How Cryptocurrency Went Luxury
As the value of Bitcoin has soared, now-wealthy early adopters are looking for ways to spend their digital money – and the luxury market is the place to do it. Olivia Marks explores the world of cryptocurrencies and the super-rich n May 22 2010, Laszlo Hanyecz, a computer programmer in Florida, put out a request on an online forum: in exchange for two pizzas, he would give someone the princely sum of 10,000 Bitcoin (BTC). Back then, the recently developed digital currency had virtually no value in the real world – those 10,000BTC amounted to around £30 – but the sale would mark the first time Bitcoin had been used to purchase something, crossing over from the cyber realm into the physical one. An anonymous Brit took up Hanyecz’s offer, put in an order to Papa John’s and took receipt of the Bitcoin. The value of that deal today? At the time of writing, about £48 million.
Eight years later, and the type of transactions being made using cryptocurrencies are, unsurprisingly, less gimmicky and a whole lot more serious – on every level. As the value of Bitcoin has soared many early adopters have become extremely wealthy and are looking for ways to convert their digital money into something more tangible. The luxury market is the natural place to do it.
Of course, Bitcoin has not always been linked with Canalettos and couture. In its early days, Bitcoin gained a reputation for being used to purchase illicit goods – drugs, weapons, pornography – on the so-called dark web, with the ability for traders to remain anonymous being an obvious pull. But a shady status is exactly what a new breed of highly glamorous international crypto dealers are hoping to shake off.
This is where Eleesa Dadiani comes in. From her smart gallery in Mayfair, the fine art dealer turned crypto broker operates the recently launched Dadiani Syndicate; a platform that enables owners of cryptocurrencies to invest in the rarefied worlds of fine art, rare cars, precious stones and property, effectively turning their digital fortunes into hard assets. Dadiani’s role is to “simply act as a conduit between buyer and dealer”, she tells me in a soft Russian accent, ahead of voluminous chestnut hair swept back from her face, fur hat sitting on the glass table between us. By forging relationships with a number of luxury dealerships, she is able to facilitate sales by converting cryptocurrencies into real-world – AKA, fiat – money (she will take her commission in either, of course).
Until now, this process hasn’t been so easy. Cryptocurrencies (like Hoover, Bitcoin has become a byword for the entire domain – Ethereum, Litecoin, and Ripple are just three other prominent digital currencies that people are trading in) might be reaching the mainstream, but it can’t be exchanged for goods with the tap of a card. While it has steadily increased in value, Bitcoin is still incredibly volatile (it can – and does – plummet as fast and dramatically as it rises), making it an understandably unattractive proposition for traditional businesses.
Dadiani, a scion of Georgian nobility, first opened her gallery in 2014. Then, last June, having been dabbling in the crypto space, she started officially accepting Bitcoin for art – on the day we meet, everything on the walls can be bought in crypto. Her first major sale, however, was to a gentleman in China who wanted a fleet of Formula 1 cars (supercars, it turns out, are catnip to the crypto set) to the tune of £4 million.
Nothing is off limits – as long as you have the funds to pay for it. Anything under a million, however, is not worth her while, she tells me when I ask if she could source me, say, a rare Hermès bag? “Smaller trades? It’s not my interest,” she sighs. “I don’t want to choose more than 20 to 25 clients at any given time. With that I’m not going to be running around for a £200,000 bag. It just takes a lot of legwork.”
In New York, Elizabeth White is the founder of luxury crypto concierge service the White Company (not to be confused with the British high street candle pedlars). The former LVMH and Formula 1 executive says that she is fielding calls 24 hours a day from clients in South Korea, Canada, China and the UK, all looking to spend the contents of their digital wallets. Her website lists an inventory including one-of-a-kind Peter Beard artwork, gold bars, superyachts and limited-edition Rolexes, all ready and waiting to be bought with crypto.
Whether it’s securing an executive suite at a sold-out sports game or 100 MacBooks, White can make it happen. Take the painting by American artist Mark Flood, “Select a Victim”, which became the first piece of contemporary art to be purchased in America using Bitcoin. It sold for 12.3BTC (about £59,000). “This was not a public offering to all my clients,” White tells me from her office in Manhattan. “I sent the buyer the image, the provenance and a few links on Mark Flood. Immediately he responded that he had to have it.”
In fact, art dealers are especially curious about the possibilities of Bitcoin, as the cryptocurrency system works via a series of hard-to-hack digital blockchains that can help provide rock solid provenance. But there are fun trinkets to be had too: Lamborghinis, beach houses, diamonds, and perhaps, one day, hard-to-find fashion. “It’s a significant customer overlap that would be spending in the luxury world,” White tells me. “Some people are purchasing crypto just to get access to the items we sell.”
Meanwhile, Dadiani believes she and her peers are “demonstrating that cryptocurrency isn’t synonymous with money laundering and arms”. Nevertheless, anonymity is still highly prized in the crypto space. White and Dadiani both insist that their clients should be treated like any other high-net-worth individual. “A lot of people don’t want the world to know what they’re spending their money on,” says White. “You never know what’s inside anyone’s house or garage.”
“I don’t see it as anonymity, it’s privacy,” agrees Dadiani. (It’s an understandable stance when you consider the case of the couple who, earlier this year, were held hostage in their Oxfordshire home and forced to transfer Bitcoin at gunpoint, in the first heist of its kind in the UK).
So the question remains, can the luxury sphere truly embrace cryptocurrency? “Cryptocurrency is pretty sexy, it’s the newest thing,” says White. “It’s like when dot com started, everyone started making websites. Now everyone’s building coins and tokens. It’s still in the early stages, but the masses are taking to it and they are buying to use. Not to hold.”
Article courtesy of www.vogue.co.uk