Dialing up conspicuous consumption
David Beckham has one. So do Catherine Deneuve and Beyonce Knowles.
Thepreciousobjectisacellphone from Nokia Oyj’s Vertu luxury division, whose offerings start at $4,350 for stainless-steel versions and soar to$310,000forbejeweledones.They include a button that connects the caller to a round-the-clock, multilingual concierge service, which costs anadditional$2,000annuallyaftera free first year.
Other companies also are marketing luxury cell phones aimed at jet-setters, entertainers and others who are willing to pay big bucks to stay connected in style.
Denmark’s Bang & Olufsen just started selling its first mobile phone in North America, a $1,275 Serene clamshell with speed-adjustable ring tones that sound like steel, brass and wood. It can be accessorized with a specially designed $750 Louis Vuitton pouch.
Dolce & Gabbana’s $595 goldcoloredMotorazrphone,advertised in December’s Vogue magazine with a two-page spread featuring fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, is available at the Italian design house’s Madison Avenue boutique and other swank locations.
And Tag Heuer, the Swiss watchmaking company owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, reportedlyplanstointroducea$1,000plus cell phone next year.
Though they still make up only 2 percent of the U.S. cell-phone market, some high-end units costing more than $250 are selling so fast that there are waiting lists. Cell phones between $100 and $250 constitute 18 percent of the U.S. market, said Roger Entner, an analyst in the Boston office of Ovum PLC, a technology research company.
About 175 million cell phones, in more than 100 styles, are sold annually in the U.S., Mr. Entner said. Demand for luxury phones also is expanding outside the U.S., especially in the fast-growing markets of Russia, China and the Middle East.
“They aren’t just something for you to make calls anymore,” said Mark McClusky, products editor for Wired magazine. “They are an accessory and a piece of personal branding. People are trying to find something that makes you stand out in the crowd.”
Vertu President Alberto Torres said the company, based in Church Crookham, England, expects to sell “hundreds of thousands” of luxury phones within five years.
“Whenever you have a consumer item, you have a luxury segment,” Mr. Torres said. “You have luxury cars,luxuryclothes,luxuryhotels— why not luxury phones?”
The fancy phones generally are compatiblewithCingularandT-Mobile’s GSM wireless networks in the U.S., and can be used in Europe and Asia. Another option is Voce, which bills itself as the “world’s first pre- mium wireless service.” The company, which charges $200 a month for domestic calls with a one-time $500 membership fee, sells phones and services at its own boutique in Beverly Hills as well as a handful of NeimanMarcusGroupInc.storesin California and Las Vegas.
Vertu’s third line of luxury cell phones, Constellation, is arriving in stores now. Aimed at the frequent flyer, the phones come with realtime flight, weather and currency trackers. It joins the Signature line, which was inspired by the “grand complications” of timepieces, and the Ascent line, featuring phones named after famous auto-racing tracks such as Le Mans. All Vertu phones have e-mail but no cameras.
Astainless-steel and leather Constellation phone sells for $4,350, while an 18-carat-gold and leather versiongoesfor$18,000.For$86,000, you can get a Signature gold phone withdiamondbaguettekeys.Vertu’s most expensive versions are the gem-encrustedonesdesignedbythe Parisian jeweler Boucheron. Only eight Signature Cobra models have been made, costing $310,000 each; there are also 26 Signature Pythons, at $115,000 apiece.
Alexandre Scialom, a 28-year-old marketingdirectorinSanFrancisco, recently checked out the Vertu phones at the New York store. Mr. Scialomsaidhewouldn’tbuyonebecause they don’t have more functions.Still,hewasimpressed,calling the phones a “New Age scepter of power”thatsatisfythe“needtocommunicate and be fabulous.”
Olufsenbeganpre-selling SereneintheU.S.lastmonth,timing the debut for the Christmas season. ThephonearrivesinstoresMonday. It has been available in Europe for a year and will be sold in Asia early next year.
KimGravesen,presidentofBang & Olufsen America, said the company worked with Samsung Electronics Co. to create an easy-to-use model for its customers, who tend to be affluent and design oriented.
The Serene phone opens and closes itself slowly like an oyster. The screen is on the bottom, reducing the problem of makeup smear. Its features include a camera and e-mail.
Gabbana’sMotorazrV3i, made by Motorola Inc., features the engraved logo of the design house and a pendant with “DG” initials. A package that includes a Bluetooth headset and shiny gold eelskin case costs $900.
Companies are targeting those willing to spend for luxury phones, such as this $86,000 Vertu Signature Series.