After 130 years, family loosens grip on storied French saxophones


Paris (AFP)

Since 1885 the descendants of Henri Selmer have been making saxophones favoured by jazz greats like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, but the company has decided it's time to bring in another player.

Facing growing competition from cheaper Chinese horns, a group of 55 shareholders representing the family's fourth and fifth generations announced Thursday that they had sold a majority stake to European private equity group Argos Soditec.

From its factory at Mantes-la-Ville just west of the French capital, Henri Selmer Paris crafts some 9,000 saxophones a year for enthusiasts worldwide.

But chief executive Jerome Selmer, a great-grandson of Henri Selmer who will remain with the company, cited "fierce competition" when he announced the talks with Argos last January.

The company claims to corner 90 percent of the market for high-end saxophones, built out of 750 individual pieces by the company's 500 employees.

And its fans extend far beyond France, with nine of every 10 instruments -- mainly saxophones but also clarinets and mouthpieces -- destined for export.

Former US president Bill Clinton figures among the group's famous clients who brought his Selmer to the White House after his election.

China, Japan and other Asian markets account for fully half its output.

But even though sales reached 35 million euros last year, the company needed "financial security" to pursue its development, Jerome Selmer told AFP in January.