live and breathe secondhand marketplaces and are extremely interested in having peace of mind after spending a few thousands of dollars or euro on a vintage collectible.
Vast experience is a solid basis for developing the gut feeling, a key factor in authentication. One of my favorite books is ‘Blink’ from Malcolm Gladwell. In the beginning of the book there’s a story on how Getty Museum authenticated an old ‘kouros’ statue, which was supposedly about 5000 years old but turned to be a replica. What’s interesting, at first glance various experts had a feeling that something isn't right about this statue but all of them failed to explain why.
You need to train your eye and develop a gut that will help you on a daily basis. Collecting your own database is the next step.
Over the years, we have collected a database with thousands of authentic handbags and replicas. This database is updated on a daily basis.
2. Advanced experience with luxury replicas
It may seem that having vast experience with authentic items is enough to authenticate luxury items. Yet knowing how to authenticate means, unfortunately, having to spend time on numerous websites / Instagram pages of replica manufacturers and physical shops that sell replicas.
As an authenticator, while you’re checking an item against authentic items, at the same time you must also check it against replicas. I used to think I know everything. That was before I saw several fakes that were almost identical to authentic items, up to the tiniest detail.
Knowing your enemy is crucial for being able to know the difference.
3. Knowledge of the brand's timeline
Knowing the brand timeline is different from hands-on experience. You get hands-on experience when you work with the items physically, meanwhile knowledge of the brand history means you need to be aware of all the collections, collaborations in the past 50 years at least.
It’s important to stay up-to-date with regards to the following aspects:
- All collections (vintage and new) and their years of production
- All limited editions (vintage and new) and their years of production
- Years of production of most popular handbags and their nuances
- Fonts, date codes, serial numbers and other distinguishing features typical for every time period
4. Knowledge of very rare items and exclusions
Once you learn the key principles of authentication, one of the most important rules when it comes to practice is to avoid generalization. There are general principles that luxury brands like Chanel or Louis Vuitton use in crafting their purses such as using the same fonts or a certain type of date codes/serial numbers.
However, there are also exclusions to general rules. An exclusion means that the general principles cannot be applied to this specific items due to numerous reasons.
A lot of amateur authenticators might not be aware of the scary replicas' resemblance to original items and may deem an item authentic based on 'general rules'. This cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. In a nutshell, it results in one's overestimation of their own abilities.
The systematic error concerns their tendency to greatly overestimate their competence or to see themselves as more skilled than they are.
‘I know that I know nothing Plato’ said. That still holds true today.
5. Knowledge of typical signs of wear
As all the items are used, they all have signs of wear. Knowing what real materials look like (both new and used) is a key skill for an authenticator.
Knowledge of typical signs of wear is required when, for instance, item's leather looks authentic, yet there is hardware that doesn't seem to be real due to suspicious signs of wear. An authenticator therefore is able to identify if some parts (hardware, straps etc) were replaced.
If you think about it, there are various secondhand items in the world. A good example would be antiques and art. For someone who does antiques attribution and appraisal being able to examine the wear and tear is essential and in some cases it's the wear that gives the appraiser a hint about the age or provenance of an item.
6. Knowledge of Scam Strategies
If you’re haven’t been through several scams, it’s hard to protect other people from them as you might not be aware about the risks that your customer is facing.
Our goal is far beyond looking at a few pictures and providing our opinion. We are looking for hidden patterns and eventually we just want to protect our customers from scams. If we notice something suspicious in the pictures or in the listing provided by the customer, it’s our responsibility is to warn the customer that this transaction may entail undesirable consequences.
A good authenticator will protect you from copycats along with a variety of other scams.
So how do you become a designer handbag authenticator?
Now that you know what you need to know to have to become an authenticator, it's time to think whether you want to make it your career.
Being a luxury items' authenticator is an interesting profession. If you'd love to become an authenticator, check out our courses below.
Please note that each course has a different level (from Basic to Advanced) so choose an option accordingly.
We also can offer custom trainings on learning authentication. Email us at email@example.com with your request and we'll accommodate it at our earliest convenience.