It seems there is a market for people willing to pay between R50 000 and R159 000 for a phone from luxury brand Vertu. This is a trend that is expected to grow. A case in point is the R69 000 offered on Bidorbuy, no less, for Vertu’s relatively cheap Ascent Red phone.
Vertu employee Antonio Ambrosio said South Africans owned Vertu phones, but were buying them overseas. Clients at its Nelson Mandela Square shop — the only one in Africa — are from Nigeria, Angola, China, India, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Its biggest seller in South Africa is the Android Vertu Ti, made of unscratchable polished titanium and an 80-carat sapphire crystal screen.
“Wealthy South Africans do not do their shopping in the country, but rather still shop overseas,” said Ambrosio. He said the group had seen an increase in queries from South Africans.
The biggest selling point for this phone has been its concierge service, which offers everything from difficult-to-get theatre tickets, bookings for personal trainers and a chauffeur service.
The brand is popular in Russia, Asia and the Middle East and is believed to hold about 95% of the luxury handset market, excluding exclusive once-off ranges.
Indications from commentators in the sector is that luxury cellphones are here to stay, alongside luggage and handbag brands like Chanel, Swiss-made watches and increased customisation of older brands like Rolls Royce.
Topping the list of the world’s most expensive phones is the Stuart Hughes iPhone 4 Diamond Rose edition, valued at US$8m. In addition to a rose gold back, it is set with 100 carats of flawless diamonds, with the Apple logo made out of 53 diamonds.
Luxury accessories producer Peter Aloisson’s Kings Button iPhone, at $2,4m, has 138 brilliant cut diamonds lining the phone and a rare 6,6-carat white diamond “home” button.
A platinum body and 50 diamonds give the Diamond Crypto Smartphone, also made by Aloisson, a $1,3m price tag. By comparison, the Vertu Signature Cobra, at $330 000 with emeralds and 439 rubies, appears a steal.
Mobile phone and Internet expert Arthur Goldstuck said cellphones had always been a status symbol, so it is not surprising that it is an area where limited-edition luxury phones have made an appearance.
“The irony is that the average man on the street, with a smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S4, has a more advanced phone with more options than many of these expensive phones which have largely only altered their outside with bling.
“You often find that they are far behind existing mobile technology because these individually crafted phones take time to make.”
Adding bling to phones is by no means a new phenomenon. The old Nokia 2010, a favourite among South Africans, came with a range of covers, some of them decorated with diamonds, said Goldstuck.
Ironically, Nokia, which offered limited edition luxury brands for years and founded Vertu, sold the brand to private equity group EQT V1. By early 2013, 326 000 of these phones had been sold worldwide.
Nokia spokesman Leo McKay said it had moved out of the luxury market. — (c) 2013 Mail & Guardian
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