In what may come as little surprise to many of us, not enough people were willing to spend thousands of pounds on a luxury smartphone it turns out – but that means the end of high-end devices individually handcrafted in the heart of the English countryside.
Vertu, the maker of smartphones encrusted with jewels, lined with alligator skin and retailing for as much as £40,000, has closed after failing to be rescued by a Paris-exiled Turkish tycoon.
The shuttering of Vertu comes with the loss of almost 200 jobs at its state of the art factory in Hampshire, the Telegraph reports.
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Murat Hakan Uzan snapped up the company, first created by Nokia in the 90s, from Chinese firm Godin Holdings earlier this year for £50m. The manufacturing part of the business went into administration with an accounting deficit of £128m, but Uzan’s offer of £1.9m to buy it back in a pre-pack deal failed because it wasn’t financially viable, the newspaper reports.
More than half a million Vertu phones have been sold to date according to the firm and even in June it said it had signed a $40m deal with TCL, the Chinese firm behind the return of the Blackberry, to use its technology in the phones it was making in Hampshire.
That was made under the new umbrella company for Vertu based in Paris, Vertu AK shortly before the factory went under. According to the FT, it still owns the Vertu brand, technology and design license and Uzan wants to rebuild it.
The phone itself was a pretty basic Android model, but each one was handcrafted and customised for each buyer using materials such as sapphire crystal for its screens, calfskin and gem stones, rather than being mass manufactured in China.
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It partnered with Bentley and also offered a concierge service along with “money-can’t-buy experiences” and offers such as a £6,000 discount off a Hermes Birkin bag, for those who could afford such a lifestyle.
Vertu is not the only one eyeing such a seemingly lucrative niche in the market, but struggling to make it work.
Sirin Labs, an Israeli founded Switzerland based startup, launched the £10,000 Solarin smartphone last year and boasted endorsements from stars Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. It laid off 30 staff – a third of its workforce – in March and said it will “make devices more accessible to the mass market”.
That hasn’t put off Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android operating system, who has launched his own high-end smartphone after leaving the Google fold. The Essential Phone is a much more realistically priced $699, however, and he already has an impressive pedigree.
Vertu, a timeline
Nokia creates Vertu
Private equity form EQT VI snaps it up from Nokia for an undisclosed sum
China’s Godin Holdings buys up the firm from EQT
Several reports suggest Vertu is in trouble
Vertu is bought by Murat Hakan Uzan but the manufacturing arm goes into administration.