Built with such sumptuous materials as titanium, sapphires and alligator leather, Vertu's smartphones are among the most luxurious to be found anywhere on the planet. It's no surprise then that its latest -- the New Signature Touch -- comes with a price tag starting at £6,500, which roughly converts to $10,000 or AU$14,100. That's a hell of a lot of cash for an Android phone.
It's not just about the materials, though. Rather than manufacturing thousands of devices a day using robots and production lines, Vertu prides itself on building its phones by hand at its Hampshire production facility in the south of England. I paid the factory a visit to get a closeup look at how these premium handsets are produced.
Welcome to the inside of the facility. It's a huge building, designed in a modern, minimalist way. Looking down at the workshop floor reminded me of my look inside Nissan's gigantic production facility in Sunderland, but you won't find giant automated robots inside Vertu's plant.
All the parts for the phones start their factory life in component crates like these. Everything has its place and even the tiniest of parts are packaged and labelled, ready to be assembled.
This array of cameras is used to take detailed images of individual components. Every piece that gets put into a phone is first photographed to compare its exact size and shape with a perfect reference sample. If any variations in its size are detected, it doesn't get sent through to the building section as this will result in a physically imperfect phone.
Once checked, all the components needed to build an individual phone are arranged in these trays by hand. The trays contain all the necessary parts, from the display to the circuit board and all the pieces of the chassis.
Vertu's phones can be customised with a variety of different specialist leathers and precious metals. It's these chaps' jobs to make sure that all the right custom pieces are being sent through to produce the correct final product.
These screwdrivers help the engineers pick up tiny screws with relative ease and get them securely in place on the circuit board.
All the screws required for each build are colour-coded to make sure that the right screw goes in the right place.
A worker attaches the phone's display. For the New Signature Touch, that's a 5.2-inch full HD panel.
This tool is then placed around the phone. As well as helping to secure the pieces in place, it allows the engineer to accurately measure the finished chassis -- if there is even the slightest imperfection in size, the device will be sent back to be remade with new parts.
To help the engineers, computer screens show the building procedure for each phone in a colour-coded system. It's like a Lego plan, only with a more expensive finished product.
One of the custom leather backs is ready to be applied. The leather isn't produced in the factory but is instead made by an external tannery.
Once the phone is nearing completion, it is put through its paces by this computer.
The phone is connected and slid inside the computer, where it then has its components and radios electrically tested to ensure they're all properly hooked up and working as they should be. Every phone is put through this test.
This New Signature Touch is almost finished. An eagle-eyed engineer is giving it a last look over to check for any gaps in panelling or anything else that makes the phone less than perfect. As each phone is made by a single person, any inaccuracies in the finished product can be traced back down the line.
The buttons are all checked to ensure they click in just the right way.
One of Vertu's earlier handsets -- the Signature S -- is still being produced and sold, seven years after it was first released. This plain interior panel is about to have a makeover.
It's popped into a laser-etching machine...
...to be marked with the signature of the engineer that produced the phone.
Now the phones have been built, it's time for them to have their software installed. For the Signature Touch smartphones, that means loading up Google's Android Lollipop software.
The Signature S uses physical buttons made from synthesised ruby. The keyboard's buttons are all put into place by hand.
Yes, robots equipped with laser-based guidance systems can do this sort of fiddly work much faster, but Vertu reckons it's the hand-made touch that makes its phones so special.
The phones are given a final look over before they're given a thorough polish.
All fingerprints, dust and any other marks have to be removed before packaging -- it wouldn't be right for a seven-grand phone to arrive covered in finger grease!
Once completed, Vertu's phones are shipped all around the world from their Hampshire factory.