(In ninth paragraph changes to "the global economy")
MILAN/PARIS, March 7 PPR is close to snapping up Milanese jeweller Pomellato in a deal that would allow the French luxury and sports brand group to expand in a sector in which it has a small presence, sources close to the matter said.
Sources close the deal said PPR, which owns jeweller Boucheron, emerged as a front-runner after offers from rival suitors including shareholder Damiani were rebuffed.
"It is very very close. The Damiani family submitted an offer with a private equity fund, but PPR won," a source with first-hand knowledge of the transaction said on Thursday.
Separately, a banking source said PPR was near closing the acquisition which would value the jeweller at around 350 million euros ($455 million) or 15 times the company's earnings before interest, tax and depreciation (EBITDA), roughly line with where others in the European sector are trading.
The transaction, if completed, would mark the second time a major Italian jeweller has fallen into the hands of a French group after LVMH acquired Bulgari two years ago for 3.7 billion euros.
Pomellato, whose colourful wares are promoted by actress Tilda Swinton, declined comment on talks with PPR, saying only: "The company is considering strategic options for its future."
Pomellato had said in the past it wished to remain independent and aimed to float its shares on the stock market in 2014.
Pomellato, known for its DoDo animal-shaped pendants, helps PPR fulfil its ambition of strengthening its position in the jewellery sector via the acquisition of small to medium-sized businesses with strong growth potential.
Well-established luxury jewellery brands have been enjoying solid growth rates in recent years in spite of concerns about the global economy.
The Italian jewellery sector is made up of thousands of small and family-owned companies, but few have the size of Pomellato which generated earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation of 20 million euros on sales of 138 million in 2011.
Last year, PPR acquired a majority stake in Chinese jeweller Queelin and said more deals could follow in the region.
Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed but analysts pegged Qeelin's enterprise value at around 70 million euros.
In 2011, PPR acquired Italian suitmaker Brioni, whose enterprise value was estimated by analysts at between 250 million euros and 300 million, including 100 million of debt.
The Damiani family had bought 18 percent of Pomellato in 2002.
Founded in 1967 by Pino Rabolini, Pomellato gained popularity with the launch of its DoDo brand in 1995.
Rabolini and Chief Executive Andrea Morante control 79 percent of the company through the holding Ra.Mo, with minority shareholders owning the remaining 21 percent.
The company sells 58 percent of its products in Italy, has 56 directly-operated stores worldwide and is keen to expand in the United States, Britain, China and Japan.
PPR, known to have been in talks with Pomellato for more than a year, declined comment.
Media reports have named other suitors such as Prada , jeweller Swarovski and fashion holding group Only the Brave, which owns Diesel. ($1=0.7692 euros) (Reporting by Massimo Gaia, Antonella Ciancio, Astrid Wendlandt and Pascale Denis; Writing by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Christian Plumb and David Holmes)