The festive season may have passed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still splurge and spoil those close to you. Steve Dinneen suggests 10 gadgets to buy your loved one – or yourself – if money is no object.
Technology has always gone hand in hand with luxury. From the revolutionary mechanical watches that appeared on the wrists of the ultra-rich denizens of the 17th century, to the early motor cars driven by thrill-seeking aristocrats, technology has been a symbol of the perennially wealthy. Our dreams of where it can take us – such as the robot butler, a mainstay of science fiction writing – are also inextricably tied to the idea of status: creations that show off your fortune as well as making your life easier.
The past decade, though, has seen a shift. Apple’s first iPod, released in 2001, junked the theory that luxury products should be unattainable to the masses. Its sleek design made Apple the most coveted brand in the world and it has, to date, sold a staggering 350 million of them. Apple’s success wasn’t unprecedented – think of the Sony Walkman – but no mainstream gadget ever became such an instant status symbol in the way the iPod (and, later, the iPhone) did.
This presented the top-end market with a problem – luxury is all about having the very best, at any cost, but Apple was giving people the best at a price most people in the Western world could afford. It was – and is – unthinkable that anyone could craft a better MP3 player. Once upon a time the richest couple of guys on your plane might have had the best, most up-to-date portable music player. Now almost everyone will. So where does the luxury market come in?
In many cases, it has simply stuck to what it is good at. The mechanical watch market has never been in better shape, despite shunning the digital realm. Its argument that you can’t beat good old-fashioned craftsmanship certainly seems to stand up. Others have turned their hand to making technology accessories – you may have the same iPhone as everyone else, but is it housed in a soft leather Mulberry case?
There is also a growing tendency towards cross-pollination between traditional high-end brands and technology companies. When Blackberry floundered in the face of the iPhone, it experimented with a tie-in with Porsche, which resulted in a stunningly designed phone (costing $2,000) with all the software drawbacks of a regular Blackberry. If you’re a headphones-maker, current logic states that plastering the Ferrari logo on the side of your product will inject an instant shot of luxury.
At the same time, camera-maker Leica has managed, despite the odds, to stay at the forefront of the market the old way – by creating stunning, incredibly well engineered products that only a handful of people can afford. There has also been a more fundamental shift from physical products to the “experiential”. Taking a trip on a private jet is still seen as the ultimate luxury, something that has outlived decades’ worth of gadgetry. Some companies, such as phone maker Vertu, combine the experiential with the physical, offering its customers a concierge service to complement its hardware.
And this could all be set to change again. As gadgets get smarter, the limits of what they can achieve recede further into the distance – that robot butler may not be as far away as you think. Until then, there is always the tried and tested way to ‘surefire luxurification’ – take something that already exists and dip it in gold. If you have the money to splash out, there is a new wave of companies willing to make sure your gadgets stay ahead of the pack – if that means picking out the Apple logo on your iPad with diamonds, then all the better. Here is our guide to some of the hottest luxury tech on the market.
1. Leica X2 Paul Smith
How do you make the world’s most glamorous camera company even more exclusive? Get one of Britain’s favourite designers to put his stamp on it. The Paul Smith X2 is a stunning blend of German engineering and Smith’s trademark neon flourishes. It also packs one hell of a punch as a lightweight, versatile camera, with a resolution of more than 16 megapixels and an incredibly well-developed auto-focus system. If you’re after a camera light enough to pack that still makes a big impact, this will do the trick… if you have a spare couple of grand.
2. Gold Plated Amazon Kindle
You might not find a better e-reader than the Amazon Kindle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve on it. Alexander Amosu, the man behind Amosu Couture, will take your garden-variety Kindle and give it the Midas touch by gold-plating it. The resulting product is the most shimmering, opulent Kindle in the world. If you’re a fan of bling – or know someone who is – you can also get a gold-plated iPad or Blackberry (dubbed the Goldberry) or stud them with pink Swarovski crystals. Bring your wallet with you, though – highlighting the Apple logo on an iPad with crystals will set you back a cool $2,000.
3. Ultrasone Edition 10
This may just be the most beautiful pair of headphones in the world. The wood, aluminium and leather construction smacks of class, and the design is inspired by the wings of a butterfly, with a touch of art deco. They are built according to the Ultrasone’s “S-Logic” system, which states that wearing headphones slightly forward and down on your head improves the quality of sound. So, in the case of the Edition 10, the sound isn’t piped directly into your ear canal, but slightly off-centre, which allows them to paint spectacular soundscapes. They also come with a very beautiful storage box, so you don’t step on them by mistake.
