Di­al­ing up con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By Cot­ten Tim­ber­lake

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.

“Itisundis­turb­ing,”Ms.Gravesen said.

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.

Bloomberg News

Com­pa­nies are tar­get­ing those will­ing to spend for lux­ury phones, such as this $86,000 Vertu Sig­na­ture Se­ries.

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