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Who Would Pay $129,000 For A Smartphone?

Rich people. Very, very rich people.
June 22, 2011

And you thought your smartphone was expensive. Ulysse Nardin, a maker of Swiss watches, is producing a so-called “luxury hybrid smart phone,” the Chairman. One edition of the phone will carry a price tag of up to $129,000. Though Ulysse Nardin and its technology partner SCI have been touting a prototype of their phone since 2009, eliciting equal parts drool and bile across the tech blogs, Ulysse Nardin now finally says the phone “will soon launch in Russia, the United States and Europe.”

If the prototype went on display back in 2009, what has taken so long for the Chairman to finally be ready for that elite, discerning, luxury-loving, VIP executive? A positively unctuous press release explains: “Setting out to create a more exceptional iteration of the Chairman, the creators were confident the end result would justify the commitment to realizing what they envisioned possible, the most palatial smart phone to date, choosing excellence over a pre-determined timeline.”

Palatial excellence, in this case, means a 3.2-inch touch screen, 32 GB internal memory, 8-megapixel camera, and HD video, all running on an Android core. (That’s right, the world’s most elite smartphone uses a free operating system.) Revising your vision of the unapproachably rich executive, the Chairman also comes with Facebook preloaded (ever been poked by a billionaire?) and “extensive gaming ability” (or challenged one to a round of Angry Birds?). It also comes with a lacquered wood docking station that simultaneously charges and backs up the phone. A spokesperson tells Technology Review that the Chairman’s prices range from $12,800 to $55,000, “with the very special Diamond Edition retailing for $129,000.”

Wearing its timekeeping heritage proudly, the Chairman features a mechanical watch rotor mounted on the back of the device. Cranking it feeds kinetic energy to a secondary battery. “So is it right you don’t need a battery for your phone?” goes a question on Ulysse Nardin’s lackadaisically punctuated FAQ page. “No, the Chairman still needs to be charged like a traditional phone,” runs the response. “however the phone is equipped with 2 batteries, the second battery collects kinetic energy coming from the rotor. In turn the 2nd battery trickle charges battery 1.” In other words, the Ulysse Nardin is so deluxe, its battery has a battery.

A video shows off a 3D model of the phone. At the end, a series of words zoom into view, before disappearing. “Hybrid. Pedigree. Status. Style.” The video has 19,250 views–more people than could ever buy the phone, since Ulysse Nardin has announced that it only intends to produce 1846 units of each Chairman style, “in honor of Ulysse Nardin’s founding year.”

The luxury cell phone market is something that has been revving up for a while. Back in November of 2009, the International Herald Tribune reported on various phones, like the Meridiist, which came with a sapphire crystal case, or the Constellation Ayxta, which featured “an exclusive soundtrack by the Grammy-nominated British electronic musicians Zero 7.” (Editions of the latter phone ranged from $6,500 to $8,600.) Armani and Christian Dior also got in on the game, but many players were only working on flip phones, rather than smartphones, at the time.

But Ulysse Nardin and SCI saw that even the ultra-wealthy need their apps. At the time, SCI’s Bobby Yampolsky boasted to the IHT that “[o]ther luxury phones are not half as advanced as the Chairman.” And now, almost two years later, technology enthusiasts with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to burn can finally be the judges of that. If you count yourself among them, preorder yours today.

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