By  on March 21, 2011

NEW YORK — Love is quite literally in the air at Gitanjali.

First, there’s a reported flirtation between L Capital, the private equity arm of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — which recently proposed a deal to buy Bulgari for $6 billion — and the $1.8 billion jewelry conglomerate that could result in L Capital taking a minority stake in the publicly traded Mumbai firm’s branded division. Gitanjali’s parent, which also has interests in real estate, has been looking to unlock some of its value because it was suffering from conglomerate discount issues.

“The shareholders did not understand value from all of the different components of our business because they were all lumped together, so our advisers encouraged us to reach out to different groups,” said Nehal Modi, Gitanjali USA’s chief executive officer. “We are in talks with some major hedge funds, private equity groups and partners such as L Capital.

“Right now, there is a pending deal for L Capital to acquire a minority in the range of $100 million to $120 million,” he added. LVMH could not be reached for comment.

The possible deal comes as Gitanjali is planning to make a significant push into the branded jewelry sector here with the launch of Love Universe.

The sterling silver collection, which will launch in early June in Las Vegas, is the brainchild of Modi and Jamison Ernest, a Manhattan man-about-town who is also behind the Yellow Fever clothing brand.

The two met last year to discuss the prospect of Gitanjali sponsoring the fashion label’s September show, but the duo hit it off so well that they decided to take this partnership to a new level.

Modi wanted to explore new arenas in jewelry, and so the idea of Love Universe was born, backed up with a multifaceted launch platform for which Gitanjali is budgeting $12 million in the first year.

Gitanjali is vertically integrated, from mining to the manufacturing of generic and branded jewelry and retail stores, and its U.S. division has a total volume of $275 million. It operates several jewelry brands, including the Passion Stone engagement ring collection marked by a special hearts-and-arrows cut, as well as 122 freestanding jewelry specialty stores under the Andrews Jewelers, Rodgers Jewelers, Samuels Jewelers, Samuels Diamonds and Schubach Jewelers names.

The company plans to introduce Love Universe in the U.S. first before extending it to Japan, India and Europe in 2013. The line is primarily centered around sterling silver jewelry with colored stones, diamond accents and exotic materials such as stingray, as well as a smattering of accessories like stingray iPad cases.

Modi said the time was right to break into this end of the jewelry market here. “Commodities prices are going through the roof,” he said. “Gold is three times what it was four years ago, and diamonds are 80 to 90 percent more than a year and a half ago. All of a sudden, fashion jewelry in gold and diamonds [are] less attainable, so there is a real void in that lifestyle luxury jewelry segment. David Yurman and John Hardy filled it, but we started noticing that their customer was slightly older. With Love, we want to start the purchasing life cycle at 22 and 23 years, going up to fortysomething.”

For Ernest, it marks the first foray into jewelry, and over a recent coffee at Soho House, he explained his motivation. “Jewelry is an opportunity to be able to communicate with people in a unique way,” said Ernest, who is also a musician. “We wanted to make things that people would wear all the time because it’s affordable, but at the same time, there is design and construction and actual functionality.”

The handmade collection includes a silver mesh bracelet and stingray cuffs with silver details and stones such as white and pink sapphires and white topaz. Modi particularly prides himself on the combination of different stones and materials in each piece. One ring, for $235, features six gradients of black Swarovski Elements that match.

Generally, the collection will carry suggested retail price points from $300 to $800 at retail, though limited edition pieces can go anywhere between $1,500 and $2,000.

A key element of the launch will center around supporting the arts, and the company plans to sponsor exhibits for up-and-coming artists.

A subbrand called Love Incubator will feature jewelry collaborations with “people who have a voice to be heard but don’t have the necessary tools to be communicated, like contemporary artists, supermodels, architects or filmmakers,” Ernest said. The first collaboration, “Love Linda Vojtova,” will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the model, Linda Vojtova, who also happens to be Ernest’s girlfriend. That launch will be coupled with a photographic retrospective of images of the Czech model by photographers like Steven Meisel and Terry Richardson.

A third element, Love Haute, is going to tap fashion designers who don’t already have jewelry for collaborations. Ernest said they are currently in negotiations with several designers, but declined to disclose names.

In addition, several pieces in the collection will be earmarked for a special cause, beginning with Operation Smile, which funds surgeries to repair cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities. Each sale will help a child get the surgery he or she needs, and customers will be able to get news of the child they helped.

Love Universe will officially launch on June 3 with a party and hospitality suite at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas — timed to coincide with the JCK jewelry show, when key retailers are in town. This summer, the brand also is renting a 12,000-square-foot house on six acres in Southampton, dubbed the Love Hamptons Estate, to stage weekly events, from private dinners to fashion shows and parties tied to jewelry stores launching Love Universe in the area.

For 2012, the first full fiscal year, Modi said the company projects total sales of $32 million, with 150 retail doors in the U.S., 32 luxury cruises featuring shop-in-shops and an e-commerce site at scheduled to go live in June.

There are already plans to launch a fragrance for Love Universe and open a freestanding store, preferably around the Meatpacking District. The moves are all part of a plan to brand Love Universe. “The jewelry industry is far behind the fashion industry as far as branding is concerned,” Modi noted. “That is quite a phenomenon, because jewelry connotes luxury immediately, but there are very few people who have recognizable consumer brands. That’s where Jamison and his team come in. We are convinced that we have a road map that, within a year and a half, we will be one of the top recognized jewelry brands.”

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