CONSIDER, if you will, the humble corkscrew. As a lover of gadgetry, I find the corkscrew an unusually interesting object. Although they vary from shoddily made 99p versions to devices costing 100 or more, they all do precisely the same job in the same way, and take the same time about it. Screw, pull, pop, pour; it's not a big ask. Cheap corkscrews also last for pretty much as long as expensive ones.
And yet if you compare opening a bottle of wine with a cheap corkscrew to doing the same thing with a beautifully made mechanism, you will agree that the experiences are very different. Using a top-quality artefact to perform even the most humdrum of tasks is a positive pleasure. It satisfies all the senses – touch, as the corkscrew smoothly executes its business; sound, as it does so with the minimum of creaking and squeaking; sight as the cork glides out smoothly. Even the smell and taste of the wine somehow seem better when the cork has been withdrawn without a struggle.
And it's not just using a beautiful thing that's such a delight. The pleasure starts with buying a fine object; the whole retail experience is superior if the corkscrew is a luxury product. Opening the pristine packaging, touching the device for the first time, reading the instructions, putting it carefully away in its box rather than just throwing it in a drawer, looking forward to using it – all these elements combine to create a delightful buzz about buying the best of breed and an overall warm feeling, even though you have spent, perhaps, a hundred times what was strictly necessary for a gadget to open wine bottles. That, for me, is the essence of the luxury experience.
The definition of luxury recognised by some – merely abundance or opulence – is incorrect. Luxury is just as much about making a pleasure of a necessity as it is about producing objects whose principal characteristic is their beauty or the preciousness of the materials from which they are made.
Dyson is the perfect example of this. A Dyson vacuum cleaner is as much a luxury good to me as a beautifully crafted piece of Asprey jewellery. By virtue of its technology, its beauty and its peerless build quality, using a Dyson makes cleaning practically a pleasure.
Its inventor James Dyson, as might be expected, is a keen evangelist for the 'making necessity a pleasure' school of luxury. "For me, luxury isn't about expense, rarity or indulgence," he says. "I'm not into pointless luxury of an ornamental kind. That's not to say my home is one of minimalist functionality; it's just that for me luxury is about how pleasurable something is to use, how well it does its job. If it's labour-saving and uses technology to make our lives easier, that's luxury. A necessary luxury."
The UK-based company Vertu, which had the inspired idea of applying luxury standards of design and craftsmanship to mobile phones, provides another classic example of a product that makes a luxury out of a necessity. It is also a perfect application of the brand-building principle which states that if you want to create a leading brand, start by inventing an entirely new product category. At least one Swiss watch manufacturer is rumoured to be playing catch-up with Vertu and launching a mobile phone this year.
There has been nothing glamorous or chic about making a mobile phone call since about 1988, when mobiles became a mass-produced, low-status item. But Vertu reinvented the mobile to make phoning a genuinely sensual pleasure. What it did, it has to be stressed, is infinitely more important in the luxury industry than the re-badging exercises many fashion labels have tried: superficially restyling an ordinary phone as a branded accessory.
Rather than being a symphony in plastic like any other mobile, a Vertu is an astonishingly well-made instrument, simply a joy to hold and handle. The sound quality, both received and transmitted, is the best there is. The ringtones sound amazing and the graphics are beautiful. You can even select an old-fashioned clock face as your wallpaper – a witty (and ergonomically excellent, as it happens) nod to the heritage element that consumers tend to expect from a British luxury product.
Apple is a different but equally interesting example of how necessity can be made pleasurable. There can be few people left in the developed world, at least, for whom using a computer is an exciting prospect, and yet Apple turns an activity more often these days associated with workaday drudgery into a delight. A mix of stunning design, exceptional workmanship and near-perfect software make the Apple computer a true luxury product.
Apple has learned what Julia Carrick, chief executive of Walpole, the organisation that promotes Britain's luxury industry, calls seduction. Even though it is mass-manufactured and its price-point is only a smidgen above ordinary Windows PCs, Apple has an air of exclusivity about it – a sense which the user buys into the moment he or she joins what feels like an elite group. Having become part of 'the chosen', the Apple buyer then becomes an Apple fan and goes on to promulgate the brand's aura as exclusive, special and luxurious.
If you think carefully about the idea of luxury, it has always been this way. The first true luxuries were not jewellery or decorative objects, but the better spear, the better home heating system, even the better sewerage.
All were the high technology of their day. All were, in one way or another, expensive, either in monetary or brain-power terms. And all will have done the same for the consumer as the perfect corkscrew – convert a chore into a moment of pleasure.
