BY ALEX CAPON NEW techniques for the scientific ‘fingerprinting’ of ceramics may soon become more practical for the trade to use.

This is because the latest research methods have developed a laser process to obtain the chemical material for analysis that leaves no visible trace on the object.

The Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) process, developed by Professor John Watling and his assistant Emma Bartle at the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Western Australia, has been used to analyse the glaze, pigment and body of Japanese ceramics. It allows them to record a profile of about 45 elements of the ceramic material, which can indicate the geographic location and even the kiln where the object was fired.

The laser process leaves a hole approximately 100 micrometers in diameter and 50 micrometers deep – not noticeable to the naked eye. This will make little difference to the base of objects which have touched the kiln floor, as the holes they acquired during firing are significantly bigger than those resulting from the analysis.

The process follows news of similar experiments carried out by another team in Australia at the University of Queensland (featured in ATG No 1709, October 8). However, in the latter case, the samples were obtained through a drilling a tiny hole in the object.

Both teams of scientists spoke of how establishing a database of chemical compositions for different regions and historical periods would be the ultimate goal of this research. They also agreed that it could be a serious tool in uncovering fake porcelain.

Professor Watling told ATG: “There is a lot more work to be done but thus far it is extremely promising indeed.

“The research is only four years old and so we have not looked at every source of porcelain. But so far we have been able to relate the ceramic component of the material that we have investigated to specific quarry sites.”

He said that further research to make the process more robust would have to be undertaken before, for example, the techniques could be used to validate ceramic objects in a legal dispute before a court.

Deputy chairman and director of Asian Art at Bonhams Colin Sheaf said that he believed these advancements could lead to new ground rules for the trade in authenticating antique ceramics. “It’s the shape of things to come,” he told ATG.

Bonhams have now invited Professor Watling to deliver a keynote lecture on the subject at their New Bond Street premises as part of the Asian Art in London week on November 7.

Free tickets are available for the event. To book, please contact Christine Mitchell on 020 7468 8248.