NEW YORK — Harry Winston seems to have found a buyer at last.
In a brief interview with WWD, Ronald Winston confirmed the impending sale of his family’s company, saying, “It’s a great opportunity.”
According to sources familiar with the sale, Winston has reached a nonbinding agreement in principal with Toronto-based mining company Aber Diamond Corp. Ronald Winston will remain as chairman and his company will likely remain private, despite its expected acquisition by a public company, the sources said. The move occurred mainly because Fenway, the private equity firm that invested a reported $55 million in Winston in 2000, was looking to sell its majority stake. Several luxury goods conglomerates were said to have looked at Winston in the past, but passed on buying it. If the acquisition goes through as planned, Aber will gain a retail channel through which to sell its diamonds, while Winston will get capital to grow.
Founded in 1932, Harry Winston has been one of the leading names among the red carpet set. Its creations, worn by the likes of J.Lo, are known for their opulent but classic diamond bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.
But recently, there has been as much gossip surrounding the company as its clientele.
When founder Harry Winston died in 1978, he left his business to his two sons, Bruce and Ronald. They feuded over its direction. In 2000, Ronald joined forces with Fenway and bought out his brother.
But soon after the partnership began, Fenway hired Patricia Hambrecht, the ambitious former president of Christie’s auction house, as Winston’s new president. She wanted to update the brand’s ads, offer more affordable jewels, and start a fragrance, the last of which did not pan out. Clashes with the family continued and the staff found her to be difficult, even going so far as to compare her personal spending habits with Imelda Marcos in one recent item on Page Six.
Business trends for the sector have not been particularly promising. While Hambrecht said last month that the company’s sales were up 50 percent since she came on board, her public competitors have been reeling from the worldwide economic downturn. For example, two weeks ago, Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA — the firm which owns Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels — reported that net income had dropped 49 percent in the third quarter. Winston is also facing growing competition from such companies as Graff and Asprey, which opened its New York flagship directly across the streetfrom Winston late last week. Hambrecht’s contract, which was up at the end of December, reportedly is not being renewed.