LONDON — Ron Burkle may be eyeing Dow Jones Cos., but he's added another bit of bling to his luxury portfolio.
The founder and managing partner of the Yucaipa Cos. has taken a stake in London jeweler Stephen Webster with the aim of building up its retail network worldwide and expanding the label's product lines.
The deal was signed Wednesday, and an announcement is expected today. As reported in February, the billionaire supermarket magnate and owner of another London jeweler, Garrard, was interested in investing in Webster.
"With the appropriate financial support, the growth prospects for Stephen Webster within the luxury jewelry market are extremely compelling," said Burkle. "We are very excited about the partnership."
Webster added, "The new investment and expertise of Yucaipa will allow us to expand to our full potential and realize our vision for the future."
A spokeswoman for Stephen Webster declined to talk about the size of Yucaipa's investment, whether it was a majority or minority stake, or exactly how much Burkle paid. She did, however, say there were "immediate plans" to open Stephen Webster stores in New York; Kiev, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Second units here and in Moscow are also in the works, as is a new, lower-priced bridge line.
Asked if there would be any creative or commercial linkups between Garrard and Webster, she said, "No, not at this stage."
The playful, outspoken Webster, whose clients include Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Elton John, Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, has just celebrated 30 years in the business. He's never had a major shareholder or backer and until now has grown organically.
Webster, 46, made his name working with vibrant, semiprecious stones such as citrine, chrysocolla and tanzanite for cocktail rings and pendants. He also makes delicate silver and diamond pieces shaped like thorns, and witty, Gothic designs such as poison rings and gargoyle cuff links. Later this month, his "Burning Rocks" collection of men's jewelry for De Beers will be launched. The line is filled with rough diamonds with a rock 'n' roll edge and features bracelets, pendants, rings and what Webster calls "conversion" pieces that can be worn in a variety of ways.The designer has more than 60 points of sale worldwide, including wholesale and franchise accounts in the U.S., U.K., Russia, Dubai, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. In the U.S., he has a bustling business with Neiman Marcus.
In 2005, Stephen Webster's sales were 4 million pounds, or $8 million, and in 2006 they doubled to 8 million pounds, or $16 million. Yucaipa purchased Garrard in the first half of 2006, for an estimated $20 million to $30 million.
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