Asprey loses pounds 9.8m as the rich spend less

The Queen's jeweller was looking distinctly tarnished yesterday when Asprey, the Bond Street business which also owns Garrard and Mappin & Webb, announced losses of pounds 9.8m for its last 12 months. The losses have been caused by stock problems, rising overheads and the impertinent decision by the rich and royal to spend less money on expensive baubles, or spend it elsewhere.

Asprey's figures were so bad that its third-largest profit contribution came from its pawnbroking division, a sad sign of the times.

The company's flamboyant chief executive, Naim Attallah, who steps down at the end of next year, was still in bullish mood yesterday, saying the company would fight back and the recession could not last forever.

Wearing his trademarks - odd socks and wild tie, together with a gold ring on his little finger and what looked like a diamond stud in his lapel - he said: "I can't change the recession but people are scouring the world for customers, whereas the customers used to come to us. Money doesn't disappear. No one puts it in a sack and burns it, it just changes hands in different ways. We need a break."

Mr Attallah said the Asprey family, who still own 50 per cent of the shares, intended to maintain a stock market listing despite rumblings that they might choose to take the company private. "Nothing is impossible, but as far as I'm concerned they still want to be on the stock market."

The family has lost a fortune as a result of the collapse of Asprey's share price, which has plunged from 430p in 1990 to 73p yesterday. The value of the family's stake has fallen from pounds 175m to pounds 30m.

Asprey's problems are spread throughout the group, principally with stock, where the company has made provisions of pounds 14m. The main Asprey store on Bond Street saw sales slump by nearly 20 per cent. Mappin & Webb made a loss of pounds 397,000 while Watches of Switzerland lost pounds 661,000 and Les Ambassadeurs pounds 331,000.

Mr Attallah has already announced a store closure programme but warned that more could close if they did not return to profit. Half a dozen were making marginal losses and would be given two or three years to edge into the black.

He said the company planned to continue broadening its customer base.

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