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Iconic French glassmaker Duralex hopes for a lifeline

Maxime MAMET with Joseph SCHMID in Paris
·2-min read
Prized by cooks and Hollywood

A French court on Friday studied a rescue bid for Duralex, the maker of ultra-tough glassware prized by home cooks as well as professionals, but whose fortunes have taken a hit from production problems and the Covid crisis.

Staggering under a debt of some 32 million euros ($39 million), Duralex could well be bought by its French rival Pyrex, also a household name worldwide.

Pyrex's owner International Cookware was the only bid still standing as the hearing opened on Orleans, central France, where Duralex's historic factory stands just outside the city.

The company's Picardie tumblers are considered icons of modern design, sold at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and used by James Bond during a drinking contest in 2012's "Skyfall."

Film buffs have also noted that Indiana Jones downs whisky in a Universal glass in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- a movie set in the 1930s, though Duralex itself was created in 1945.

Generations of French children also grew up with Duralex glasses that were ubiquitous in school cafeterias in the 1960s and 70s.

But since 2017 Duralex has struggled to recover from a problem that emerged while replacing the furnace at its factory in La Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin -- a nine million euro investment that was to improve quality as well as production capacity.

The company needed to replace a key part of its production machinery at the same time, but delays and technical mishaps prompted a drop in output that persisted for years.

And since last year Duralex has lost key restaurant and hotel orders as coronavirus restrictions have shut down restaurants and tourism.

Export orders overall make up 80 percent of the group's revenue.

It was placed in receivership last September in hopes of finding new investors, and the Orleans court was to evaluate three takeover offers.

They included one from Andre Ioannides, brother of Duralex's chief executive Antoine Ioannides, but the bid was withdrawn late Thursday.

"We didn't have enough time to line up the financing," the family's lawyer Antoine Poulaine said.

Another bid was lodged but nobody showed up Friday to defend it.

That cleared the way for a takeover by International Cookware.

Its chief Jose Luis Llacuna said on the sidelines of the closed-door hearing that his group was ready to invest 21 million euros in Duralex and maintain nearly all its 248 employees.

"Our ambition is to make Duralex once again a world leader, and develop an international unit based on the two brands," he said.

Despite sharing reputations for robustness, the companies use different techniques and materials -- Duralex glass is better at surviving impacts while Pyrex can withstand higher temperatures, hence its specialisation in glass ovenware.

The Duralex name is drawn from the Latin phrase "Dura lex, sed lex" -- the law is harsh, but it is the law.

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