Walpole – British luxury; www.thewalpole.co.uk
Wish list: Men
"Design and function are the key features of any product we sell," says Andrew Durham of the audio and television department at John Lewis Partnership. There are plenty of gadgets that combine form and function – Apple being at the forefront. But what if you just want to have a splurge? Ella Williamson, buyer at the online store I Want One of Those, says, "The fun factor is important when you're looking at luxury gadgets. Quirky or outrageous things have a huge appeal."
Red Sony E-Book Reader, 199
Slim and lightweight, this gadget lets you download up to 160 books purchased from the internet to its memory.
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod speaker dock, 399 www.bowers-wilkins.com
As a gadget fan, you obviously have an iPod, and this has to be the ultimate way to share your tunes.
Sony HDR-TG3E high-definition handycam camcorder, 599 www.sony.co.uk
Find your inner Scorsese with this camcorder, which isn't much bigger than a mobile phone.
Blackberry Bold, prices start from 30 a month on contract
A sleek challenger to the iPhone , it's got business and entertainment functions galore.
Robonova I, 720 www.iwantoneofthose.com
You might not need a foot-tall humanoid robot, but this one is hard to resist. It walks, runs, dances, does cartwheels and press-ups and so much more.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date watch, 11,860 www.rolex.com
In 18ct yellow gold with a diamond dot dial, this Rolex should be long-lasting as well as luxurious.
A Lange & Shne Lange 1 Moonphase watch, 26,200
This manual movement platinum watch is traditional yet full of character.
Patek Philippe annual calendar watch, 29,300 www.patek.com
Whether you see it as an heirloom or something to be enjoyed, this platinum automatic watch is among the best in the world.
Omega Seamaster, 1,725 www.omegawatches.com
James Bond's choice could be yours too, with this classic stainless-steel timepiece.
Breguet Tradition watch, 12,800 www.breguet.com
In 18ct yellow gold and sapphire crystal, and displaying the movement on both the dial side and to the back, this watch stands out from the crowd.
What makes a watch stand out? Steve Paterson of Hamilton & Inches says it's down to the general build of the watch, the mechanism, the design, the materials, the longevity and the rarity. "Rolex is a good, strong, everyday workhorse of a watch, whereas Patek Philippe is more a fine instrument," he says. "And Philippe's advertising is clever – saying you never actually own one, you just look after it for the next generation. With these watches you're investing in tomorrow's heirlooms."
Men are happy to shell out for quality when they venture into a shoe shop in the hope that they won't have to do it again too soon. And they are every bit as fussy as women about the detail: there are those who swear by Italian handmade jobs crafted entirely from one piece of leather and others who will never be seen in anything other than a Converse trainer.
Luxury shoes fall into two categories: the classic style and the brand-name product. But why not combine the two?
Church Tenby brogues, 395 www.kurtgeiger.com
Men's shoes don't get much more traditional than these classic leather lace-ups.
Christian Dior Chisel penny loafers, 320 www.dior.com
If you have the confidence, these silver loafers have the look.
Paul Smith Finchley 2 loafers, 140 www.paulsmith.co.uk
These black patent leather square-toe loafers feature a subtle flash of colour with Paul Smith's iconic logo.
Kurt Geiger Big Business, 145 www.kurtgeiger.com
A luxurious classic leather lace-up with five raw eyelets and chisel toes.
Tod's Brown Winter Vadim, 210 www.tods.com
These stylish leather loafers come complete with logo detail and leather laces.
Accessories may not be a word in every man's fashion lexicon, but you can bet your top drawer they have a pair of cufflinks and a silk tie or two lurking there for special occasions. When these cosseted items do see the light of day, it's nice if they don't come with flashing lights, Santa logos and a funny little tune. Small and expensive is always the way to go for those classy finishing touches, and if they have a little added sparkle or prestigious hallmark, all the better.
Duchamp wavy crystal cufflinks, 95 www.cruiseclothing.co.uk
Add some colour with these rhodium-plated cufflinks, encrusted with Swarovski crystals.
Robert Charles red rose bow tie, 39.95 www.kjbeckett.com
Hand-made in Italy, this printed silk tie will make you stand out from the crowd.
Paul Smith British Collection tie, 69 www.paulsmith.co.uk
A classic tie made from woven striped silk and lined with a British map print.
Links of London salmon cufflinks, 995 www.linksoflondon.com
One for the keen fisherman, in 18ct gold with diamonds.
Duchamp London floral paisley tie, 75 www.cruiseclothing.co.uk
Hand-made from 100% silk cloth.
Wish list: Women
"Cashmere is the finest fibre in the world," says James Sugden of Johnstons of Elgin. "Connoisseurs can always tell a supermarket cashmere jumper from a good Scottish jumper." The fibre's main feature is its softness and warmth. The washing of the garment is crucial – it is no surprise Johnstons uses the same soft water that produces Highland malt whisky. "It has perfect draping qualities," says Sugden. "Designers love it because it represents the pinnacle of quality."#Cameron Taylor crew with button back, 295 www.cameron-taylor.com
Edinburgh designer Lisa Taylor is the woman behind this striking contemporary label, and this elegant top has movie-star looks.
