By Supantha Mukherjee and Anya George Tharakan
(StartName) – Weeks before Apple Inc unveiled its latest iPhone, a British company was advertising a gold-plated version on its website.
“We have some good sources. They gave us an idea of what the phone would look like,” said Laban Roomes, founder of Goldgenie, which has sold more than 2,500 gold-plated handsets in the month since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were launched.
Now, the privately owned company has developed a way to add a 24-carat gold veneer to Samsung phones for the first time. This should help it to double revenue to about 20 million pounds ($32 million) next year, Roomes told StartName in an interview.
“We hope we can cover both angles by doing two of the best-selling phones in the history of phones,” he said.
Goldgenie gets about half of its revenue from the sale of Apple products, online and through approved resellers. Its 64-gigabyte iPhone 6 sells for a little over $4,200, or more than five times the price of the phone’s regular equivalent.
The company lists several celebrities and sports stars among its clients. Demand is also strong in the Gulf states – a limited edition iPhone features the national crest of countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Goldgenie is not without competition. U.S.-based Brikk LLC plans this month to release a gold-plated iPhone 6 with a price tag of $4,995, while London-based Gold & Co’s versions – costing upward of $5,000 – went on sale on Sept. 21.
What caught the eye was Goldgenie’s early release of images. Roomes said the company published details of the iPhone 6 four weeks before its official launch on Sept. 9. StartName reporters saw the images on the website two weeks prior to the unveiling.
“We copied Apple and created hype long before it was launched,” said Roomes. “We were able to get a set amount of stock a few days after the actual phone was launched in the UK.”
Roomes started his business in the 1990s, borrowing cash from an ex-girlfriend to buy a portable gold-plating machine that he carried door-to-door in search of customers. His big break was a deal to gold-plate emblems for Toyota Motor Corp’s Lexus cars – something Goldgenie still does today.
An appearance on the BBC reality television show Dragons’ Den, where budding entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of investors, raised his profile. He convinced panelist James Caan to invest 60,000 pounds, an investment later returned tenfold.
The company works with Apple technicians to dismantle iPhones before using chemicals to strip an anodized layer from the back of the casing. The casing is then polished, treated and plated with gold, rose gold or platinum.
Roomes said Goldgenie’s technology gives it an edge over competitors when it comes to gold-plating Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Galaxy Alpha phone – also released last month – and the Galaxy S6, which is expected to launch next year.
“Samsung phones are plastic,” he said. “Usually, people put a plate on metal or conductive surfaces. We’ve developed a technique that allows us to plate on plastic.”
A gold-plated Galaxy Alpha, like the iPhone 6, is priced at slightly over $4,000. The regular Galaxy Alpha retails at $613 in the United States.
(Editing by Robin Paxton)