Bertolucci Has New Owners

Bertolucci, one of the few family-run luxury watchmakers in Switzerland, was sold to a private investment consortium, effective Feb. 27. The acquisition, sought by both Bertolucci and the investment group, provides the funds needed by the small firm to raise its profile and expand in the international watch market.

Remo Bertolucci, the firm’s founder, “was always open to something like this, though he didn’t actively seek it,” says one source. “Like any family business, they wanted to go to the next level, but they were undercapitalized and realized they needed someone with managerial expertise [to do so].”

The new owners want to “expand Bertolucci’s geographic presence and enhance its marketing strategy [with] development of new products and a reinforced brand identity,” says a company spokesmen. They plan to double the firm’s annual production to about 20,000 watches over the next five years. While Asia, the United States, and the Middle East are its biggest markets, they also see strong potential for growth in Europe.

Bertolucci watches retail for $1,250 to $100,000 in the United States. The brand’s collections include Vir (its 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.

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

The investment group is composed of five primary members who are proven players in the management and expansion of international companies. Andreas Gembler, the new president of Bertolucci, formerly was president and chief executive of Philip Morris International, from which he retired in 1998 after 30 years with the company. He was instrumental in establishing the company in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and shaped its growth in many of it 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 S.A. and a leader in espresso coffee equipment. Its 16 household models are sold in 30 countries, and there are over 300,000 members in its “Nespresso Clubs” in Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East.

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 to the U.S. level into more product and all-around efficiency and avoid delivery problems and backlogs.”

Bertolucci currently has 103 doors (80 accounts) in the United States. The new owners, says Olandt, are very pro-growth and plan to expand into markets where they currently do not have a presence.

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