Colibri Group sold; Levinger remains president; Sale opens opportunities in China

The Colibri Group, one of the most successful and best-known suppliers of independent and chain jewelers, has been sold to a group comprised of three major investment firms and former owner Fred Levinger. The transaction, effective June 13, opens potential business opportunities for Colibri overseas, especially China.

Details of the sale of Colibri—which will do $100 million in sales this year—weren’t released.

Levinger, 67, remains as president and chief executive officer, giving special attention to marketing and new-product development. He discussed the sale in an exclusive interview with JCK magazine.

No changes in the company’s management, its 500 employees, location, or operations are planned for the foreseeable future, he said. In fact, the company has just signed a new lease for its headquarters building in Providence, R.I. “This sale is a very good thing for the employees,” Levinger said. “No one is coming in to take over and make changes.”

He said the new owners intend to use Colibri Group for further acquisitions, though none are immediately planned.

The three major investors are the lead group, Founders Equity Inc., New York City; Main Street Resources, Westport, Conn.; and Citic Provident (the New York arm of China’s largest financial conglomerate, Citic Group), which has been looking to invest in consumer goods and which the other two brought into the deal. Levinger is the fourth partner and remains a substantive shareholder. The sale caps six months of negotiations.

Levinger told JCK he has been approached in recent years by several potential buyers, “but this is all about character, not just money. These people have the best interests of the company at heart. They believe in its brands, are very interested in jewelry business areas as we are, and see [the company] as a platform to grow on.”

One area of potential growth is overseas, where Colibri now does only 5% of its business. Colibri’s new owners “have a broad perspective, indicated by taking in a Chinese partner,” he said. “We’ll have better access in China from a structural point of view.” Levinger noted that Krementz, which Colibri acquired in 1997, had stores in Beijing and Shanghai. So one area he’s asked the new owners to look at is “opening those markets to our brand and doing more in China, a major market, than we could do on our own.”

A strategic-planning meeting by the new owners to map out Colibri future will be scheduled soon.

Levinger and his father bought Colibri in 1971, when it had annual sales of $1.3 million. Today, its does $100 million and has 500 employees, which he attributes to “partly normal organic growth; to making appropriate strategic acquisitions—such as Krementz jewelry (1997), Seth Thomas clocks (2001), and Princess Pride lockets (2004)—which we will continue to do,” and to focusing on brands. “Our philosophy is not only to sell jewelry but also concepts and brands,” he said. “That was unusual [in the jewelry business] years ago, but it’s one way of differentiating yourself in the jewelry business and getting more of a focus than ever.”

The Colibri Group manufactures and distributes 18k gold, 14k gold, and sterling silver women’s and men’s jewelry under the brand names Van Dell, Shiman, Krementz, and Dolan & Bullock. It also manufactures and markets pocket and pendant watches, lighters, and executive gifts under the Colibri and Linden brands, and is the exclusive U.S. distributor of S.T. Dupont luxury writing instruments and lighters. Its other brands include Seth Thomas clocks and Princess Pride lockets.