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Gerald Ratner's little gem

Gerald Ratner lists his interests as chess, art and keeping fit. He could have added removing his foot from his mouth, but that's a sore point for the former jewellery tycoon.

Two words uttered 11 years ago secured Ratner a place in business-school manuals under the chapter headed "how to ruin your company".

"Total crap," was how he described his firm's pound;4.99 decanter, glass and silver tray set. Who did he choose to say this to? Not in private to his nearest and dearest, alas, but in public at the annual conference of the Institute of Directors.

The captains of industry, possibly having supped from a better class of decanter, lapped it up. Their laughter spurred Ratner on to even greater efforts at self-destruction. He went on: "We sell earrings for under pound;1 - which is cheaper than a Marks and Spencer prawn sandwich, but I have to say the earrings probably won't last as long."

Well, they lasted longer than his chain of 200 cut-price jewellery shops.

Overnight Ratners became "Crapners" and the young women who had developed a taste for cheap gold spurned his tarnished goods. The gaffe wiped pound;500 million off the value of the company. The previous year's profit of pound;112m was turned into a loss of pound;122m. Ratner, who had lost most of his personal fortune, resigned the following year. In 1993 the company announced that it was changing its name to Signet.

Ratner's defenders claim that the "crap" remark was an old joke. His mistake was to introduce it into an otherwise serious speech after having been told that the audience expected a bit of a giggle.

Mind you, Ratner has never given up. After running a health and fitness club in Henley, he announced last month that he is to trade under his own name again. The Crapners man is back in business with an online jewellery shop. We're looking forward to a few gems, Gerald.

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