There was a keen sense of expectation at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, London, on 11 May 2010. The journalists present knew that Dusseldorf-based company Novero was about to unveil something new, and they could guess that it would probably be linked to the field in which it has constructed its success - bluetooth applications with a particular focus on the automotive sector - but the secret had been well maintained, and no-one new exactly what lay in those cases concealed by drapes.
Razvan Olosu, founder and CEO of Novero, summed up the company approach to the new product. "Our philosophy is stay free, break new ground. Our objective today is to position Novero as a luxury and premium brand." When the drapes finally came off, it was immediately clear that Victoria - the product's name - does just that. It is a bluetooth device combined with high jewellery craftsmanship to create a new hybrid. Victoria is a pearl necklace with a circular, diamond-studded pendant. The right-hand string of pearls is connected to the pendant by a magnet so that when a call arrives on the mobile, the wearer simply detaches the earpiece from the pendant, lifts it up to her ear, and can listen and talk normally as per any bluetooth device. The difference with respect to conventional bluetooth is that the earpiece itself is in gold with diamonds, and so that while taking the call, the woman is also wearing an entirely new jewellery concept, with pendant, pearls, and what could be likened to an earring, all in glittering harmony. The concept has the potential to be the next big thing in telephony, a departure of equal significance of, for example, the earliest in-car communications applications, and bluetooth itself.
Those five jewels, examples of what will be the Victoria première collection, are not yet available on the market, and even when they do arrive in the third quarter this year, they will be sold in an approach of total personalization. One of the pieces shown has a string of Black Tahiti pearls, 115 black diamonds in a diamond pavée on the pendant, and yet more diamonds and pavée on the earpiece. Another features a two-carat diamond at the centre of the pendant. This means that the price tag attached to such "jewels of technology" is likely to be around the 100,000 euro mark.
These top-end products are accompanied by a range of more accessible jewellery-bluetooth pieces, the Victoria premium range, in materials such as silver and lapislazzuli, in combination with state-of-the-art polymers and silicone. These will also be available from around September-October 2010. The technology is the same as in the haute joiallerie models, but the look ranges from high-tech to fresh, bright, everyday jewellery. There is also a men's version in which the pendant becomes a black or white clip, and the earpiece is simply looped nonchanantly around the neck. The price range of these pieces will be in the order of 300-500 euro.
The women who tried the models on at the presentation said that in both necklace and blutooth configuration, the unit felt balanced, and even the jewellery version did not feel at all heavy. One example of the feedback that is arriving from the users of the prototypes is the need for a soft pouch in which to store the unit in the handbag. Women's needs are taken into prime consideration. As vice president Uwe Pertz said, "Many women don't like to wear headsets because it makes them look nerdy. Women are multi-taskers, they need to save time and have easy hands-free communication."
"In a way, Victoria was an inevitable development for us," said Yrjö Kemppi, the other Novero vice president, "because our previous products had a male orientation. And we are conscious of the fact that the female market is massively important for us." Novero, which was founded by Razvan Olosu in 2008, in a management buy-out from Nokia in which the new, lean company would work on the niche sectors that the Finnish telecoms giant didn't have the flexibility to handle, has made its name with mid-level bluetooth products such as "The Car One," a hands-off mobile phone set made specifically for the car, and "Lexington," a sleek black bluetooth in which a charger unit provides a handy carrier for the unobtrusive device itself and provides a total of 20 hours talk time. Lexington, given its colour and the fine black Italian nappa leather used to clad the holder, speaks to men. And so the stage was set for a specifically female-oriented bluetooth unit.
"Novero is the home of the story of tomorrow, that you invent today," said Razvan Olosu. "For the first time in this sector, we have combined technology with art, function with beauty. Our objective for Victoria was to create a communications device that fits individuals and their requirements in everyday life. On today's market there is already a lot of technology around, but all too often it's anonymous technology. People want to be able to personalize it, and use it in the way that they wish."
Novero is a company that is well positioned to optimize the technological content of this new product. Victoria incorporates advanced noise reduction and echo cancellation technology, meaning that you can be talking in a fairly noisy location, but your listener will hear just your own voice and little else. The company also developed and patented the technology necessary to make bluetooth signal transmission possible.
