Bertolucci sold to private investment group

Bertolucci, one of the few family-run Swiss luxury watchmakers in Switzerland, has been sold to a private investment consortium, effective Feb. 27.

The acquisition, sought by both Bertolucci and the investment group, provides funds needed for the small firm to raise its profile in the international watch market. The new owners want to ”expand Bertolucci’s geographic presence and enhance its marketing strategy [with] development of new products and a reinforced brand idnetify,” says a company spokesman.

The new owners plan to double the firm’s annual production to 20,000 watches. While Asia, the United States and the Middle East are Bertolucci biggest markets, they also see strong potential for growth in Europe.

Bertolucci watches retail between $1,250 and $100,000 in the U.S. Its collections include Vir (flagship collection), Serena (winner of the Public Grand Prix in 1998), and Uomo, a men’s watch. U.S. sales represent about a third of Bertolucci’s business.

The acquisition is ”wonderful news,” says Scott Olandt, president of Swiss Primetime, the Rutherford, N.J., distributor of Bertolucci. ”This will inject much needed dollars into the business at the Swiss level which will translate at the U.S. level into more product and all-around-efficiency.” Bertolucci’s currently has 103 doors (80 accounts) in the U.S. The new owners, says Olandt, are very pro-growth. ”We will increase distribution in markets where we don’t now have distribution.”

Details of the acquisition weren’t released. However, the Bertolucci family keeps a small percentage of the business and will remain active in it. Remo Bertolucci, the founder, will continue to represent the company, says a spokesperson.

The investment group is comprised of four members who are proven players in the management and expansion of international companies. Andreas Gembler is the new president of Bertolucci. He was formerly president and chief executive of Philip Morris International. He retired in 1998 after 30 years. He was instrumental in establishing Philip Morris in Eastern Europe in the 1970s, and shaped its growth in many of its most successful markets, including western, central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East.

Jean-Paul Gaillard, the new managing director of Bertolucci, was formerly chief executive officer of Nestlé Nespresso S.A., a division of the world famous food company Nestlé SA, and a leader in espresso coffee equipment. Its 16 espresso household machines are sold in 30 countries.

The hisotry of Bertolucci Distribution S.A goes back to 1911 and its predecessor, the Mimo Watch company, bought in 1946 by Marcel Michelotti, whose his daughter married Remo Bertolucci, in 1968. In the 1970s, Bertolucci took over the company and in 1987 unveiled his first full Bertolucci collection. The company moved to Neuenburg on Lake Neuchâtel in 1998