And Finally

Ring a bling-bling

China’s next fad: ultra luxury smartphones


Yours for $4,372: Du’s M5

The marketing of Vertu’s mobile handsets has always been less about the technology than their sheer expense, plus the “English craftsmanship” that goes into their finish. Its gold and gemstone inlaid Signature Cobra phone costs $360,000, for example, and for its owner the handset is an ostentatious statement of their status as a member of the wealthy elite.

But even that phone isn’t exclusive enough for some. The king of smartphone bling is reckoned to be the Falcon Supernova iPhone 6 Pink Diamond. Also made of 24-carat gold, it features a gigantic pink diamond and went on the market for $48.5 million.

So there is – evidently – a market for super-pricey smartphones, albeit not a large one. In China the businessman Du Guozen recognised as much and in 2015 he launched his “8848” brand. The name refers to the height of Mount Everest, in metres.

Du cleverly persuaded Wang Shi to be his brand ambassador, for not only was Wang a successful property mogul – he built top developer Vanke – he was well known too in China for having scaled the world’s tallest mountain.

In a lavish event late last month Du launched his latest phone – the M5 – with the slogan “Dare to be first in the world”. Again, the phone’s high-tech specs do not seem to be its unique selling point. Instead the back of the handset is embedded with a watch face that takes eight hours of meticulous work to be made by hand; its titanium parts require a further 12 hours of labour per phone; and its embedded diamonds also take craftsmen 15 days to shape, the company claims. All told, the top of the range M5 – which comes with a crocodile leather finish – carries a price tag of Rmb29,999 ($4,372).

Huxiu says the M5 targets a demographic of 37 to 55 year-old business tycoons and notes that, performance wise, it lags behind cheaper handsets made by Apple or Xiaomi. But the website says the buyers are from a category labelled in China as tuhao – a derogatory term for showy, newly rich types, lacking in the taste stakes (see WiC217). Since its launch three years ago, 8848 says it has sold around 400,000 phones – making it a very niche player. However, the tuhao segment of China’s smartphone market is competitive. Southern Metropolis Daily reported last month that a number of phone models selling for more than Rmb10,000 each have already hit the market this year. AGM, set up in 2011, also launched its X3 model last month. Dubbed as “the Wolf Warrior smartphone” (it featured in the record-breaking movie Wolf Warrior 2), the satellite phones cost Rmb14,999.

With a similar price tag, Huawei’s Mate RS will soon follow. The Porsche-designed model is likely to go on sale next month. Apparently, Huawei is preparing for its launch under the code name ‘Everest’, which might irk Du.

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