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What is a luxury gadget?

What is a luxury gadget?
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First Published: Thu, Sep 08 2011. 09 33 PM IST

Sidin Vadukut
Sidin Vadukut
Updated: Thu, Sep 08 2011. 09 33 PM IST
In this inaugural issue of Mint Indulge, we’ve devoted considerable space to getting under the skin of an unarguably luxurious, indulgent brand such as Vertu.
But Vertu is, when you sit and think about it, something of an aberration in the world of gadgets and gizmos. An aberration in the sense that it is a rare “luxury” gadget brand that is actually taken seriously. Think, for a moment, about what it means for a device to be a “luxury” device.
What makes it luxurious?
Sidin Vadukut
For the purpose of answering that question, first let us consider what metrics we would use when evaluating, choosing and buying a watch by Vacheron Constantin, a suit by Brioni, a car by Porsche, or a piece of jewellery by Cartier or Harry Winston.
Your first metric could be the actual performance of the product: how well does it achieve its purpose in comparison with other similar, less-luxurious products?
A carat-full ring by Cartier or Harry Winston should, no doubt, be spectacular. The design of the piece, the setting of the stone and the clarity of the gem should, no doubt, set it apart from your Karol Bagh family jeweller’s most ardent efforts. Sliding into a Brioni jacket a couple of years ago, even if it was only for the purpose of writing about it for this newspaper, I consider one of my life’s epiphanic moments. One moment, I was a journalist. The next I was a dashing extra from Sex And The City.
Porsche cars are theoretically and experientially superior to most automobiles. Things get a little complicated when you begin to talk about watches. Even the most expensive timepiece from the Patek Philippe’s catalogue keeps time with less accuracy than a cheap Casio digital watch. But then that is an unfair comparison. You should really only be comparing mechanical watches with other mechanical watches. In which case, it is hard to beat a Patek. (But not as hard as being able to afford one.)
A second metric could be quality of manufacturing. How durable is the product? Assuming you live a normal, unremarkable life, it is unlikely that you will outlive anything made by Cartier, Porsche or Patek. Those products are truly built to last.
Look, feel and finish could be a third metric. For many people— maybe even most—what sets apart a luxury product could simply be the price: the more expensive it is, the more luxurious it could be.
Of course, I am sure everyone has their own “luxury” qualifiers: Is it available only in limited editions? Is it French? Does it contain Tendulkar’s blood? Was the firm founded before the French Revolution?
So then what is a luxury gadget?
Many months ago, for the luxury special issue of Lounge, published by this newspaper, I put together a list of atrocious luxury products. Each of these products were usually rich in every conceivable luxury. Except taste. This included mobile phones sheathed in platinum, coated in gold and encrusted in diamonds.
They were ridiculously expensive phones. And utterly reprehensible. In some circles, it is not uncommon to refer to them as “Russian oligarch chic”.
More recently, a handful of manufacturers have announced versions of the latest iPhone plated in gold. In August, an American website, FrederickJames.com, put a limited number of iPad wallets made from pants previously owned by Bernie Madoff. The covers cost $250 and upwards. Not much cheaper than the iPad itself.
But is it luxury? Or just irrational exuberance?
The problem with gadgets is that many of the characteristics that make other products luxurious are irrelevant or insufficient. Most top-end gadgets are well built, of high quality, reliable, and do their job brilliantly. Many are relatively expensive. Some are made by iconic brands.
Everything about, for instance, the iPhone 4 or the Samsung Galaxy S II probably makes it a luxury product. Except for the fact that millions of people own it. The supermodel, fashion designer, photographer and the guy who drives the supermodel’s limo can all own the iPhone 4 and experience the product’s luxury.
You could upgrade to a Vertu or a Ulysse Nardin mobile phone. Both phones extend additional services, benefits and brand associations that justify the price premiums.
However, as a pure mobile phone, I don’t see how you could outdo the iPhone or the Galaxy for luxury. Sure, Cartier or Patek could, I suppose, make phones if they wanted to.
But would you buy it over an iPhone? Even if you could afford it?
Which is why, I suppose, people wearing the finest suits, most complicated watches and driving the most exclusive cars all still use consumer devices that sell in millions. They may carry it in an outlandish pouch of some kind. But it is still a mass consumer device.
From a sheer luxury perspective, one could say, the phone is the weakest chink in an indulgent man’s armoury.
Which brings us back to our question: what in God’s name is a “luxury” gadget?
Does such a thing really exist?
Or maybe luxury is a state of mind. Which is another column by itself.
Respond to this column at sidin.v@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Sep 08 2011. 09 33 PM IST