Luxury phone maker Vertu changes hands yet again

Exiled Turkish businessman Hakan Uzan could have picked up around 10,000 averaged-priced Vertu handsets for the amount he reportedly just paid for the company. Though it’s tough to say, really, which would have been the worse investment.

According to a report from The Telegraph yesterday, Uzan, a member of a secretive Turkish business family, has spent around £50 million ($61 million) to acquire the U.K.-based manufacturer of obscenely garish, blinged-up handsets. This marks the third time Vertu has changed hands since the company was spun off from Nokia in 2012. Mostly recently, it was owned by China-based Godin Holdings, which purchased the company at the end of 2015.

And it’s not hard to see why companies have been passing the company around like so many diamond-encrusted hot potatoes. Vertu’s handsets sell for an average of around $6,000, with a number of models going for several times that amount. That sort of pricing may serve as a good indicator of precisely how much money one has to burn, but it doesn’t really say much for what you’re getting on the inside.

From a purely hardware perspective, the devices tend to be little more than last gen-handsets dressed up with fancy materials and logos, coupled with “Concierge” customer support services. That’s likely a big part of why the company posted a £53 million loss on sales of £110 million back in 2014 — the last time it offered up such information publicly.

Uzan responded to the report, telling The Telegraph that, “Vertu is a powerful brand with an acknowledged market niche. I look forward to working with the team and providing the investment to enable Vertu to realize its full potential.” Not exactly a world domination plan, so much as an acknowledgement of the fairly limited market potential of a Vertu’s product.

What makes the acquisition compelling — beyond the simple question of why anyone would want to become the latest in a long line of owners — is the Uzans’ embattled relationship with former Vertu owner, Nokia. The family has been hit by lawsuits from the one-time smartphone giant, after it took out loans to launch Turkish carrier, Telsim.

Nokia and Motorola accused the family of fraud and ultimately scored billions over unpaid loans. It was all part of a large downward spiral for the family that also, naturally, involved a dust-up with Donald Trump over apartments in Trump Tower. Which likely means that the president won’t be upgrading his beloved Android handset to a Vertu any time soon.