In the city of Rome, ancient artifacts and art are not only part of the culture, it’s big business, a $50B+ business. Every year, millions of tourists arrive to see what many consider to be the birthplace of western civilization while many others come to participate in the art trade. When it comes to the exchange of such financial assets, art can be found in museums and private collections around the world. One of the big problems in this industry is proving and maintaining the authenticity of the pieces themselves as well as their ownership. Entire foundations work with auction houses, banks, sellers, and buyers to provide certifications of authenticity. Unfortunately, existing methods are still ripe with error and gaps despite being quite costly in terms of both time and money. We had the pleasure of interviewing some technologists and entrepreneurs that aim to eliminate the counterfeit art game and add efficiency to the entire industry. Founders Giorgio Fornara and Piercarlo Ravasio have devised a novel solution using organic genomic sequences to tie physical assets to digital NFTs. Here’s what they had to say:
A: Our parent company, Smart Labs, specializes in a number of technologies, blockchain being one of them. A few years ago, we identified a problem with authenticating ownership of valuable artifacts. Naturally, here in Rome, ancient artifacts are not only big business but have cultural importance. Currently, there’s nothing that can link a digital ID with a physical object. There are many foundations that go through lengthy, expensive processes to do their best to issue certifications, but it’s hard and limited. The problems that exist today because of that difficulty include theft, lengthy legal disputes over ownership, as well as a significant counterfeit market.
Not too long ago, another Mona Lisa was found creating a debate about which is the original, this one or the one in the Louvre. There is no technology to know which is the original, with certainty. They use various forensic tools but if a counterfeit was made roughly around the same time period and with similar paints, it’s anyone’s guess. Roughly 30 years ago, in Tuscany, about 4–5 wooden sculptures of women were found. Expert analysis tied these pieces to a well sought-after artist but a video surfaced later and showed the pieces were actually from modern counterfeiters. While this will continue to be a struggle when discovering older pieces, the time and expense of authenticating known pieces is still a massive part of the industry that we thought could be made faster and easier.
To us, it just made sense that there was some way to use blockchain and NFTs to solve this authentication problem. And we did. We’ve devised a way to use invisible genomic markers on physical artifacts, like a painting, and put that genomic sequence in a blockchain as a digital identifier. In short, we’re giving inorganic items unique biomarkers, or DNA, via NFT. There is genomic material that can be derived from some organic matter and put, invisibly, on the artifact. Once done, then it becomes easier and more valuable to track and leverage these assets for financial institutions as well as auction houses asking buyers to trust their ability to authenticate and transfer ownership. We’ve built an NFT platform to help facilitate this new evolution in proving authenticity and ownership of valuable artifacts, and it won’t require experts.
A: As far as the problem we are solving, it is the answer everyone wants. But as far as entering the market, it’s tough. There are well-established organizations that employ many people, especially in cities like Rome, that specialize in authenticating and certifying such a financial asset class. Our platform is quite revolutionary as once a piece of art is evaluated by humans and given its ‘DNA’, the process to authenticate and transfer ownership no longer requires experts.
A: Art Dealers and Auction Houses benefit by having certification of proof they and their customers can trust. Their buyers can be more confident that when they spend money, they’re receiving legitimate assets and now have an easier way to manage their assets. But, the ultimate buyers of our platform are financial houses specializing in the trade of such financial assets as well as museums, and various foundations that provide or need certifications of authenticity.
A: We are still new, but the demand from the community is there. The current method of proving the authenticity and ownership of art pieces is quite limited and expensive, which is why counterfeits are such a problem and why a lot of time and money is lost in legal disputes. The key is to simplify the process without adding completely new steps, which is exactly why we’ve partnered with the Rebus Platform.
A: Smart Labs EU is an innovative technology company and blockchain ledgers were of course immediately interesting.
A: I think blockchain is a technology that is changing almost everything. Perhaps slowly as we (as a community) work out how to use it effectively, but I believe we are approaching solutions that will be adopted quite rapidly. When it comes to trust in transactions, we (humans) have no better option. Not only will it bring about much greater trust, but it will add tremendous efficiency to all such transactions and proof of ownership. Blockchain will transform every business and personal process as we know it, and for the better.
A: (Chuckle) There are several reactions. Of course, on one end, we have people who think blockchain is some scam, and they just point to obvious short-term scams like $DOGE coins or similar. Then there are people on the other end that believe it will be transformative for human society, perhaps too strongly. The art community seems to be more functional. They understand the problems they have with authenticity and understand the value of a transaction ledger that cannot be corrupted. However, many don’t understand the technology and hesitate to be the first to try it and would prefer to be the second customers. The larger organizations dealing with this financial asset class (artifacts) are worth Billions and they are more tech-forward, as it secures their assets and business by reducing risk.
A: We met Rebus through mutual contacts, it was largely by chance. When we spoke with the Rebus team, it was clear to us that they were serious and shared our ethos, our values. Of course, Rebus’ goal to have various financial houses use their platform to deliver and manage blockchain-based assets overlapped directly with our audience and goals. From that standpoint, the business relationship benefit was obvious. Our major hurdle, as mentioned, was how to fit nicely inside existing processes without adding too many new steps. Rebus solves that problem for us.
(Piercarlo) A main point and focus of our platform is that we have full control over all the source code of the platform and guarantee the legitimacy of what we are doing. This is why the Rebus Platform’s requirements for complete chain sovereignty to satisfy Swiss Banking regulations were immediately interesting to us. They satisfy both the functions and regulatory requirements for what we are doing.
A: It’s always a tough thing to predict who will succeed and who will fail. The best we can do is to first validate that the problem being solved is actually a problem worth solving. Is it a big enough problem and will the solution actually work? Additionally, we look at the people behind the initiative. Do those people have the determination to drive forward? Do they have the expertise to do so? For us, the answers are ‘yes’ all around. We believe that there is a great need for a platform like Rebus, capable of elevating the entire market to seize the opportunities offered by advanced uses of blockchain technology as we have built with our bio-marker NFTs. A platform like Rebus enables the development of new applications with the potential to disrupt and improve processes in all industries, not just in finance. When it comes to the Rebus team, they have the vision, the focus, the professional quality, and the determination to meet their goal.
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