Tsar's Porcelain to Retail in Paris

MTA worker putting the finishing touches to a vase at the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Moscow investment house NIKoil plans to give the age-old but faded Lomonosov Porcelain Factory a new lease on life by injecting $5 million to resurrect old production lines and open its first foreign retail outlet.

NIKoil vice president and new Lomonosov general director Nikolai Gordeyev told reporters Friday that NIKoil will pump $5 million over two years into the St. Petersburg-based porcelain manufacturer, which has in recent years been besieged by piracy and battles over ownership and automation plans. Only half of the plant is being utilized, Gordeyev said.

There are also plans to open a retail outlet in Paris -- Lomonosov's first outside Russia -- following a recent agreement with French porcelain factory Deshouliers, in which NIKoil has held a 51 percent stake since September.

The Lomonosov Porcelain Factory was built in 1744, making it the first porcelain factory in Russia, as well as one of the first in Europe. Between 1765 and 1925, the plant was named the Imperial Porcelain Factory.

Joint projects by Deshouliers and Lomonosov are being discussed, Gordeyev said.

The plant was privatized in 1993, with the staff and the State Property Ministry being given controlling stakes in the company. In 1999, the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund (later named Delta Capital), investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Co., or KKR, and Stoomhamer Amsterdam acquired a controlling stake in the company.

But early this year, Galina Tsvetkova, wife of NIKoil president Nikolai Tsvetkov, began snapping up shares in Lomonosov from the foreign shareholders.

At present, Tsvetkov's family owns 75.21 percent of the enterprise, with the staff holding 14 percent and KKR holding 10 percent.

According to its own reports, Lomonosov posted revenues last year of $11 million. Experts believe Russia's porcelain market to be worth between $150 million and $500 million annually. Major domestic competitors include Dulevsky Porcelain, the Konakovsky Faience Factory and the Pskov Pottery Factory.

Lomonosov manufactures a range of more than 500 products, with much of the work being done by hand. Though many of the factory's goods are mass-produced, the firm has also aimed its wares at the higher end of the market.

"The foreign shareholders wanted to fully automate production, but there was a huge protest against it," said Larisa Velikotnaya, head of the product-range department.

The foreign investors have had some impact at the factory, however. "They restarted the production of the so-called Malevich teapot [a teapot in the form of a train], and they also introduced discipline among the workers at the factory," Velikotnaya said.

Gordeyev said production will be restarted on more items from the collections of the Imperial Factory and the Museum of Lomonosov Porcelain.

In 2001, the State Property Ministry handed the collection of the Museum of Lomonosov Porcelain, which contains 25,000 exhibits, to the State Hermitage Museum.

"At present, we allow the Hermitage to house the Porcelain Museum on the Lomonosov Porcelain grounds for free, and we are carrying out repair works at our own expense. In return, the Hermitage is giving us the opportunity to copy some of the exhibits," Velikotnaya said.

"We suffer a great deal from illegal copies of our works, which are produced both in Russia and abroad," she added.