French fashion colossus LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is adding another jewel to its crown.
The Paris-based holding company behind luxury brands Christian Dior gowns, Dom Perignon champagne and Guerlain perfume has agreed to buy Rome-based jeweler Bulgari SpA in a cash-and-shares deal worth 4.3 billion euros ($6 billion). The deal will see Bulgari's founding family become the second largest family shareholders in LVMH behind that of Chief Executive Bernard Arnault.
France's richest man, Arnault has grown LVMH into a 20 billion euro company since its creation in 1987, acquiring an impressive portfolio of luxury brands that extends to Chateau d'Yquem wine and TAG Heuer watches. Earnings have benefited from a surge in demand in developing countries like China.
Arnault's latest takeover adds the fabled jeweler favored by Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor, whose collection included an 18-carat emerald brooch surrounded by diamonds — the only piece of jewelry she wore to her first wedding to Richard Burton. The jeweler also designed the 1967 gold, emerald, ruby and sapphire necklace worn by Keira Knightley at the Oscars in 2006.
LVMH said in a statement it will exchange 16.5 million of its own shares for the 56 percent stake in Bulgari owned by the company's founding family.
LVMH will offer the remaining Bulgari shareholders 12.25 euros ($17.10) per share in a public offering. Following the deal, the Bulgari family will own 3 percent of LVMH.
Bulgari is the smallest among the major luxury watch and jewelry makers. It was started in 1884 by Greek immigrant Sotirios Bulgari, who opened the flagship Via Condotti store in Rome in 1905, and has expanded to more than 260 stores.
Arnault has had less success in his efforts to takeover another family owned legend of European luxury, Hermes. LVMH announced in December that it had built up a 20 percent stake in the French maker of exquisite handbags and scarves, provoking the ire of the descendents of the founding Hermes family, who collectively control more than 70 percent of the company.
The Bulgari announcement comes in the midst of an unusually lively Paris Fashion Week, where some of LVMH's companies are showing their fall 2011 ready-to-wear collections. LVMH is smarting from a scandal surrounding star designer John Galliano, sacked by Dior last week amid accusations of anti-Semitism.
Luxury goods have seen a lively recovery in demand over the past year, especially in fast-growing markets in Asia, which helped LVMH post a 73 percent gain in 2010 net profit to 3.0 billion euros.
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