Castle Harlan’s Gem – May, 1996

Ten years ago this month, Castle Harlan agreed to buy class-ring manufacturers Balfour and ArtCarved in a combined $180 million deal. A seemingly ordinary transaction at the time, today the company represents one of the gems from the firm’s portfolio.

As the first order of business, Castle Harlan consolidated the operations of Balfour and ArtCarved under the American Achievement banner. Next the firm augmented the business with select acquisitions, adding yearbook distributor Taylor Publishing and Who’s Who publisher Educational Communications into the mix.

The company’s Balfour unit is perhaps its best known brand, as it has made championship rings for teams such as the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics and the 1980 Gold Medal-winning U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, among others. However, the company’s primary business is in the high school and college segment, selling class rings, yearbooks and graduation products, which together make up approximately 88% of its net sales.

After a more than six-year stay in Castle Harlan’s portfolio, the firm sold the business in 2004 to Fenway Partners for $416 million. For the effort, Castle Harlan pocketed $170 million in proceeds.

Fenway Partners still controls American Achievement, although it was able to recoup nearly its entire investment through a dividend recap the same year it bought the business.