It's a tainted brand in the Canadian auction world – but a new Toronto-based Ritchies is hoping a live sale of jewellery next month can restore the lustre of the name. Included in the Nov. 13 sale is a 50-carat diamond, consigned by a European hotelier and appraised at more than $10-million.
Kashif Khan and his partner Ravi Poddar announced their purchase of the Ritchies name at a news conference Wednesday for an unspecified amount from the trustee in bankruptcy for the former auction house.
And they have big plans. Beyond auctioning jewellery and Canadian fine art, just as its namesake did, they want to take their Ritchies to a whole new level, vowing to open offices next year in Hong Kong, New York and Dubai.
"I think Canada needs a proper auction house that is upscale, world-class. We have the right market. People internationally look to Canada now," said Mr. Khan, managing director of the company now called Ritchies Auctioneers.
A recent lawsuit suggests that Messrs. Khan and Poddar have a knack for finding names with clout: New York.-based jewellery buyer CIRCA INC. took issue with the branding of their jewellery auctioneering firm, Circa Auctions.
While Mr. Khan acknowledged that "a lot of bad stuff" surrounded the collapse of the old Ritchies in late 2009, "what I like about Ritchies is all the great stuff they did," he said. "[It was]a great Canadian company known internationally."
Established in 1967 by David Ritchie and his wife Marlene, Ritchies was sold when the couple divorced in 1994 to Ira Hopmeyer and Gerry Jennings. Mr. Hopmeyer was Ritchies chairman and CEO when Sotheby's Canada ended an eight-year association in 2009 after Ritchies failed to meet a deadline to pay consignors. A few months later, as dozens of customers went unpaid and staff were let go or resigned, Ritchies' landlord pushed them into bankruptcy for non-payment of rent. A $3-million suit filed last year by Sotheby's against several Ritchies executives and associates, including Mr. Hopmeyer, who now lives in Florida, remains active.
"Our job now is to do the good stuff again," Mr. Khan said. "If we do it right, if we work hard, work harder than anyone else, we'll get it right."
Starting in 2009, the Mr. Khan and Mr. Poddar were partners in Circa Auctions. Last October in Toronto, Circa sold a pink diamond for $2.3-million, reportedly a Canadian record for jewellery at auction.
A few weeks after that sale, prominent jewellery buyer CIRCA INC. filed suit in the Federal Court of Canada against Mr. Khan and his associates, claiming Circa was "passing off its [CIRCA's]good and services under the trademark Circa and taking advantage of CIRCA INC.'s valuable trademark rights, reputation and goodwill and causing confusion."
CIRCA announced Wednesday afternoon that it had signed a settlement with Mr. Khan and his associates – the result of an agreement "worked out earlier this month," according to counsel for CIRCA. In a statement, CIRCA chair and CEO Chris Del Gatto said that while "certain aspects of the settlement agreement are still in progress, we are very pleased with the outcome and status to date."
Before the settlement announcement, Mr. Khan indicated he and his partners intended to dissolve Circa Auctions. "It's strictly Ritchies from now on ... Circa's not going to operate any more at all."