Five years ago mobile phones were the latest rage. Today they are a commodity. But there still are ways to stand out from the crowd: Either by refusing to own a phone altogether, or by spending €3500 Euro for a Vertu.
Sleek and expensive: mobile phones for the rich and famous
It has become hard to impress people with a mobile phone lately. Getting a call on a trendy handset alone certainly won't do the trick anymore. The same goes for funky gadgets to pep up the drab phones like cameras, ring tones or messaging services. Soon after these are released, everyone appears to have them, and instead of being part of the handset avantgarde, the mobile phone afficionado is thrown back into the faceless pool of ordinary handset users.
But thanks to Nokia, there is a way for the handset lover to distinguish oneself from the masses. It is called Vertu and comes with a hefty price tag. The self-proclaimed "first luxury communication company" was launched two years ago as a spin-off by Nokia, the world's largest handset-maker. The ties to the Finnish mother company, however, are kept almost as secret as Vertu's sales or revenue figures. "We are not allowed to give any sales figure", Daniela Wübbeke, the company's spokesperson for Germany, told DW-WORLD.
Deep pockets are required to own a Vertu phone. The more affordable "Ascent" collection geared towards a younger clientele and launched this year comes in at €3500. The more expensive "Signature" collection starts at €5000 Euro for the regular handset and goes up to €24,000 for the platinum version. No camera, no video and no radio. What then, besides the price, makes a Vertu so special? "Each phone consists of 400 separate parts that are put together manually," explains Wübbeke.
Vertu tries to set itself apart by working with materials commonly not associated with handsets. "The leather we use for the phones stems from the same people that supply luxury carmakers Rolls Royce and Bentley." Other materials used are Liquidmetal, sapphire, ceramic, gold and silver. "Our phones last at least 15 to 20 years because we use only the best material and refined technology," says Wübbeke. Technology is also the reason Vertu phones lack features like cameras, WAP or GPRS. "Our first collection came without a color display, but as soon as the technology was refined enough, we gave all our customers the option of equipping their phones free of charge with a color display."
Another Virtu freebie for the first year is the Concierge button on every phone. By pushing it customers are put through to a 24-hour hotline that attends to the callers needs. Whether it is a hotel reservation or getting tickets for otherwise sold out events, the Concierge service will try to fulfil requests Vertu owners like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow or David Beckham may have.
While some female celebrities are Vertu customers, the majority of Vertu owners, at least in Germany, are male, says Christine Meister, who runs the luxury jeweller store Brahmfeld & Gutrof on the ritzy German resort island Sylt. "Men, especially those you also enjoy luxury cars, like Vertu more than women do," she points out. "Many of our customers already own a Rolls Royce. For them a Vertu phone is a similar status symbol, and by having it, they possess something that other people don't."
However, success in this market is anything but certain. Just consider the fate of so called fashion-phone Xelibri from Siemens. The claim that "Xelibri lives on a totally different planet from the technology driven mobile phone brands that exist today" was validated a week ago, when Siemens pulled the plug on the brand after only two collections. According to media reports, the demand for models like the Xelibri 6 that let's one "talk on the phone and apply makeup simultaneously" was weak.
Vertu's future looks bright, insists Wübbeke. "We have so many orders for our new collection that we have to run extra shifts to speed up production."