Warren Buffett Makes Jewelry Play

The recent purchase of Bel-Oro and Aurafin by Berskhire Hathaway, the investment arm of billionaire Warren Buffet, will create “one of the largest” jewelry suppliers in the United States, Mark Hanna of Bel-Oro told JCK. “The combination of the two of us together probably makes us the largest volume supplier in the trade, but I don’t like making absolute claims,” Hanna said.

The two companies will form a new company called Richline, headed by Dennis Ulrich, president of Bel-Oro. Dave Meleski, chief executive officer of Aurafin, will be its president. Among the brands under the Richline umbrella: Aurafin, Baby Gold, Bel-Oro, Gold Expressions, Michael Anthony, Oro America, Pace Designs, Sardelli, and Silver Bell.

“Each of the brands will be managed independently with separate products, with separate sales and service teams,” Hanna said. “We will go to the market with seven or eight faces.”

But he also said the new company would examine possibilities for co-operation. “One of the benefits here is a greater ability to invest in aggressive technology and product development,” he said.

He added there won’t be any particular benefits as far as Berkshire Hathaway’s other industry acquisitions: retailers Ben Bridge, Borsheim’s, and Helzberg Diamonds. “They are just cousins,” Hanna said. “They are totally arm’s length. We will have to approach them too as we always have—with the right product at the right price.”

It’s too early to say whether the brands will combine operations. “For this year, it’s business as usual,” Hanna said. “We need a good time to decide what’s the best model for us. We are just beginning this.”

Asked whether the companies plan future acquisitions, he said he did not know but “we do intend to grow substantially within the industry over the next three to five years.”

No details were given on the purchase price. The transactions are expected to close during the second or third quarter of 2007.