Unaxis has sold its highly profitable Leybold Optics division for 245 million Swiss francs (e165m-$146m) to EQT Northern Europe, the private equity fund of the Swedish Wallenberg Foundation. The division generated sales of 181 million SF (e122m-$108m) in the 9 months ended Sept. 30.

Members of the management will have a stake in Leybold Optics, which will be run as an independent company that may go public in about 4-5 years' time. In that case, Unaxis will get an additional payment based on Leybold's initial pricing on the stockmarket.

Based in Germany, Leybold is a market leader in vacuum coating and thin film deposition systems and processes for ophthalmic lenses and for a variety of other products including precision optics, telecommunications, medical technology and the automotive and plastics industry. Earlier this year, it opened a customer support center for anti-reflective coatings in the USA, where the A-R market grew to 19 percent of all lenses sold in 2000, and formed a partnership with NGL, a Swiss supplier of advanced ultrasonic cleaning processes for ophthalmic lenses.

Leybold was formerly the property of Oehrlikon-Bührle, a large Swiss military equipment group which bought Blazers' job coating operations in 1995. Four years later, OB sold the merged Leybold/Balzers operation to Unaxis, another Swiss group which has now decided to concentrate its activities on semiconductors, compact discs and other products and systems for the broad information technology sector.

Led by Jürgen Meinel, Leybold has a global staff of about 400 persons. It recently established sales offices in Italy and other countries. It now has a direct presence also in France, the UK, Spain, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China and the USA.