4. Vertu Constellation Quest Carbon Fibre (gold)
Vertu has carved out a small but lingering niche in the smartphone arena by selling mind-bendingly expensive handsets that don’t really have much more to offer than a decent Android phone. The reason they persist is they are impossibly exclusive, with prices starting at the high four figures and spiralling far higher. The Constellation Quest looks like a Blackberry that’s won the lottery, with its matte black carbon fibre body and 18-karat gold detailing. It’s bling to the extent of being ever-so-slightly crass, but that is kind of the point. It also provides access to its concierge service, for “expert assistance, recommendations and priority bookings”. As a status symbol, this leaves your iPhone looking rather pedestrian. At $16,000 for the gold version, though, you probably can’t afford one.
5. Harry Winston Opus Eleven Watch
The Opus Eleven watch is as complex as it is beautiful. Famed jewellery brand Harry Winstone claims it “deconstructs time”, creating “an engineering puzzle that resolves itself on the hour”. The three cylinders of the watch keep track of hours, minutes and seconds, respectively, with the exposed mechanics constantly leaping and whirring as time passes. On the hour, the main “hour” cylinder shatters the number of the previous hour and reassembles the new one. The wind-up mechanical watch, made up of 566 separate components, comes with a white gold case and houses 155 jewels. And if exclusivity is of paramount importance, rest assured – only 111 of these were created.
6. Ego Laptop
If making a statement is of more importance than sending an email, then step forward the
most luxurious laptop in the world – the rather appropriately named Ego. With prices starting at $5,000, but rising to a cool $350,000 for the diamond and platinum version (encrusted with 470 gems), this handbag-shaped creation will place you in a very exclusive crowd. The hardware is so-so by today’s standards, with a 12.1-inch screen, AMD processor, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and DVD/ CD burner, but that is a country-mile wide of the point. If motoring is your thing, there is also a Bentley version that will cost you in the region of $16,000, and comes in a pleasing shade of red. Viewing is by appointment at select retailers around the world.
7. Bombardier Global 5000
$40 million (before you start playing about with the interior)
The ultimate luxury product for the frequent traveller is the private jet, and the Bombardier Global 5000 is one of the best. It can be kitted out with just about anything, and offers incredibly fast speeds, long endurance and low altitude manoeuvrability, all of which make it a favourite for some of the world’s richest people. (Bill Gates owns one.) Turn up to a meeting in one of these and you’re probably going to get the result you were looking for. But then it won’t matter – you’re already insanely wealthy. And even better, you can store all your other high-tech travelling equipment inside to make sure it doesn’t mysteriously disappear before you reach your destination.
8. Bowers and Wilkins A5
If you’re looking for an ultra-slick wireless speaker-dock to hook up to your iPhone, the Bowers and Wilkins A5 is a surefire hit. It has the classic combination of robust design – allowing hi-fi quality playback from a portable device – and gorgeous looks that has made B&W a staple of the speaker market. The sound quality is astonishing, with incredible range and depth, although at 3.6kg you’ll have to chuck out some clutter from your suitcase to fit it in. The A5 may not be studded with diamonds or dipped in gold, but it is a feat of engineering worthy of any luxury pad – or tray table. The fact B&W is one of the few retailers allowed to sell in Apple stores speaks volumes.
9. Bugatti Volo Toaster
You can pick up a toaster from just about anywhere for around $8. But is that toaster made by sportscar maker Bugatti? The Bugatti Volo represents the firm’s somewhat unexpected move into the toasted bread business. And this isn’t just any toaster – the Volo features six different “browning levels” and a bun warmer big enough to accommodate a bagel. Even better, it has a motorised toast-lifting system. The question is, how quick is it? The answer – well, just about as fast as a regular toaster. Some things you just can’t improve on.
10. Kohler Numi Toilet
Are you the gadget geek with everything? What about the world’s most technologically advanced toilet? The Kohler Numi is the Rolex of the toilet world. Sensors react to your movement when you enter the room, allowing for hands-free opening and closing of the toilet seat. Don’t worry about getting a cold bottom during the winter months – you can adjust the seat temperature to suit the demands of your buttocks and warm your feet with groundlevel heat-vents. It comes with a “self-cleaning wand” that will wash and dry your intimate parts, before sucking the nearby air through a charcoal filter to mask any bathroom-related smells. It even has built-in lighting and a speaker system that will play FM radio or hook up to your MP3 player, ensuring calls of nature will never get boring.