The Wall Street buyout giant Apollo is in advanced talks to buy the Goldsmiths and Mappin & Webb jewellery retailers, I can reveal.
Apollo has been in negotiations to buy Aurum Holdings, the parent of the two chains, for several months. A deal could be struck as soon as this week.
People close to the talks said that Apollo was likely to acquire Aurum, which also owns Watches of Switzerland, in a deal valuing the company at around £175m.
Aurum is majority-owned by Landsbanki, one of the Icelandic banks that collapsed during the international financial crisis of 2008.
A large minority stake in the company is owned by Don McCarthy, Aurum's chairman. Mr McCarthy, who also chairs House of Fraser, the department store chain, is one of Britain's most successful retail entrepreneurs, and stands to net a multimillion pound windfall from the takeover.
Insiders cautioned that the talks could still falter.
Aurum, whose name is derived from the Latin for gold, is understood to have been performing well this year despite tough conditions on the high street.
The company says it is the world's largest distributor of brands including Omega and Tag Heuer, and Britain's biggest distributor of Rolex, Cartier and Breitling products.
Neither Aurum, Apollo or Mr McCarthy could be reached for comment.
Apollo, which owns British companies including Countrywide, the estate agency chain, is being advised by DC Advisory Partners.