MILAN/PARIS Cartier owner Richemont (CFR.S) is in exclusive talks to buy a controlling stake in Italian jewelers Buccellati from local private equity firm Clessidra, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Clessidra bought a 67 percent stake in the Milanese firm famous for its ornate, lace-like jewels from the Buccellati family in 2013. The family kept a minority holding and remained actively involved in the business.
Richemont declined to comment.
A deal would make Buccellati, which reported sales of 41 million euros in 2015, the latest Italian high-end jewelry house to be snapped up in a foreign takeover.
French luxury goods heavyweight LVMH (LVMH.PA) bought Roman jewelers Bulgari for 3.7 billion euros ($4 billion) in 2011. Two years later rival Kering (PRTP.PA) took over Milanese jewelry brand Pomellato.
Former Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani is currently Clessidra's deputy chairman but he is expected to leave the group after failing to win control following the sudden death in January of Clessidra founder Claudio Sposito.
Italy's Pesenti family in May agreed to buy a majority stake in Clessidra from Sposito's widow in a deal that values the private equity firm at around 20 million euros.
Il Sole 24 Ore daily reported on Tuesday Clessidra had picked Richemont over east Asian suitors after talks over the past few months.
Buccellati CEO Gianluca Brozzetti was quoted as saying earlier this month the group was talking to potential investors about a sale and there were many interested parties.
Negotiations over Buccellati come as Richemont grapples with slowing sales and difficulties at its watch business.
Broker Evercore ISI on Monday downgraded the stock to 'hold' from 'buy' mentioning a slowdown in jewelry sales, which accounted for more than one third of the Swiss group's revenue and had been offsetting watch weakness over the past two years.
Buccellati was on the market for more than two years before the 2013 deal with Clessidra.
The brand was founded in 1919 by Mario Buccellati who opened a shop in Milan. His son Gianmaria inherited the business in the late 60s and expanded it abroad opening a flagship shop in Paris' prestigious place Vendome as well as boutiques in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Montecarlo.
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(Additional reporting by Giulia Segreti in Milan and Ruppert Pretterklieber in Zurich,; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)