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Vertu luxury smartphone maker sold to Chinese investors

A guest looks at a Vertu handset during the Vertu Aster Launch party on October 16, 2014 in Shanghai, China.
Kevin Lee | Getty Images for Vertu
A guest looks at a Vertu handset during the Vertu Aster Launch party on October 16, 2014 in Shanghai, China.

Vertu, the UK-based maker of handcrafted luxury smartphones that feature precious metals, leather casings and sapphire screens, has been sold by Swedish private equity group EQT to Chinese investors, in the latest sign of the popularity of upmarket brands in Asia.

Vertu said that Godin Holdings, a Hong Kong-based fund, had acquired the business alongside "international private investors".

Massimiliano Pogliani, chief executive of Vertu, has also stepped down after three years. He said it was "an appropriate time to pass on the baton of leadership to a new team".

Vertu and EQT did not disclose the terms of the deal.

EQT bought Vertu from Nokia for more than 200 million euros ($220.25 million) in 2012 when the Finnish group was struggling to revive its once dominant smartphone business. Nokia, which founded the company in 1998 as an attempt to create a niche in luxury handsets, retains a small stake in the company.

The company shipped its first phone in 2002. By 2015, Vertu had sold about 450,000 devices worldwide, with an average selling price of about £5,000 ($7,711) last year.

Vertu's business will continue to operate from its headquarters and manufacturing facility in Hampshire, England, where it employs about 450 people. The company has a further 450 people based around the world.

The idea behind Vertu was to create a handset for wealthy customers willing to pay extra for premium materials, although the brand struggled with a "bling" image and criticism that its technology has been left behind by much cheaper rivals such as Apple.

Vertu has improved its latest range of phones to match the technology available in other smartphones, while lowering prices to broaden its potential customer base.

The latest Vertu model costs almost £7,000 for a basic version, but rises to nearer £17,000 if customers want a rose gold frame or bespoke colours. The cost of its most expensive handmade phones have exceeded £200,000, and each comes signed by the craftsman who made the device.

The market for luxury handsets has expanded in part down to the sale of higher-priced gold versions of Apple phones, while brands in the luxury market have lent their names to third-party handset makers.