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Vertu replica may be dead, but it was a remarkable company


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A white orchid is wilting in the window of Vertu¡¯s showroom on London¡¯s Old Bond Street. Inside, a video loop depicting the glitzy lifestyle behind the luxury phonemaker is still playing. But Vertu is dead, wound up and in liquidation.


I know a bit about Vertu. vertu replica I have covered it since its 2002 launch at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Grace Jones in attendance.


After guffawing at the idea of a handmade luxury mobile phone, I eventually became one of a few technology writers to take the company seriously. In 2012, I even wrote the official company history. The very successful chief executive who commissioned it left just after I delivered it, and his many successors were unaware it existed. So my book was never published.


I took their money anyway, but writing the book was not entirely mercenary. From brief product loans, I found the phones surprisingly pleasing in several ways.




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And anyway, I wondered, why was it obscene ¡ª as many held ¡ª to carry a luxury mobile costing more than ¡ê4,000, when plenty of people wear ¡ê30,000 watches that offer no more functions than a ¡ê50 Swatch?


Luxury is a thing, and it often makes the running in technology. Leica in the 1920s enabled reportage photography. The fork was considered an extravagant luxury when Catherine de Medici introduced it to the French in the 16th century.


Vertu¡¯s death throes were lengthy. Nokia set up the company, selling it in 2012 for more than €200m to a Swedish private equity group.



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Soon, better-recognised luxury brands such as TAG Heuer, Prada and Chanel were selling their own deluxe phones, various gold-plated iPhones were on offer and Vertu passed to Chinese investors. With Vertu¡¯s glitter fading, the company was sold on in March to a Turkish owner, who retains the brand.


The widespread ignorance, however, about this UK luxury tech company is striking. Here, then, for the record, are a list of my favourite little-known facts about Vertu, as it joins the technology choir invisible:


• It was the only UK mobile phone, and was designed and manufactured in rural Hampshire.


• Most people think Vertu phones were Nokias encrusted with diamonds. Not so: apart from some standard electronic components inside, Vertus were original designs. Aside from a one-off bejewelled Boucheron model offered at ¡ê1m, almost every Vertu was made of stainless steel and titanium, and quite restrained on the bling.


• Vertu did well until a year after Nokia sold it in 2012. When the company closed this month, it had sold more than 500,000 phones.


• Even if half a million sales still makes it one of the least popular mobile brands, Vertu¡¯s creator, Frank Nuovo, also designed one of the biggest-selling electronic devices ever, the (all-plastic) Nokia 1100 ¡ª 200m of which were made.


• Mr Nuovo is based in Bel Air, Los Angeles, and Vertu was to be made in LA using materials scientists from the local aerospace industry. The UK launch team included a rocket scientist and materials specialists recruited from F1 racing.




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At its peak, in late 2012, more than 1,000 people worked for Vertu, 600 in the UK. The expanding company was planning to build a multistorey car park at its headquarters and factory at Church Crookham, near Farnham in Surrey. Among the staff made redundant by Vertu¡¯s demise are dozens of craft workers in leather, precious metals, sapphire and polishing.


• Restrictions on business gift-giving in China from 2014 onwards affected Vertu. The phones were a popular status symbol there. One small city, Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, had two Vertu stores.


• Vertu suffered from indifference from consumers in the US ¡ª although in 2010, music producer Quincy Jones and the singer Seal were owners.


• For reasons never understood, Leicester, a provincial city in the English East Midlands, was the UK sales hotspot.


• Vertu was considered insufficiently bling in some markets. At the Paris launch in 2002 a Kuwaiti distributor told me that while children in his country might quite like a Vertu for its novelty value, he was concerned that adult consumers would consider it too modest.


• Such consumers were soon served by more ostentatious Vertu imitators, such as Goldvish and Savelli. Just last year, another luxury mobile, Sirin, launched.


• Several Vertu engineers and a key marketer were hired by Apple for the original iPhone project and some of its Church Crookham-developed materials expertise in glass, sapphire and rubber was used in the iPhone and iPad.


• Apple¡¯s design chief, Sir Jonathan Ive, and its marketing boss Phil Schiller were admirers of Vertu. They particularly liked the English company¡¯s obsession with engineering detail. For example, Vertu¡¯s tradition of intricate engraving on the underside of the phone¡¯s battery cover was straight from Steve Jobs¡¯ playbook. He too loved beautiful hidden parts of products.


• Vertu in its pre-2013 heyday never gave away phones to celebrities. Even Gwyneth Paltrow was expected to buy one. She did not.


• Mr Nuovo was sketching Vertu smart watches as early as 1997 ¡ª before all the necessary technology existed. The company, then a subsidiary of Nokia, saw itself as a pioneering tech company as well as a new genre of luxury.


• Vertu phones from 2002 are said to still work. Updated versions of early voice-and-text-only models were its best-sellers until the end. Many Vertu owners used phones only for calls.


• Vertu¡¯s ringtone was written by Dario Marianelli, whose score for the film Atonement won an Oscar. On modern Vertus, this is played by the flautist Andrea Griminelli.


• Oh, and the name. Vertu is an 18th-century word meaning an item created from precious materials often for a practical purpose, such as a snuff box. Of course.


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