Laurence Graff had a big 2019. His jewelry company put one of the world’s largest precious stones up for sale, bought the premises of its flagship store in New York and opened another in Paris.This year couldn’t have started any more differently for the jeweler, who counts Oprah Winfrey and the Sultan of Brunei among his clients. With a net worth of US$5 billion, he’s one of the richest U.K. citizens, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Pandemic-related lockdowns “severely affected all areas of our business,” including being forced to close stores and delay the launch of a new collection, Graff’s eponymous firm said in a recent filing. Predicting this year’s performance is “very problematic.”
A spokeswoman for Graff Diamonds didn’t respond to several requests for comment.
After a brief respite, the virus is again accelerating in parts of the U.K., Europe, U.S. and Middle East, where Graff Diamonds has about half its retail stores, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s likely to make the jeweler even more reliant on Asia, where the London-based company has grown rapidly as the wealth of the region’s population surged.
The pandemic isn’t the first rough patch for Graff, 82, who founded his firm six decades ago after leaving school by the age of 15 to work for a jeweler who told him he’d never make it in the business. Stock market turmoil forced Graff Diamonds to halt a US$1 billion initial public offering in 2012, when the company showed its vulnerability to shifts in luxury spending by revealing that its top 20 customers made up almost half of annual revenue the prior year.
Other jewelers have also suffered from Covid-19’s fallout. Revenue at Tiffany & Co. and Pandora A/S slumped by more than a quarter in the first six months compared with a year earlier. The decline was enough to prompt LVMH to call off its purchase of Tiffany, though the chain has since reported improving sales, as has Pandora.
Still, Graff Diamonds has cash to weather the pandemic. Graff Diamonds International -- one of the firm’s subsidiaries -- had net assets of $760.6 million at year-end and a revolving credit facility of $200 million, filings show. Graff, who lives in Switzerland, has other assets, as well, including an art collection with works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Roy Lichtenstein, among others.The jeweler is “a well-financed and capitalized company and, by taking the right decisions now, we will emerge from this situation,” Graff Diamonds International said.