By Lenore Fedow
Wilmington, Del.—Samuels Jewelers, an Austin, Texas-based retailer dating back to 1891, will shutter all its stores by Monday.

The retailer, which filed Chapter 11 in August, had hoped to sell its assets as a going concern, but a credit bid from Wells Fargo, the company’s primary lender, sent dreams of a sale up in smoke.

The $16 million credit bid covers all the company’s assets, including its intellectual property and websites.

As of Jan. 22, the company owed Wells Fargo $51.5 million under its revolving loan obligations, as per court documents.

Samuels Jewelers is not unfamiliar with bankruptcy court, having filed for Chapter 11 twice under its former name Barry’s and again as Samuels Jewelers in 2003.

Indian company Gitanjali Gems Ltd. bought the chain in 2006—later also acquiring Rogers Ltd. and then merging the two companies—and looked to vertically integrate the retailer by supplying the stores with jewelry crafted at its plants in India.

But the company struggled in the face of increasing competition from online and discount retailers, and then was ultimately felled earlier this year when news broke of a $2 billion bank scandal allegedly involving Gitanjali Chairman Mehul Choksi, a scandal that resulted in the chain losing its source of funding and product.

Punjab National Bank, a state-run Indian bank, told Indian authorities on Jan. 29, 2018 that Choksi was part of what the bank called one of the largest bank frauds in Indian history.

Court documents allege that Choksi, his nephew Nirav Modi, a jeweler and diamond merchant in his own right, and Samuels Chief Financial Officer Sunil Varma fraudulently borrowed approximately $2 billion from banks via letters of undertaking and foreign letters of credit.

“The alleged fraud consisted of obtaining bank loans by manufacturing sham transactions to ‘import’ jewelry into India using a web of secretly controlled shell entities,” court documents state.

Choksi and his nephew have denied the charges and reportedly left India before authorities could file charges against them.

An interesting note from the lengthy court documents filed in the Samuels bankruptcy case includes an email from Samuels CEO Farhad Wadia to Sunil Varma on May 10, 2017, entitled “Serious Issues at Samuels” along with 15 attachments describing “egregious issues” at the retailer.

The email detailed a number of concerns, including royalty payments of $5.4 million Wadia thought to be fraudulent from a Middle Eastern “paper company” and information about “circular transactions” that were inflating sales number to mislead lenders into “giving us an enhanced loan facility.”

He also expressed concern about “consumer fraud on a massive scale” because Independent Gemological Laboratories was not an “independent certification company” and might have been “passing off lab-created diamonds as natural stones,” court papers state. (IGL is a diamond and jewelry grading company owned by Choksi’s British Virgin Island company, as per court documents.)

So, amid all the legal drama, where does that leave vendors?

The court documents’ definition of the inventory purchased by Wells Fargo as part of its $16 million bid leaves no stone unturned.

Under the “purchase of inventory section,” the document lists all finished goods merchandise (new, trade-ins or damaged), all raw materials, all jewelry findings and any merchandise held for repair or cleaning. All shopping bags, boxes, pouches and packers are also included.

Consigned merchandise is also included, but three vendors are asking that their consigned inventory be left out of the sale.

Innovative Pearl, a family-owned, New York-based company, filed a motion on Jan. 18 stating Samuels Jewelers can’t sell inventory it doesn’t own.

The filing states that Samuels Jewelers is in possession of $134,739 worth of Innovative Pearl’s products. While the company said it is willing to work with Samuels, it would not agree to less than consignment price.

New York-based companies GoGreen Diamonds and Unique Designs have since followed suit.

GoGreen, a lab-grown diamond company, alleged that Samuels owes it $5.8 million, including $360,515 from sales of consigned goods and $32,225 of unsold consigned goods.

Unique Designs claims that Samuels owes the company $1.7 million, including $863,212 from sold consigned goods and $821,096 of unsold consigned goods.

The attorneys representing Innovative Pearl, GoGreen Diamonds and Unique Designs declined to comment on the case.

Samuel Jewelers ranked No. 38 in terms of sales among jewelers in North America in National Jeweler’s 2018 “State of the Majors” report and ranked No. 9 in terms of size with 120 stores.

The attorneys representing Samuel Jewelers did not respond to National Jeweler’s request for comment on the latest developments in the case.

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.