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THE Partridge brand will launch itself on the market with renewed vigour in 2006, its new chairman Mark Law has told ATG in an exclusive interview to announce the acquisition.

The takeover, announced late last week, marks a new chapter for the 103-year-old firm, started by outgoing chairman John Partridge’s grandfather, Frank. It will see a renewed presence at top fairs, longer opening at the New Bond Street gallery, guest exhibitions, new areas of expertise and special events to build new client relationships.

Mr Law also wholly owns Bruton Street ceramics dealership Albert Amor. He made the offer to acquire 51 per cent of Partridge Fine Arts plc through Amor Holdings Ltd, a firm set up specially for the deal. The agreement involves an undertaking to purchase the remaining shares within four years.

Mr Law told ATG he had funded the acquisition with a cash sum along with guarantees from two of his non-executive directors, fellow board members and ceramics collectors Christopher Jemmett and David Mellor. Also on the new board as a non-executive director is Viscountess Cobham.

John Partridge, chairman of the firm for the past 47 years, welcomed Mr Law as his successor and has agreed to stay on for the next two and a half years as President of the firm, an ambassadorial position without boardroom responsibilities.

Mr Law, who acquires overall control of the firm in the deal, was adamant that the future would be about building on the eminence of the Partridge name from the firm’s traditional gallery space in Bond Street. “Together... we have exciting plans for the future and will be making further announcements in due course,” said Mr Law.

As well as targeting new young buyers and wealthy professionals by making greater efforts to welcome them to the Bond Street gallery and its 17 display rooms on four floors, Mr Law aims to win business from clients with collections to sell that Partridge helped build. He wants to revive the tradition – abandoned decades ago – of putting Partridge labels on every piece the firm sell; they will be numbered and a full reference stored to help with future provenance. It is a small example of how to build confidence in the collecting market and continue to promote Partridge as a sought-after name, he says.

The firm will continue to specialise in English and continental furniture, as well as expanding their interest in porcelain in conjunction with Albert Amor. Pictures could well take on a greater significance and Mr Law expects to make some new appointments in the new year to allow the firm to develop their interests in other fields as well.

The company’s first foray back onto the fairs scene will be with a large stand at next June’s Olympia, preceded by a grand party at their Bond Street gallery the night before. Albert Amor will stand at Grosvenor House, but Mr Law felt that space restrictions there would not allow Partridge to make the statement they could with a stand at Olympia.

He expects to announce other fair dates in the coming months and makes no secret of his desire to make Partridge felt as a presence in New York once more.

The acquisition is the culmination of several months of negotiations to complete the complex process of bringing a public company back into private hands. It also brings greater certainty to the future of a pre-eminent name in the dealing world after a period of particularly poor fortunes in the wake of the post-9/11 slump in business, which culminated in John Partridge referring to annual figures two years ago as the worst he had seen in his 46 years as chairman.


The new board

Mark Law (Executive Chairman)
Has over 20 years’ experience in the fine art and antiques market, specialising in ceramics, having started as a porter at Dreweatt Neate and becoming their youngest ever partner at the age of 30. In 2000, he formed Law Fine Art Ltd, a specialist saleroom for fine art, in which he retains his interest.

Christopher Jemmett
(Non-executive director)
Joined the board of ISIS Asset Management in 1998, and has a wealth of boardroom experience. He was appointed to the board of Friends Provident plc in 2001 as a non-executive director, and is a former director and executive committee member of Unilever.

David Mellor (Non-executive director)
A former Culture Secretary and a household name thanks to politics and his role as a broadcaster and journalist.

Lady Cobham (Non-executive director)
Currently deputy chairman of VisitBritain and chairman of the Trustees of the largest UK arts prize, The Gulbenkian Prize for museums and galleries. Has served on the boards of English Heritage, the V&A and Historic Royal Palaces, as well as LAPADA.


The assets

AS well as the Partridge name, the deal brings with it a protected leasehold interest in the New Bond Street gallery. There is also the wholly owned subsidiary, W. Thomas Restorations Ltd (Thomas & Co), which operates as an antiques restoration business and holds a Royal Warrant from HM the Queen. Partridge own a half share of the antique furniture polish brand name Antiquax, and there is a unique archive of photos and descriptions of every piece of stock Partridge have sold since the Second World War together with some pieces from before.