It's the most obsessively used accessory in your bag so why shouldn't your mobile phone also be the most beautiful? That's the idea behind Vertu phones, which began selling last week for €6,000 and up at Selfridges department store in London and recently opened boutiques in Paris and Beverly Hills. Handcrafted from precious materials, Vertu hopes the devices will appeal to those who live luxe: Gwyneth Paltrow has already got hers. But though the company says Tom Ford has ordered one, his p.r. says he hasn't.
In many ways Vertu is an old phone in a shiny new suit. The company is wholly owned by Finnish phone giant Nokia, and uses a souped-up version of the same software in your basic 3310. But what a suit: the Vertu comes in stainless steel, gold, white gold and platinum. It is sheathed in the same leather used in Rolls Royces, and the face is scratch-proof sapphire. Ruby bearings under each keypad ensure precise key press.
But while everyday mobiles are getting tinier by the moment, Vertu recalls an earlier, bulkier era. Kuwaiti fashion mogul Sheik Majed al-Sabah stopped carrying his, complaining of its weight.
Before you put a Vertu on your Christmas list, check Santa's bank balance: prices go all the way up to €24,000 for the platinum model. In functional terms, that sum gets you one unique feature: a "concierge" button that lets you buy theater tickets or restaurant bookings in any city in the U.S., Europe and Asia by dialing into a 24-hour call center.
But of course, many of today's expensive accessories were once seen as purely functional; think of the wristwatch. Still, you don't strap your phone to your skin not yet. Vertu president Nigel Litchfield predicts phones will morph into jewelry, from earrings to calling Dick Tracy wristwatches. Until then, we're a little wary about plunking down several months' salary for a phone we're still going to leave in the back of a cab. By James Ledbetter
Watches to watch out for
By rights, this should be a bad time to launch high-end wristwatches: luxury goods are in a slump, and pricey timepieces are moving particularly slowly. And yet this fall has seen the introduction of several limited-edition pieces. Why? Because watches can command a profit margin of up to 40%, higher than most luxury products. Louis Vuitton led the pack with the $6,600 LV Cup Watch. Each watch contains 277 parts, and only 277 watches were made. Prada teamed up with IWC to produce 2,000 of the $4,400 GST Chrono-Automatic. Swiss horologists Omega brought out 10,007 of the $1,900 James Bond 007 to coincide with the latest Bond flick. And Zenith reintroduced their Grande Class Star line, making only 500, at $13,492 apiece. Rarer still is the $420,000 Genghis Khan by Ulysse Nardin: only 30 have ever been made. But don't get your hopes up just four are produced every year, and there's a four-year waiting list.
Pedigree Pays for Fay
Why are industry insiders bullish on Fay, a little-known clothing line? Well, just look at its bloodlines. The brand comes from the same stable as J.P. Tod's, which makes those ubiquitous soft-sole driving shoes and classic totes. It's worth remembering that just 15 years ago, these leather luxuries were the province of a few in-the-know urbanites. Under CEO Diego Della Valle, Tod's has become a household name with sales of some $319 million. With that sort of pedigree, how can Fay fail? The brand's first dedicated store, designed by the architect Philip Johnson, will open this week on Milan's tony Via Spiga. Sagra de Rosen, retail analyst for J.P. Morgan, describes Fay as "the Italian Burberry," due to its origins in outerwear. The first coats are thought to have been made for fishermen in the U.S. state of Maine in the 1960s by a Mr. Fay. Della Valle bought the company in the mid-1980s. Sales have grown about 25% annually ever since. Now Fay makes clothes and bags, too, but managing director Martino Scabbia Guerrini says the company's mission is unchanged: function first.