Born to Georgian nobility, Eleesa Dadiani grew up between Azerbaijan, Switzerland, Russia and Wales before moving to London and setting up Dadiani Fine Art gallery in 2009.
Nestled among the legacy galleries on Mayfair’s Cork Street, last year the space became the first UK gallery to accept payment in cryptocurrency, the digital-only currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.
But Dadiani trades more than just Russian masters and contemporary canvases for new-wave wealth. Last year, her brokerage – which enables high-net-worth individuals (HNWs) to buy luxury assets including jewels, supercars and property in cryptocurrency – facilitated the £4m sale of four F1 cars in Litecoin.
‘I was naturally drawn to the philosophy of crypto – a system that is borderless and completely decentralised, where central banks or governments can’t restrict or dictate the production and the flow of money,’ Dadiani tells Culture Trip. ‘As I learnt more about the crypto economy, where open-minded users can interact directly and autonomously, I saw the opportunities and potential of this new way of thinking.
‘Until recently, the vast majority of those who purchased crypto did so as an investment’, says Dadiani. ‘It was essentially a means of getting rich quick. What we are now seeing is a new international breed of buyer coming to the market. There are increasing numbers of HNWs who hold cryptocurrencies and, rather than just sitting on their investments, wish to use their cryptocurrencies to purchase tangible assets including supercars, bloodstock, real estate, superyachts and fine jewellery.’
But the global cryptocurrency market is currently too volatile to see widespread acceptance by merchants. The daily price movements would cause mayhem, and many luxury brands are hesitant to trade in the as-of-yet unregulated currency which has gained a reputation for being associated with the dark web and illegal activity.
‘The vast majority of luxury asset purveyors aren’t equipped to handle cryptocurrency transactions. If a purveyor doesn’t wish to accept cryptocurrency in payment, I work to facilitate these deals, converting the buyer’s cryptocurrency into fiat currency such as pounds or dollars,’ says Dadiani, who defends the legitimacy of her clients’ wealth.
‘My clients are international HNWs who wish to discretely purchase luxury assets,’ says Dadiani. ‘Many of them are Russian or Chinese, but I also have clients from Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. It’s a misconception to say cryptocurrency is anonymous source of wealth, because wallets, addresses and exchange movements are traceable through the blockchain and other means,’ says Dadiani.
‘Exchanges now have to do ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) checks on all users, so there will theoretically be a record of any one person’s transactions. Of the 1300+ coins in circulation today, there are a few that are untraceable but generally the vast majority can be traced.’
Dadiani also says she undertakes full KYC and anti-fraud due diligence checks her customers before any transaction.
‘While they may publicly remain anonymous, I know their identity,’ says says. ‘They may choose to transact in cryptocurrency because they have made huge gains from investing in it from the beginning, and now wish to spend it. It is also the most simple way to invest in another country due to its borderless nature. Naturally, this does mean that we have to be very stringent in our checks – to ensure that the origin of funds is legitimate. But it’s important to remember that criminals love dollars, pounds and euros just as much as cryptocurrency,’ she adds.
Still, cryptocurrency exchanges may soon face a regulatory clampdown in order to meet the same anti-money laundering standards as other financial institutions.
Speaking in early March, the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said that ‘the time has come to hold the crypto-asset ecosystem to the same standards as the rest of the financial system.’ While Dadiani’s unsure about the scope of potential future regulations, she hopes ‘common sense prevails’.
‘So much in this space has happened so quickly, and so the whole market – including the regulatory authorities – are trying to get up to speed. But cryptocurrency has so much potential, and suffocating it with overzealous regulation would, in my mind, be nothing short of a disaster.’