Luxury mobile phones to cost up to $21,196

January 22, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

PARIS - Nokia Oyj, the world's largest mobile-phone maker, will begin selling luxury handsets encased in precious metals, leather and crystal through a new unit created to cater to an elite group of customers.

The phones are available in five models - from the top-end platinum, through 18 carat gold, white gold and two stainless steel models - at prices of up to $21,196.

The new company, called Vertu Ltd., was conceived five years ago by Nokia's creative director and designer, Frank Nuovo.

Introduction of the luxury line comes after a year in which mobile phone sales are expected to have declined for the first time. Nokia estimated last month that industry handset sales fell about 6 percent to 380 million in 2001. It predicts an increase of as much as 16 percent this year to 440 million - less than one-third the average growth rate of 1998 through 2000.

Assembled by hand, the luxury phones feature more than 400 mechanical parts, including 18 jeweled bearings inside a case of precious metal. Development has led to more than 20 patents.

The phones are reinforced with titanium, which is four times as rigid as steel but half the weight, and have ceramic backs. Ruby bearings are fitted under the keys to extend life expectancy to 5 million presses, compared with the average 1 million.

The Vertu phones won't become outdated. The insides are separate from the outside casing, allowing them to be upgraded.

Initially, Vertu will sell the phones by invitation only through five private client suites in London, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and Hong Kong. In May, a boutique will open in Paris, and then others will be established.

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