• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 9:23am

Bling tones

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am

There aren't many cellphones that cost more than a brand new entry-level BMW. Then again, there aren't many that come encrusted with diamonds, 18-carat gold, platinum, rubies, titanium and space shuttle-grade ceramics.

Welcome to the rarefied air of Vertu, a brand of ultra-luxury phones that are so extravagantly priced that they make Louis Vuitton dog carriers seem almost modest.

An independent subsidiary of cellphone giant Nokia, Vertu was founded in 1998 with the intention of bringing the pinnacle of luxury and high living to the otherwise tech-focused realm of cellphones.

Vertu's principal designer and co-founder, Frank Nuovo, has said the company was established with the aim of raising the bar for what phones could achieve, both in terms of craftsmanship and durability.

'I didn't start this business to soak the phones in diamonds and jewels,' Nuovo told Wired. 'The concept is the same as a fine watch or a fabulous car. To be a true luxury product, you have to look at making something that doesn't have an 18-month shelf life.'

While people don't necessarily look for longevity in a cellphone (given the pace at which mobile technology evolves), luxury cars, watches and bags don't lose their usefulness in the space of a season, although changing fashion trends may render last year's Gucci bag gauche today.

It helps to think of Vertu phones as jewellery rather than as a costly cellphone. The company refers to its phones as 'instruments'.

Vertu's current range of phones includes the candy-bar style Signature line; the folding Constellation Ayxta; the Ascent line, 'inspired by icons of power, speed, performance and technologies such as stealth'; and the Constellation Quest smartphone, which debuted in October last year.

Prices in Hong Kong range from HK$79,000 for the most basic Constellation Ayxta and Ascent models to HK$860,000 for the top-of-the-line Signature model.

Vertu says all its phones are handcrafted and assembled. The care and precision exercised in making the phones is similar to the tailoring of a fine bespoke suit, it says. Both the Signature line and the Constellation Quest are built by just one member of a team of technicians, who engraves his or her signature onto the phone after it's completed.

Before being released from the factory, the company says, each phone undergoes a quality inspection including 400 tests to check everything from key clickability to screen brightness.

As with many luxury goods, Vertu phones are not about needs; they are objects of desire. For example, no one needs a phone whose skin is bejewelled with more than 1,000 diamonds or whose screen is made from virtually scratchproof sapphire that has been finished with diamond-tipped tools.

Yet, for a company that caters to the desires of its luxury-loving clientele, small details and flourishes are considered essential. Even musicality is taken into account, as every Vertu line features one-of-a-kind ringtones composed especially. The Signature line, for example, features music created by Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli that has been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Since the company's inception, Vertu has also teamed up with other high-end companies to create co-branded phones that exist at the crux of exclusivity. For example, the company joined with Italian carmaker Ferrari in 2007 to create a phone that cost GBP12,547 (HK$151,100), and, a year earlier, Vertu teamed up with French jeweller Boucheron to create 'The Cobra', its most expensive phone ever, costing an astonishing US$310,000.

Apart from jewels and high-end materials, one of the most unusual aspects of Vertu phones is their dedicated 'Vertu Concierge' feature. The service essentially functions as a 24/7 on-call personal assistant, ready to help you with life's little inconveniences.

Need to buy last-minute helicopter tickets from Hong Kong to Macau? No problem. Looking to reserve a table for 10 at Pierre on a Friday night an hour before you plan to eat? Vertu will try to help out.

Every Vertu phone has a dedicated button that connects you directly to the service, which is included free of charge for a year with every phone purchased and is available in nine languages, including Cantonese and Putonghua.

So who buys these cellular odes to wealth? David Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt are all reported to be Vertu owners, as are members of the Saudi royal family.

Rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri also apparently owns a Vertu. He recently tweeted that Vertu is one of his favourite phones, writing: 'Vertu is back at it! Utilising carbon fibre once again.'

Vertu phones seem to exist in an alternate dimension where the iPhone is a loathsome tool of the proletariat and vintage Dom Perignon is a daily tipple. The phones are both a status symbol and an aspirational purchase.

Do you need one? No, but you might very well want one.

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