An international award scheme set up two years ago has honoured Cranfield University’s programme of research into art market fakes and forgeries.

Shortlisted with three other nominees for the 2012 Annette Giacometti Prize, the Bonhams-sponsored project, led by Professor Andrew Shortland, has developed an increasingly sophisticated trace element analysis to identify small differences in very rare elements within an object. From this, the university can build up a database of objects allowing it to use comparisons to identify fakes, most notably in the world of ceramics and Chinese art.

Launched in 2011, the Annette Giacometti Prize is designed to recognise initiatives helping to raise awareness about the counterfeiting of artworks.

 At the awards ceremony at the Paris UNESCO headquarters on April 26, the judges awarded the project a grant of €10,000 to fund conferences on counterfeit art, held in museums and aimed at the general public.

The main prize went to German investigative journalists and authors Stefan Koldehoff and Tobias Timm for their investigation into the Beltracchi-Jaegers fake paintings case, with other nominees including Markus Eisenbeis, owner of Van Ham auction house and president of the German auctioneers association BDK, and his Database of Critical Works, which is used to combat counterfeiting, and Thomas Seydoux of Christie's France for his November 2011 conference Unbelievable but Fake - the Art of Counterfeiting.

Sebastian Kuhn, of Bonhams' British and European porcelain and pottery department, initiated the relationship with Cranfield in 2009, when he asked Professor Shortland to research a piece of European porcelain and test it for authenticity.

Within a year Cranfield were able to expand their research into European porcelain by creating a PhD post for Kelly Domoney and Bonhams looked to widen the project's remit to cover Asian art with the support of deputy chairman Colin Sheaf and a three-year funding deal.

Since then the university and auction house have worked together to produce research papers and a lecture programme in partnership with Harvard, Winterthur and the Chicago Institute of Art.

Last year it meant that Bonhams were able to publish Kelly Domoney's research on the subject in a Bonhams catalogue for the first time, announcing the testing of the whole Helmut Joseph collection, and announcing for the first time a clear division between the 18th and 19th century Meissen snuffboxes.

Mr Sheaf toldATG: "This award has come at a very early stage in our research programme which shows just how valuable the results are likely to be for the whole industry in due course.

"We are very optimistic that this will bring one element of art authentication into the 21st century."