PARIS -- A Chanel spokeswoman denied a published report here that the company was eyeing Van Cleef & Arpels.

According to an article Friday in Les Echos, a French financial daily, Van Cleef wants to be acquired by a strong partner to assure the future of the 80-year-old firm and Chanel is at the top of the list.

"The report is not correct," the Chanel spokeswoman said.

Early this month, speculation was high that luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, had the prestigious jeweler on his acquisition list. An LVMH spokeswoman would say only that LVMH "perhaps" has an interest.

As for Van Cleef, a spokesman Frederic Zinck for managing director Ferdinand Ripoll, said that Van Cleef "is not in a position to comment" at this time.

When asked earlier about the LVMH speculation, Ripoll said through a spokeswoman: "We cannot make an official statement. It's clear LVMH wants to buy a great jeweler. He's certainly interested in us, but he's not the only one. Van Cleef & Arpels is 100 percent family-owned and plans to stay that way for the moment."

A top executive of a European fine jewelry firm, who requested anonymity, confirmed Monday that a prospectus for the Van Cleef business is in circulation, valuing the company at roughly $267.8 million (1.5 billion francs) at current exchange rates.

"This price for Van Cleef is exorbitant compared to its current business," noted the executive. But he added that the name is extremely prestigious in the industry, and the company has potential to grow.

The Van Cleef spokesman confirmed that the company's sales in France are roughly $35.7 million (200 million francs), but he would not disclose consolidated worldwide volume. Press reports have estimated it to be as high as $107.1 million (600 million francs), but the industry source puts it closer to $71.4 million (400 million francs). He also felt that a privately-held company like Chanel has the luxury to overpay for a company. By contrast, a publicly quoted firm like LVMH would have to justify the price to its shareholders.

A jewelry acquisition by Chanel would not be surprising, the source noted. In October 1993, Chanel's Swiss subsidiary bought G&F Chatelain SA, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, a watchmaker that has made the Chanel watch collection since 1987.It is conceivable that Chanel could be out to acquire a maker for its fine jewelry collection that was introduced last October. Currently, the pieces are produced by independent Paris makers, according to the Chanel spokeswoman, but Van Cleef is not among them.

Other possibly interested parties for Van Cleef could include Investcorp, the Bahrain-based investment group, a traditional port-of-call for investment bankers shopping around luxury goods companies. Investcorp recently acquired Ebel SA, the luxury watch firm also based in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Other holdings of Investcorp include Chaumet, a Place Vendome Paris jeweler; the Breguet SA watch company from Le Brassus, Switzerland; and the Gucci watch collection, licensed to Severin Montres SA, Lengnua, Switzerland.

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