While the rest of us waited to get an iPhone 6 over launch weekend, an elite few were anticipating an exclusive variant: a custom 24-karat gold version of Apple’s next-generation handset.
The waiting list of exclusive customers includes music industry heavy hitters, boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr., Russian oligarchs and practically every royal family member in the United Arab Emirates — people for whom nothing short of a gold iPhone 6 is acceptable.
“Believe you me, we have a lot of very big-name clients, but we don’t like to publicly reveal their names,” says creator Amjad Ali. “As a British company, we just don’t think it’s the polite thing to do.”
A “basic” model iPhone can retail for $5,000, with prices going all the way up to $130,000.
The company in question is Gold & Co., a luxury jeweler known for “blinging out” Apple devices for the obscenely wealthy.
While Apple fans routinely pay a premium to own Cupertino’s latest high-end machines, Jony Ive’s sublime industrial design apparently isn’t enough for some customers with fat bank accounts. Why settle for being one of the first 10 million people to own the world’s hottest phone when you can get a custom version that screams excess and luxury?
A “basic” model iPhone from Gold & Co. can retail for $5,000, with prices going all the way up to $130,000. What do you get for your $130K — aside from an inflated fear of using your iPhone near drains or running water of any type?
“For that, you’d get 4,000 individual, hand-set VS diamonds,” Ali says, noting that a jeweler can only set about 100 diamonds per day. “About 90 percent of everything we do is custom-made. People will want their name on it, or something else engraved on it. We do a lot of corporate logos, too.”
When Cult of Mac spoke to Ali, it was the day of the iPhone 6 release, and he was overseeing the production of about 50 handsets being prepared to wing their way to exorbitantly rich clients. A U.K.-born former IT salesman, Ali got into the gold iPhone business in 2010, around the time of the iPhone 4 and first-generation iPad.
“One of my friends had ordered a phone from an existing company which was offering a gold-plating service,” he says. “It wasn’t what had been promised. I thought that I could do better.”
Four years later, he’s the head of an impressively lucrative company — with all the problems a world-class Rolodex entails.
“Now that we’ve become popular everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon, thinking there’s money to be made,” he says. “Like any luxury brand, you get fakes. There are more fake devices out there with our name on them than there are authentic ones we’ve actually created.”
An equally big challenge is dealing with Apple — a company that’s not exactly known for sharing its product road map with third-party case makers. Ali’s client base might have more money than most people are likely to see in a lifetime, but what they don’t necessarily have is a whole lot of patience.
Justin Bieber phoned up, screaming, “Why haven’t I got it?!”
According to one recent report, Jamaican rapper Sean Kingston was performing at a Dubai hotel when he was given a preview of the forthcoming gold-plated iPhone 6, which was not yet out at the time. When he sent a photo of it to Justin Bieber on iMessage, Bieber was livid, and rang up Ali screaming, “Why haven’t I got it?!” over the phone.
The iPhone 6 in question was just a mockup, but it illustrates the challenge of dealing with clients who aren’t used to being made to wait for things. Understandably that makes the period between the iPhone launch and the completed products leaving Gold & Co.’s workshops a stressful time.
In the case of the iPhone 6, Ali had 10 days from the phone’s September 9 announcement to its September 19 launch to ensure all the necessary tooling was ready to roll. That’s where the inevitable leaks and rumors come into play.
“It’s true that that’s when we first saw the new iPhone,” he says. “Fortunately there are so many leaks online now that we have a pretty good idea of what the new iPhones are going to look like ahead of time,” he says.
For those not on the waiting list, Gold & Co.’s gold iPhone 6 models went on sale Sunday.
“When you’ve been doing this for long enough you get to know leaks from certain sources are going to be pretty reliable. We don’t have any sources in the supply chain in China, but when it’s your job to do this you build up a picture ahead of time based on all the overlapping pieces of information.”
So what’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to one of his iPhones? After all, this year’s unintentional YouTube star is blogger Dave Rahimi who bought and promptly dropped the world’s first purchased iPhone 6 on live TV. That feeling’s got to be worse if you’ve just laid down the equivalent value of a private jet deposit on your diamond-encrusted iPhone.
“The worst was one of our handsets having a car driven over it,” Ali says. “Fortunately our handsets come with a great warranty. For the most part, though, the kind of people who buy our products tend to be a bit more careful with them…. If you wear an expensive watch, you’re not going to do a bit of DIY in it, are you? It’s the same thing with a 24-karat gold iPhone 6.”