Colibri Group Sold; Levinger Remains President

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

Details of the sale weren’t released. Colibri sells to more than 7,000 independent retailers and national accounts like Tiffany & Co., Wal-Mart Stores, and Zale Corp.

Fred Levinger, 67, will remain as president and chief executive officer, he told JCK in an exclusive interview.

The three major investors are the lead group, Founders Equity Inc., New York; Mainstream Resources, Westport, Conn.; and CITIC Provident, the New York arm of China’s largest financial conglomerate, CITIC Group. Levinger is the fourth partner and remains a substantive shareholder. The sale caps six months of negotiations.

Warren Haber, a partner at Founders Equity, called Colibri “a unique company … [with] an uncanny ability to recognize quality brands.” 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 the Colibri Group for further acquisitions, though none are immediately planned. 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 does only 5 percent 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, and he’s asked the new owners to look at “opening those markets to our brand.”

Levinger and his father bought Colibri in 1971, when it did $1.3 million in sales. Today, it does $100 million and has 500 employees, in part due to strategic acquisitions like Krementz jewelry (1997), Seth Thomas clocks (2001), and Princess Pride lockets (2004).