Nokia subsidiary to sell jeweled cell phones

Getting tired of seeing colleagues with exactly the same mobile phone as you? Don't panic, if you have deep pockets you can soon get a really exclusive handset.

Vertu Ltd., a new London-based subsidiary of Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia Corp., has contracted jewelers and craftsmen to make exclusive mobile phones, people familiar with the plans said Friday.

"Vertu will be launched on Jan. 21 in Paris," a Nokia spokesman confirmed, declining to give further information.

The new phones, to be sold under the Vertu brand, fit in a niche with luxury accessories such as exclusive watches. The chief designer is Frank Nuovo, who is also chief designer at Nokia. Vertu will start with about 200 people and will use existing Nokia technology as the basis for its products, according to insiders.

One analyst said the announcement is "not a huge surprise," but said 200 people is "quite a big number" for a company catering to a small market of wealthy people.

"They would need to generate US$20 million to $30 million in sales to support those people. With an average selling price of $1,000 per unit they would need to have 20,000 users," said Peter Richardson, vice president of research at technology investment bank SoundView Technology Corp.

No other mobile phone maker offers jeweled cell phones, said Richardson, who closely follows the world's mobile phone manufacturers.

"There have been some specialists who have done something like this for the Saudi royal family, but no standard products. I expect Vertu's products to be Nokia handsets with some added cosmetics and perhaps some added software features," he saidOne dilemma -- mobile phone theft is on the rise. One mobile phone is stolen every three minutes in the U.K, according to a recent report from the U.K. home office. Vertu could include a wireless headset, so the phone could stay in a coat pocket, but that would defy the reason for having such a flashy device.

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Joris Evers

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