The Vertu virtuoso

Nokia subsidiary Vertu is rapidly expanding its retail presence, but snapping up one of its mobiles can set you back over US$50,000. Tamara Walid talks to Vertu president Alberto Torres about his regional strategy.

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By  Tamara Walid Published  December 11, 2005

Ever thought of spending US$50,000 on a mobile phone? Alberto Torres is a man hoping you will do just that. In fact, the president of Nokia subsidiary Vertu has already persuaded the likes of Donald Trump and David Beckham to snap up the world’s most luxurious — and expensive — mobile phones. It has helped Vertu become the world’s leading producer of handcrafted mobiles, in a market few other companies have so far dared to enter. It has been a lengthy journey up to this point, a journey started by Frank Nuovo, Nokia’s head of design in 1995. His vision was to create a timeless piece that spoke craftsmanship and exclusivity and was both highly artistic and technologically sophisticated. Seven years later, the first Vertu store opened in the UK, and today, shops are springing up around the globe — including in the Middle East. But making the phones is no easy task: from screens made from sapphire crystal to bezels bought from the top suppliers of platinum and gold to their spectacular leather coats, Vertu phones were built to last. Driven by that idea, the company’s engineers created a mobile phone assembled by hand in ideal workshops, containing 400 mechanical components, 18 of which are jewelled bearings, all made from the highest-quality materials. The scratch-resistant sapphire crystal that forms the face of the phone is only second to diamonds in solidness. “You cannot find things like that commercially. We have to work with a special supplier to get the biggest sapphire crystals in the world. We’ve paid a lot of attention to getting the best material,” says Torres. As for other phone components that incorporate precious metals like platinum or gold, each have been individually hallmarked. The keys are designed with ruby bearings to give a smooth and precise touch. “We have really approached luxury mobile phones completely with careful interest in every detail. We have made use of excellent material, we have figured out how to optimise the phone so that it would work properly,” says Torres. Vertu is not the first company to try to create a luxury mobile phone. Others have had attempts, however, they met with failure. “Some companies tried to implement the idea by placing metal on their phones and the result was that the phone did not work because to have it covered with metal you have to optimise the antennae in a very specific way,” Torres explains. He thinks that it is not easy to enter such a market. “It is tough,” he admits. However, he also believes that competition is necessary for the luxury phone market to expand and develop faster. “We absolutely welcome any competition,” he says. Another interesting aspect of Vertu phones is the concept of ‘Evolutionary Technology’ they have been based-on, which allows for upgrading whenever a new technological feature has been developed while leaving the external shape untouched. The company’s first collection was the Vertu Signature phones announced in January 2002. Many followed afterwards, such as Vertu’s Signature Diamond collection, the Ascent White, Ascent Pink and the latest Vertu Ascent Motorsport. The latter is targeted at sports lovers who can afford a US$5526.67 phone. The new Vertu Ascent Motorsport Limited Edition took its inspiration from the Team Vertu racing car. It is the first mobile phone to use carbon fibre, the same as used in the Supercup automobile. “The Vertu Motorsport Limited Edition will be available at Vertu’s boutiques in Dubai and also at Rivoli points of sale in the UAE and Qatar. This is the first limited edition ever produced by Vertu and we are anticipating it will be an instant success across the Middle East,” says Arnaud Schuytter, Vertu sales director, Southern Europe and Middle East. Only 997 phones of this edition will be manufactured and released internationally. Each handset will have its own laser-engraved number on the back casing, starting from 001 to 997, which will make each piece identifiable with a unique figure. Astonishingly, the research and development of every Vertu handset required twice as many man-hours as that which generally goes into a modern Formula One racing car. In terms of design, the influences drawn from luxury racing cars are visible in several details on the Vertu Ascent collection. Its speaker ports mimic the design of air vents on a sports car; the hand-stitched leather detail recalls the steering-wheel of luxury racing cars; even the battery cover lock resembles a fuel tank cap, and the design of the screws on the battery cover was modelled on rim screws. Another creation is the Signature Diamond collection launched in November 2005, which only comes as an exclusive made-to-order piece and can be found in selected stores in New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and now Bahrain. The collection comprises Signature 18 Carat Yellow Gold and Signature 18 Carat White Gold set with pavé and half-pavé diamonds, and the Signature Platinum, which is set with a 0.25 carat solitaire diamond. Craftsmen spend up to seven days setting an average of 700 brilliant cut diamonds by hand, totalling an average of 4.2 carats on the pavé phones. When an order is received, it will take between eight to 10 weeks for delivery. However, orders received by mid-October 2005 will be delivered to its owner in time for Christmas. “The diamonds are all hand-mounted and prices start at a minimum of US$52,000,” says Torres. Despite such high prices, demand is still high. “The demand has increased dramatically in the past year and we can’t make enough to meet it. It has been much higher than we’d expected,” says Torres. So just who are his customers? Torres answers, “I think our customer is someone who’s already living a luxurious lifestyle, usually male, but increasingly more female. She might have a luxury car, a luxury watch, a very nice handbag, and wants a luxury phone as well. However, some people have an emotional association with their mobile phones, and thus it becomes a luxury purchase even if they don’t have everything luxury. But I would say the core customer is a person who already has everything!” Not surprisingly, celebrities and famous figures have been spotted out and about with Vertu phones. And although the company’s policy prohibits revealing customers’ names some have been photographed with the device on several occasions. The list includes names like Donald Trump, Beyoncé, David Beckham and his wife Victoria, who was gifted a Vertu Ascent Pink by her husband. So far the company has witnessed great success in different parts of the world and is growing very fast. In the first half of this year it was able to go 80% over its revenues in the same period last year. In the Middle East, however, growth is even faster, says Torres. “Our sales in the Middle East have doubled over a period of six months. We already have a total of 18 points of sale in the region, four of which are in Dubai, and they’re all doing quite well here. Dubai is a very prosperous market. We are entering Bahrain, we have a presence in Kuwait, and we’ve entered Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. We are very happy with the growth rate,” says Torres. He can say that again.

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