Belinda Robertson satin bow knickers, 195 www.belindarobertson.com
These Scottish cashmere knickers from Robertson's Black Label couture collection show the fabric's cheeky side.
Queene & Belle Rosebud cardigan, 540 www.janedavidson.co.uk
Queene & Belle's quirky pieces sell in the world's top boutiques. This cardigan with its mother-of-pearl buttons #is an heirloom piece.
Christopher Kane biker jacket, 1,350 www.brownsfashion.com
The young Scottish designer has put cashmere at the cutting-edge – this is about as far from a twinset and pearls as you can get.
Johnstons of Elgin jacket, 450 www.johnstonscashmere. com
A stylish funnel-neck jacket with bell sleeves and horn buttons from the company's own range.
"Shoes will never last as long as a handbag, though there are a few tricks to consider before you spend your money," says Kevin Stewart of Harvey Nichols. "Jimmy Choo did not win iconic status for simply looking good. This brand uses the best materials to produce beautiful designs that are perfectly balanced. It offers a range of classic shoes that rarely alter season after season. If you buy into one of these styles, you'll be able to wear them out and replace them without fuss."
Christian Louboutin Armadillo, 525 www.christianlouboutin.fr
The perfect party shoes to team with a little black dress, these heels have a concealed platform to ease the stress on your feet.
Giuseppe Zanotti pumps, 465 www.giuseppe-zanotti-design.com
For the woman who likes to keep her glitz tasteful, these jewel-heeled shoes are the picture of elegance.
Manolo Blahnik Zione, 430 www.manoloblahnik.com
The designer made famous by Sex and the City has been inspired by the Highlands for his latest collection, including these tartan lace-ups.
Jimmy Choo Tinsel, 360 www.jimmychoo.com
These black patent pumps might not be the flashiest pair, but the cut-out detail gives them a modern twist and they'll keep looking good season after season.
Miu Miu paillette embellished pumps, 350 www.net-a-porter.com
With their sequins and four-inch heels, this is a pair of shoes you can't fail to get noticed in.
"A good-quality handbag is a great way of smartening up an outfit and keeping on trend without breaking the bank every season," says Kevin Stewart. Keep it understated with quality fabrics and solid construction to ensure longevity. "The likes of Prada and Bottega Veneta have a long history of producing high-end luxury leather goods – it's where they started. Go for a leather bag in black or brown, something that will keep its looks when subjected to the torment of Scottish weather."
Prada classic bowling bag, 695 www.prada.com
Wear it over your shoulder or carry it by hand, knowing it's going to be a favourite for years to come.
Fendi Doctor buckle tote, 680 www.fendi.com
A practical and stylish classic.
Mulberry Shimmy, 895 www.mulberry.com
Mulberry produces bags which gain cult status – the Roxanne, for example. This is Mulberry's hot bag du jour and comes in various materials and colours.
Pringle of Scotland Kasia slouch tote, 1,200
Lightweight but strong, this leather tote is a clever investment.
Chlo Bay patent leather bag, 991
The classic revamped, this taupe leather shoulder bag has plenty of compartments in which to stash all your essentials.
Diamonds are all about the four Cs: cut, clarity, colour and carat. "Colour and clarity matter," says Steve Paterson of Hamilton & Inches, "but the cut is crucial to reflect the light." White stones are most precious (the rest have a yellow tinge). Flawless stones are highly coveted – lesser stones contain tiny bits of uncrystalised carbon. Paterson's top tip is to check the back. "If somebody has put time into finishing the back, it tells me they're proud of the piece and it has been made properly."
Hamilton & Inches diamond line bracelet, 12,950 www.hamiltonandinches.com
This brilliant-cut diamond bracelet in 18ct white gold will never go out of fashion.
Tiffany Elsa Peretti open heart pendant, 5,575
This classic design by Elsa Peretti features pav-set diamonds in 18ct gold.
Stephen Webster thorn cuff, 13,000 www.stephenwebster.com
Webster is much loved by celebs for his edgy designs, and his gold-and-diamond cuff is a must-have if you're aspiring rock royalty.
Rodney Rayner stiletto earrings, 5,025
These elegant long drop earrings in 18ct white gold feature pav-set amethysts and diamonds.
Hamilton & Inches diamond engagement rings, from 2,950 (0.5ct) to 9,750 (1ct)
When it comes to engagement rings, only diamonds will do, and your betrothed should be happy with these.