Step aside for luxury mobiles

It’s all go for the world’s most expensive mobile phone

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By  John Irish Published  March 31, 2004

What do celebrities David Beckham, Gwenyth Paltrow and Madonna all have in common? They possess a Vertu phone. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t panic. This is not your run of the mill street communication tool. The Vertu phone, which recently entered the Kuwaiti, UAE and Qatari markets, is the telecommunications equivalent of a Cartier watch. The idea behind this instrument, as the company likes to refer to it, is a phone catering more to the luxury goods buyer than just a mere tool for communications. The handset is handcrafted like the best Swiss watches, featuring sapphire crystal screens and ruby bearings, and is available in stainless steel, 18 carat yellow or white gold and platinum. As for price, it’s not your average retail mobile. This ‘instrument’ ranges from Dhs25,000 (US $6,800) to over Dhs115,000 ($31,300). “Vertu will appeal to people who like crafts, luxury watches and who want nice accessories, not just rich people who have money,” says Alexandra Lingeri-Gardon, Vertu’s PR Manager, Europe. In existence for over two years, the Vertu phone is the brainchild of former Nokia design guru, Frank Nouvo, and is the Finnish outfits luxury brand subsidiary. So will it take off in the Gulf? Vertu is hoping to tap into the region’s reputation for big spending. However, Lingeri-Gardon remains cautious when it comes to sales figures or future unit sales, saying Vertu will be content to move around 20,000 per year. Where the company believes it will work is in its appeal as a fashion accessory. Rather than attending mobile trade fairs, for example, Vertu exhibits at fashion shows or luxury brand events such as the watch world’s Basel Fair. Just as there is a market for luxury watches, pens or cars, the phone is there to stand out. As far as Vertu is concerned, there’s no need for the extra gadgets or downloadable ring tones. “You buy this for the best in audio, display and technology,” explains Lingeri-Gardon. “We don’t have cameras, because we don’t need them. We studied our client market and what they use the phone for. It’s an instrument of communication, so to receive, make calls and send SMS messages.” An area that may prove popular, is the phone’s concierge service. With a flick of a button, the caller can connect to a round-the-clock operator, who can organise anything from travel, restaurants and hotel bookings. One client was even able to get an audience with Queen Elizabeth. However, not everybody is convinced. Brand analyst, Sara Morgan, believes Vertu will eventually need to dumb down a little, if it is to succeed. “I think it will initially arouse curiosity, but in the GCC people will want more than just a fashion accessory. Yes, it will appeal, but Vertu will need to branch out and become less exclusive if it is to do well in the long term.” Ahlan! Glamour Editor, Mandie Gower agrees to a certain extent. She sees Vertu’s arrival in the Gulf market as a natural development with phone fans increasingly becoming fashion conscious. However, although Gower says it is unlikley to become a widespread phenomenon, she argues that if it does prove successful among the rich and famous other manufacturers may opt for a more stylish design. “If the slick, sophisticated design proves popular, I’ve no doubt that more budget-friendly brands will ditch the plastic fascias and imitate the design in the not-too-distant future,” says Gower. “After all, mobiles are now seen as a fashion accessory as well as an essential communication tool, and so if style icons like the Beckhams say classy, quality designs are trendy, expect mass market tastes to change pretty fast.”

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