Nokia launches Vertu division to design luxury phones

As expected, cell phone giant Nokia on Monday launched a subsidiary dedicated to designing luxurious mobile phones.

The company, called Vertu Ltd. and based in London, was the brainchild of Frank Nuovo, Nokia's handset designer since 1995. Nuovo, who will also have the title of creative director and designer at Vertu, will rely on expensive materials such as sapphire crystal, platinum, and gold for crafting the high-end phones, which will appear on the market in mid-2002, Nokia officials said.

Nokia describes Vertu's product as, "more than a mobile telephone, it fuses the best in craftsmanship, precision engineering, proven technology, high performance and a unique personal service, into one ground-breaking invention appealing to the most discerning customer," according to the Nokia Web site.

Sounding more like the description of a Swiss watch than a cell phone, Nokia officials list 400 mechanical parts, including 18 jeweled bearings, and 20 new patents involved in Vertu's design. The phone will have a front-lit, high-resolution display, a refined antenna, and a high-fidelity audio speaker that will play original ring tones, they said. The first phone model to be available will operate in the U.S., Europe, and Asia Pacific, officials said.

Options for the first Vertu model will include casings of platinum, 18-karat white gold, 18-karat yellow gold and stainless steel.

Pricing of the Vertu phone was not announced , and Vertu officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment. However, press reports peg the price of the unit at about US$21,240.

Unlike Nokia phones, Vertu models will not be easy to find. Customers will be able to purchase the high-end sets through Vertu Galleries and by appointment at Vertu private suites that will be situated in some of the world's most exclusive shopping centers, Nokia officials said.

According to industry experts, no other phone manufacturer has attempted to sell such high-end luxury handsets. Nokia announced plans for the Monday launch of the new phone line earlier this month.

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