Brown-Forman Distillers Corp. said yesterday it will start an unfriendly cash tender offer later this week for all the shares of Lenox Inc., the diversified china maker, in a deal worth about $394 million.

Brown-Forman said it will offer $43.50 a share for Lenox on a post-stock dividend basis or $87 a share on a pre-stock dividend basis. Lenox, with about 4.5 million shares outstanding, has declared a 100 percent stock dividend to shareholders of record on June 3 and payable July 1.

Louisville-based Brown-Forman said its offer is not contingent upon any number of shares being tendered.

Brown-Forman President W. L. Lyons Brown Jr. contacted Lenox Chairman John Chamberlin on Tuesday to request a meeting on the possibility of merging their companies in view of the recent rise in Lenox stock. Brown did not discuss price.

According to Brown-Forman, Chamberlin in another conversation yesterday said he believed Lenox would be best served by remaining independent.

Lenox, headquartered in Lawrenceville, N.J., said it expects its directors to meet June 13 on the Brown-Forman announcement. The Lenox chairman asked shareholders to defer any decisions if a tender offer is made until the board meets.

Lenox was the biggest percentage gainer yesterday among New York Stock Exchange issues, soaring 26 3/4 to 86 1/2.