In fact, the radio signals that link the device to the mobile phone would normally be blocked by a metal housing of the type used for Victoria. There is small button on the pendant that is pressed to receive a call, and an unobtrusive button at the lower rim of the pendant for step-by-step volume control (up-up-up-down-down-down). The usual red/blue LED that indicates that the device is switched on and operating is on the back of the pendant. A USB socket for recharging is also located on the lower rim.
The addition of the jewellery aspect was of course something of a new departure for Novero. The company has its own in-house design team that created the overall shape of the pendant, necklace and earpiece, but for the jewellery pieces, it has acquired the craftsmanship resources specifically for the task, artists skilled in the cutting and polishing of lapislazzuli, and in the selection and setting of diamonds and diamond pavée. The whole project has been developing over the course of one and a half years, while the diamonds and pearls used to create the five jewellery pieces featured in the presentation were purchased in Munich in February 2010. All in all, a fast-track project, in keeping with the Novero story.
Razvan Olosu hit the news in Germany in 2008, when he engineered the management buyout of Nokia's automotive applications sector, because in doing so he saved the jobs of 250 employees at the Finnish company's Bochum plant, scheduled for closure. In the process, he took some top management with him, principally because of his inspirational leadership. One executive said, "We would have followed him even if his proposal had been to manufacture paper aeroplanes." From that moment on, progress has been extraordinarily rapid. Olosu set up a manufacturing unit in Dusseldorf, and quickly transformed the business into a multinational with premises in Europe (Dusseldorf and Bochum), Atlanta and Toronto (R&D). From 250 employees, the staff expanded to 400, representing a total of 44 nationalities, with the prospect of adding another 100 - principally to develop a global distribution network - within 2010. The company is financially stable and growing, with initial support from Deutsche Bank and BHF, as well as from private equity. Perhaps one of the secrets to Novero's success is the refreshing approach to corporate life introduced by Olosu.
Uwe Schmitz, product marketing director, said, "Of course there is a hierarchy at our company, but there is total communication upwards and across. If someone on the workfloor has an idea for a product, it receives equal consideration as when the idea comes from our design team." We asked him who had had the original idea for Victoria. "I couldn't really say that it came from one person in particular. We knew that we wanted to create something that would make bluetooth technology more accessible for women, but the idea was developed by contributions from many people in the company. You know, the sort of brainstorming that goes on over a few bottles of good red wine..." The company headquarters in Dusseldorf reflects this enlightened approach. Open-plan,of course, and even Razvan's office is entirely glass-walled. "We have just one other enclosed space, with glass walls; we call it the aquarium. It's where you go if you need a moment's silence to make a phone call."
The same sort of innovative approach determined Novero's decision to launch the product not with a powerpoint presentation, but with a theatrical dance performance in four acts, accompanied by music, smoke, and two tons of lighting equipment, translating the characteristics of company and product into poetry of movement. All this in the heart of cosmopolitan London, while outside, the smog-blackened yellow bricks of the factory glowed gold against the blue sky in a spectacular English sunset. And while Novero presented its innovative marriage of technology and beauty, Messrs. Cameron and Clegg were defining their own combination of policies that will produce the UK's first coalition government for decades. Absolutely impeccable timing on Novero's part.
Novero are currently implementing their distribution network ready for retail launch in the third quarter this year (2010). For further information, see www.novero.com
The Victoria collection
Victoria La Première Edition: personalized jewellery pieces in natural pearls, white or yellow gold, and diamonds.
Premier edition: five models with the same state-of-the-art bluetooth technology, and five design formats:
Pearl: a classic model, with a string of 55 artificial pearls and a gold-plated metal pendant and earpiece.
Stripes: a more contemporary design, with a pendant in high-tech polymer and stripes in gold plate, suspended from a silicone loop.
Wave: in this piece the silicone pendant features a turquoise and white yin-yang motif.
Lapis: the necklace is in silver-plated metal tubes alternating with lapislazzuli beads, and the pendant is in metal with hand-polished lapislazzuli
Victor: this is the men's version of Victoria, with a rectangular black case incorporating a silver cap which, when removed, reveals the micro USB socket for recharging. The case can be clipped onto the shirt, and the earpiece is on the end of a long silicone lead which is looped around the neck.