IN 2012, LUXURY mobile-phone maker Vertu was sold off by Nokia and became free to use the hugely and increasingly popular Android operating system, a move that Vertu Head of Design Hutch Hutchison calls “a breath of fresh air” to the user interface of the Constellation handset, launched last year. This is just one of the many major changes that the handset represents.
“I really do like modern stuff. For me, going slim, more contemporary and paring down the design language to be more understated and more sleek, that's what I like about the Constellation,” says the designer, whose company profile states that he lives in England with his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, wife and two children – in that order. “I am quite a geek.”
As such, Hutchison and his team have loaded the Constellation with handpicked materials, technology and features that will ensure it's not going to be obsolete any time soon. They spent a decade researching the materials for the Constellation, and two years on the proven technology inside it.
The Constellation has the upgradeable Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.7 GHz processor, 32GB of internal memory, a 13MP rear-facing camera with full HD video (1080p), a front-facing Skype-compliant 1.3MP camera, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
There's a 5.1-inch piece of sapphire crystal – weighing more than 100 carats – on the front of the phone to protect the 4.3-inch 720p high-definition screen. The sapphire is resistant to scratching from anything other than diamond, ensuring that the screen remains virtually flawless. The phone also has a casing made of grade-five titanium, which is two-and-a-half times stronger than stainless steel yet only half the weight.
The Constellation is swathed in a single piece of high-quality calf leather from the European Alps, cured by a tannery that has more than 150 years' experience and available in colours such as cappuccino, black, orange, mocha and raspberry. Another sensual touch is the portfolio of melodic ringtones especially composed for Vertu and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.
What's also unique about Vertu handsets is that although the parts are sourced from around the world, they're handmade in Hampshire, England. “We forgot to talk about it for many years. We're in that part of the world where a lot of Formula 1 and aerospace engineering is done,” says Hutchison, who clearly adores the Constellation. “We're quite well-positioned.”
We get to chatting at KEE Club in Central about another of Hutchison's loves:the Harley-Davidson twin-cam DynaGlide Softail that he calls Mary Poppins (“practically perfect in every way”) and on which he prefers to do all the mechanical work and service himself. He's owned Mary since 2000 and they've driven more than 60,000 kilometres, which is impressive considering the size of England. “Sometimes I escape to Spain on it,” he says with a wide grin.
“As a designer, there are two kinds of things in my life that I call darlings and things that I call friends. Friends are things I like, such as this table I like that I'll pay twice as much for than another table. I like it. If something crosses that division to become a darling, such as a watch, the Harley, this phone…they're mostly pretty personal. Then the price curve becomes much steeper.”
For the next few years, he says, don't expect to see a Vertu tablet (or phablet: large-screen mobile). “We've thought about it. We've looked at everything. We've met a lot of interesting people along the way. We can't take things that are tools and turn them into darlings. They'll forever be tools.”
“We've taken on a really big battle in deciding to convince the world that something exists called a luxury mobile phone. Say that's a one-in-10 chance of success. Then you've got to convince the world that things like luxury phablets or something crazy and that's probably one-tenth of a one-in-10 chance. We're very much in the business of taking something that works, and now let's make it better, rather than push people's perceptions of what they want. That's been our ethos in the 15 years I've been working on Vertu.”
The Constellation is quite stunning to lookat and very comfortable to hold and use. “There's an interesting statistic that 65 percent of the money spent in the world is spent by ladies rather than men, which in any business should be telling you something. The other thing is that the money is falling much more into the hands of the young, so we needed to do something about that,” he says, adding that the advertising campaign for the Constellation was shot by fashion photographer Kristian Schuller.
Owning a Vertu means more than just having a pretty phone. Vertu Life offers customers a selection of privileges and unrestricted access to functions available directly on device – all with the cachet of the exclusive and the elite. Features include free entry to private members' clubs around the world, access to invitation-only events and closed-door shopping experiences.
Vertu Certainty protects the customer, the phone and the data through best-in-class technology and expert partners. This includes encrypted communications in partnership with Silent Circle, global Wi-Fi access via iPass, personal and corporate security with Protector Services Group and anti-virus by Kaspersky.
“The biggest thing, as far as I'm concerned, is the change of software,” Hutchison says excitedly of the Constellation. “We've got Android. Yaaaay!” But in the end, it's the look, touch and feel of the phone that will probably matter most to Vertu owners, who numbered about 300,000 around the world last year. If Hutchison and his team have made the right calls with the Constellation, it's likely there'll be many more this year.