TechWeekEurope tours Vertu headquarters to see how the world’s most luxurious smartphones come together
In today’s hyper-social, competitive world, having the latest items and best brands is more important than ever. Anyone can own an iPhone, but what if you want a smartphone that shows off how truly unique you (and your bank balance) are?
British brand Vertu make the sort of devices that villains in James Bond movies would be proud of. Want your name engraved on the back? No problem. Alligator skin trim? They have it. Want the colour of the speakers to match the interior of your Rolls-Royce? Can do.
With devices starting at around £6,000 and reaching as high as £14,500 for some models, Vertu devices are pure premium. But what exactly does a factory making the world’s most glamorous smartphone look like? TechWeekEurope went to find out.
A 45-minute train ride from London, the sleepy Hampshire village of Church Crookham is an unlikely place to find luxury smartphones, but one glance at the glinting silver of Vertu’s headquarters behind security gates proves this is definitely the place.
The company is located near to Farnborough, a traditional centre for aerospace engineering, and Vertu is also not too far from several of the leading Formula One teams, meaning there is a rich vein of precision-based talent nearby. The company’s staff even contains actual rocket scientists, well known for their expertise with high-end materials and design.
“Our people are used to building things nicely…not exactly fast, but well,” says Hutch Hutchinson, Vertu’s head of concept creation and design, who has been with the company almost since its inception.
“We tend to take things a bit further…what’s wrong with a mass phone? Not much, they’re brilliant, but they’re all the same, and they don’t make you look good.”
With around 400 workers, including 50 specialised ‘craftsmen’, Vertu’s head office contains both the factory floor and its corporate offices, both separate by a short walkway, meaning anyone can easily drop by to see a device being put together.
Each Vertu device is hand-made by a single person, as the company prides itself on the individual touch that has gone into making its smartphones. The employee even has their name lasered into the battery slot (pictured right), so customers know exactly who to thank for their new toy.
The devices can be tailored down to the last detail, as Vertu looks to go above and beyond when it comes to its customer’s preferences.
Hutch notes that the factory floor is similar to the watch industry, where one person builds the entire device, creating what he calls ‘the onus of responsibility’ on a worker, but also giving that personal, handmade touch that you do not get from machine-made products.
The Vertu team is engaged with building a number of the company’s handsets at any one times, as workers are grouped in to teams for one particular device, allowing them to share knowledge on best practices, as “if you’re building 20 of these special editions, there will be nips and tucks you learn to take,” Hutch notes.
Devices can rushed through to meet sharp deadlines, but typically take around a day or two to complete – although this again depends on the level of personalisation going in to the phone. Hutch notes that the company receives a handful of requests for bespoke designs each day, as customers look for that something special to make their smartphone stand out.
We stopped to watch employees putting together one of Vertu’s latest Signature Touch devices, which retail for around £6,800. Containing around 300 distinct components, each of which are delivered robotically to the employee to ensure nothing is mislaid, the phones have to endure stringent testing to make certain they are worth their price tag.
Each handset undergoes almost 100 rigorous inspections before it leaves the factory, spending its last few hours in a Fort Knox-esque bank vault that protects the finished devices before they are sent out.
“No-one ever told us, ‘make a luxury phone’,” Hutch says, “they asked us, ‘just make a better phone’, and I like to think we do.”
What do you remember about the smartphones of 2015? Try our quiz!