Diamond geezer: Sebastian Errazuriz invents the digital-only gem

Is the Brooklyn-based artist's new venture an ingenious trolling of the NFT crowd — or a provocative jab at the diamond industry?

Imagine it’s a couple of years from now and you’re proposing to your partner. Tradition would have it that you get down on one knee and take out a ring with a socking great diamond on it. But what if, Instead of a ring, you pull out your phone — and with a nervous breath, show it to your beloved. On the screen, there’s a GIF of a gem, rotating slowly, luminescent and ethereal. Will she say yes?

This is the future that Sebastian Errazuriz wants you to think about. The Brooklyn-based artist has cut 100 diamonds that exist only in cyberspace — and is selling them online as non-fungible tokens in a pastiche of the real diamonds you’re supposed to spend three months of your salary on. According to Errazuriz, we are entering a brave new world of digital art in which we should question the value of our real-life possessions in favour of pixels.

Sebastian Errazuriz in his studio

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have exploded onto the art scene with all the force of a truck bomb. Last month, a digital work by an artist called Beeple, who draws cartoons for edgy sixth-formers, sold for $69.3m at Christie’s. Beeple’s oeuvre, if you could call it that, includes ‘Birth of a Nation’, which depicts Donald Trump breastfeeding a baby Biden, and ‘Wat’, a man performing cunnilingus on a roast chicken. Unfavourable interpretations of Beeple’s oeuvre would suggest he has eclipsed the great con artist of the 20th century, Victor Lustig, who in the 1920s sold the Eiffel Tower.

An NFT, if I’m getting this right, is a unique piece of digital media that comes with a certificate of authenticity embedded into it that looks like a string of numbers and letters – an unforgeable signature. This is stored in the Ethereum blockchain, the tech that powers cryptocurrencies. Fungible means exchangeable. Your copy of a Harry Potter paperback is fungible, but the signed edition you got for your 11th birthday is not. (There you are, down on one knee, babbling about fungibility, as the love of your life slowly starts backing away.)

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