By Michelle Graff
Wilmington, Del.—Samuels Jewelers Inc., the Texas-based jewelry chain controlled by Mehul Choksi, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The filing for the 120-store chain comes in the wake of a $1.8 billion bank fraud allegedly perpetrated by Choksi, who is the owner of Samuels parent company Gitanjali Gems, and his nephew, Nirav Modi, both of whom are wanted by Indian authorities.

According to an affidavit filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on Tuesday, the bank scandal Choksi is implicated in “amplified the headwinds” already pounding Samuels Jewelers.

The retailer has seen sales slide and profits shrink in recent years due to competition from discount and online retailers.

When news of the scandal broke, Samuels Jewelers lost a major source of its products and funding in Gitanjali (which, according to court papers, has not been in operation since February), and vendors began to pull out, refusing to supply the retailer with merchandise on consignment.

According to court papers, the retailer is looking to sell itself as a going concern, but, in the meantime, plans to close more than 100 stores and has brought in Gordon Brothers Retail Partners and Hilco Merchant Resources to start selling off inventory in order to begin paying off its debts, which total more than $100 million and include millions owed to Wells Fargo N.A. and GB Credit Partners LLC.

The company also owes millions to vendors and service providers.

Court papers show that Samuels Jewelers’ five largest unsecured creditors are: Exclusive Design Direct Inc., a Sterling Heights, Michigan-based collection agency (owed $9.1 million); Taipinyang Trading Ltd., a Hong Kong company (owed $6.1 million); New York-based lab-grown diamond company GoGreen Diamonds Inc. (owed $5.5 million); New York-based Jewel Evolution Inc. ($2.4 million); and Austin, Texas-based jewelry company Voyager Brands Inc. (owed $973,952).

Samuels Jewelers joins A. Jaffe, Firestar Diamond and Fantasy Inc., which were owned by Nirav Modi, in filing for bankruptcy in the wake of the Indian bank scandal.

A. Jaffe has since has been sold as a going concern, and companies have purchased inventory held by both Fantasy and Firestar.

Tuesday’s filing marks the fourth trip through bankruptcy court for the chain that today is known as Samuels Jewelers, employs 690 people and has stores in 23 states operating under five nameplates: Samuels Jewelers, Rogers Jewelers, Andrews Jewelers, Schubach Jewelers and Samuels Diamonds.

David Blum and Gerson Fox founded the specialty jeweler in Los Angeles in 1956. Within a few years, it grew from a single store into a regional chain spread throughout southern California.

According to court papers, in the mid-1980s, the chain took advantage of lenient credit standards, increased consumer spending and the rapid expansion of indoor shopping malls to open more stores and acquire Mission Jewelers from Zale Corp. and Samuels Jewelers from Peoples Jewelers.

In the early 1990s, after almost a decade of growth and acquisitions, the company began to experience “financial distress.” It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1992.

It emerged from bankruptcy but was struggling again toward the end of the ‘90s, filing for Chapter 11 for the second time in May 1997.

When it emerged this time, 36 percent of the company was owned by DDJ Capital Management, and its board decided to change the company’s name from Barry’s Jewelers to Samuels Jewelers, its “most successful and, to the consumer, easily recognizable division,” court papers state. They also moved the company headquarters from California to Austin.

The retailer filed Chapter 11 for the third time in August 2003, and Gitanjali Gems bought the retailer shortly thereafter, in December 2006. It later acquired Rogers Ltd. and added Rogers Jewelers and Andrews Jewelers to its stable of U.S. retailers.

Gitanjali merged the two companies in 2010.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.