SOUTH Uist-based Hebridean Jewellery has been sold to its employees, after founder John Hart decided to retire, and now plans to ramp up online sales, particularly to the US.

The deal secures the future of the company and around 14 jobs, and will preserve important design and manufacturing skills in the Outer Hebrides.

Hebridean Jewellery, which was founded by Mr Hart in 1974, manufactures sterling silver and gold jewellery, with designs from the Pictish and Celtic periods through to the new “Millennium” range.

It is based in Lochdar on South Uist, where all manufacturing is undertaken, and also has retail premises at Stornoway on Lewis and Portree on Skye.

After three-and-a-half decades of trading, Mr Hart and his family wanted to retire but were determined to secure the future of the business in the local community, and the jobs of the staff. Many of the staff have worked with Hebridean Jewellery for more than 20 years.

While considering the options, Mr Hart attended a conference on employee ownership hosted by Co-operative Development Scotland, part of public sector-funded Scottish Enterprise.

After additional advice and support from employee buy-out specialist Baxi Partnership, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Hart family decided employee ownership offered the ideal solution for all parties.

A funding package of bank lending and vendor finance was put in place to enable the employees to buy the business.

Mr Hart commented: “We are delighted that the business is now owned by our former employees as it could not be in better hands.”