Asprey switches to safer customers

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The Independent Online
ASPREY, the top-of-the-range jewellery group, is going downmarket - ever so slightly - in a bid to make its profits more predictable.

Naim Attallah, the latest in a long line of company chief executives to be exasperated by the stock market, said: 'We are going to be less and less and less vulnerable, to please the analysts.'

He said the group would achieve this by expanding its Watches of Switzerland, Mappin & Webb and Garrard chains.

Asprey shares have fallen from 310p to 135p since 9 September, after Mr Attallah warned that the company was 'likely to be only marginally profitable at best' in the six months that ended on 30 September. The interim results will be announced next month.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Attallah denied that the sudden 50p fall in the share price earlier this month signalled any hidden problems.

'I don't know who's spreading all these scurrilous rumours, which are without foundation,' he said, gesticulating wildly. 'It's up to the market how it views our shares. All I can say is that the progress of Asprey has been spectacular and I don't know why it shouldn't continue.'

However, he conceded that the group still depended on a few rich people walking through the door of Asprey's Bond Street showroom and placing orders worth several million pounds.

'I find it extremely difficult to predict what Asprey will do,' he admitted.

'A Saudi prince could walk in tomorrow and order pounds 20m of silver and diamonds.' That is why Mappin and Garrard are more predictable - they sell nothing worth more than pounds 75,000 and, according to Mr Attallah, appeal mainly to tourists. But the hardest market to please seems to be the stock market. 'Maybe we were too gloomy,' Mr Attallah lamented.

(Photograph omitted)