Nokia to sell off luxury phone brand

Gem-encrusted blower biz on block

Nokia is planning to sell off Vertu, its wholly-owned luxury-phone brand, which sells basic mobile phones with classy cases to the overpaid.

The FT reports the news, which Nokia hasn't yet confirmed, but the paper reckons Goldman Sachs has been appointed to oversee the sell-off, which is likely to see the UK-based Vertu put into the hands of a private equity group. Vertu's profit, as part of Nokia, isn't public, but the FT pegs an annual revenue somewhere between €200m and €300m – which isn't bad for a company that re-cases mid-range Nokia handsets.

The brand was created in 1998, but didn't manage to ship one of its hand-crafted-precision-engineered handsets until 2001. These days Vertu has around 600 outlets, but you won't see many on the high street, as they're tucked inside Harrods or situated in the kind of shopping mall which only welcomes the unreasonably rich.

The handsets are pretty, one might even go so far as to say stylish in being understated rather than the gauche blanket of gemstones which adorn so many hundred-thousand-pound handsets*. But Vertu is certainly in that price bracket, with even the most-basic model costing several grand despite being rewrapped Nokia technology. That's in part 'cos of the concierge service which comes with the handset: a button on the side which summons aid from a constantly available staff. Anyone buying the company may well have an eye on that service, which engenders customer loyalty as well as providing some ongoing revenue from commission on booking flights and such like.

The business is certainly a long way from Nokia's core, and with Nokia rearranging itself as a supplier of Microsoft-running hardware it's not surprising to see peripheral businesses being flogged off.

Today's Vertu handsets are Symbian-based, as a Nokia subsidiary Vertu is tied to its parent's technology with Windows Phone expected to follow, though with a new owner that could change even if the appearance, and engineering, are unlikely to do so. ®

* We once asked a supplier about the security of such handsets, and were informed that their customers already had bodyguards so mugging and theft were less of a risk.

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