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.
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”.
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?