A 316-year-old violin once owned by Catherine the Great is now an NFT

5 June 2024, 16:22 | Updated: 5 June 2024, 16:38

An 18th century Stradivarius violin, once owned by Catherine the Great, has been tokenised and is now an NFT.
An 18th century Stradivarius violin, once owned by Catherine the Great, has been tokenised and is now an NFT. Picture: Tarisio / Alamy

By Siena Linton

The violin, worth over $9 million, has been ‘tokenised’ by a tech company in order to ‘unlock its value’.

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A 316-year-old Stradivarius violin once owned by the Russian empress Catherine the Great has been made into an NFT (Non-Fungible Token) by tech company Galaxy Digital Holdings LP.

After being bought at auction for over $9 million last year by Hong Kong-based entrepreneur and investor Yat Siu, the violin itself and its NFT counterpart are now both held as collateral for a multi million-dollar loan to Siu.

The tokenisation is the first of its kind, and allows the instrument’s value to become more readily available. Galaxy Digital’s website says the move “can enhance liquidity significantly”, and ensures reliable record-keeping for the ownership of such a historic instrument.

What’s more, they say, “blockchain technology can merge the physical art world with the digital world, opening up new possibilities – from trading to lending, from asset management to fractional ownership of real world assets.”

This means that, if Siu decides it, it could become possible for others to invest in a part of the violin, although no formal plans currently exist as such. The violin itself will be kept securely by a custodian, in Hong Kong.

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Siu himself has a musical background. Born in Vienna in 1973, Siu’s mother was an orchestral conductor and his father a performing musician. He attended Vienna’s Music and Arts University (formerly the Conservatory of Vienna), where he studied cello, flute, and piano.

He then embarked on a career in technology and computing, but today remains connected to the music world through his role on the advisory board of the BAFTAs and as a director of the Asian Youth Orchestra.

Siu said of his new venture: “As a technologist with a background in classical music, this is a very special moment for me. The 1708 Empress Caterina Stradivarius violin is the first instrument of such storied origin to undergo tokenization.

“I am thrilled to help trailblaze this new economic model for unique assets while at the same time preserving and sharing a precious piece of history.”

Despite a laudable musical background, Siu’s pales in comparison to that of the violin he has just tokenised. The ‘Empress Caterina’ was crafted by the Italian master luthier Antonio Stradivari during his ‘Golden Period’ in 1708.

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According to the 19th-century luthier Alfred Hill, of the prestigious W.E. Hill & Sons workshop, the violin can be traced back to the Russian Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, who left it to Catherine the Great – after whom it is now named.

Since its ruling class roots, the violin has passed through the hands of Russian aristocrats, a collection of European violinists, a coffee impresario, radiologist, and a tropical fish expert, before finding itself in the Tarisio auction house, where it was bought by Siu.