Vertu started life in the late 1990s as an indulgence for Nokia’s designers. Led by Frank Nuovo, the group set out to explore what a phone could look and feel like if its design was unconstrained by budgetary concerns. What if you could use all the best materials and most expensive manufacturing processes, what sort of phone would you end up with? Given free reign to experiment within the then-resplendent Nokia, Vertu gradually evolved into its own division, with a name, logo, and brand identity that grew to be synonymous with overt demonstrations of wealth.
Last year, Vertu gained its independence from Nokia after being purchased by a private equity group and quickly moved to Android as its platform of choice. It is now the most exclusive Android OEM around, offering handsets that cost at least four figures in whatever currency you care to buy them. Still, the way the company conducts its business hasn’t really changed from the start. One single manufacturing facility on the outskirts of London handles every Vertu order, with the entire team of designers, engineers, and assemblers all working under the same roof.
The central tenet of Vertu design also remains unaltered. “If you want to stand out, that’s what it was built for,” says Hutch Hutchinson, the company’s chief of design, as he points to the $15,000 Signature handset. It’s an unapologetic luxury item, one which turns its Nokia Series 40 software and anachronistic number pad into an asset, demonstrating through them that the owner of the phone doesn’t need modern technology, he most likely has people doing those jobs for him. And yet, Vertu is also looking to the future with the introduction of two Android phones this year that usher in touchscreens, the Google Play Store, and many other modern smartphone amenities. The company is eager to appeal to women as well as men, and it’s extending its range to accommodate a younger customer too.
Being a luxury mobile-phone brand presents some unique challenges for Vertu. Whereas the luxury industry “moves at a very slow and considered pace,” says the company's head of PR Jon Stanley, the exact opposite is true of smartphone manufacturing. By the time you’re fully up to date with both components and software, there’s already the next iteration waiting in the wings. Vertu will never actively compete in the specs race, but it recognizes the need to match the basic building blocks of its contemporary competition.
Here’s a look at what Vertu does with those components once it gets them inside its Church Crookham HQ.