Support 110 years of independent journalism.

The blockchain bubble wants to sell you a very expensive watch

You can’t see it, you can’t wear it, you can’t use it to tell the time, you have to share it with hundreds of other people. Opening bids please!

By The Chatterer

Since 1996, the Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has told its customers: “You never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”  

This is one of the most brilliant lines in advertising, because it takes the unbelievably vain act of spending a five-figure sum on a watch that tells the time as well as a £20 Casio, and says: don’t worry, big fella. You’re doing this because you’re a Great Dad. It’s not jewellery – it’s a responsibility you’re taking on for your family. You did good champ! 

Of course, the real value of such an investment is in having people notice your expensive watch and not you, and especially not the echoing void where your personality should be. But what if your family pester you to invest in other, less flash assets, such as food? 

Fear not. There’s a whole new way to not really own a Patek Philippe: the blockchain, of course! In an auction beginning at 5pm on 18 November, SM-ART, a platform that trades in non-fungible tokens (NFT) and non-fungible assets (NFA), is selling a Patek Philippe Nautilus, which the owner considers to be worth $120,000, to 920 lucky buyers all at once.  

So, to be clear: this is an auction to pay real money for a thousandth of a watch that someone else bought six years ago in Dubai, and which is now in storage. No, you don’t get to wear it.  

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. Sign up directly at The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Sign up directly at Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

This is a long way from being the stupidest NFT. You can spend $1.7m on a picture of a rock someone took off a free clipart website if you want.  

However, it does come with terms and conditions that caught the Chatterer’s eye, especially: “The co-owners of an artwork are not entitled to take any decisions concerning the exit of said artwork.” By “exit”, they mean “the sale of a co-owned artwork”, in which “all the shareowners are proportionally liquidated”. 

Content from our partners
Strengthening the UK's clinical trial ecosystem
Ageing well with technology
"Homesharing helps us get a better work-life balance"

So technically SM-ART, or whoever they appoint as “manager” of the watch (fractional owners don’t get a say in that either), could decide to sell it for, say, £10 rather than $120,000, making each fraction worth a nice round 1p.  

Right now there is no suggestion this would happen, and every chance those fractions will go up in price, because people are paying huge sums for NFTs at the moment – money no longer seems real, people are piling money into technical and financial innovations they don’t fully understand and when has that ever gone wrong?