Rockingham News, NH
April 29 2005

Gifts that shine

By Nancy Shuffleton
[email protected]
Complete Business Index

PLAISTOW - Rafik Papalian didn't want to be a jeweler when he was 9
years old and learning the trade by helping his father repair jewelry
in the basement of the Tehran, Iran, home where the Armenian
immigrant family had settled.
Fast forward 35 years through some dogged determination and
professional detours, and Papalian, a proud American citizen since
1983, is an example of the American dream as owner-operator of
Papalian's Jewelry in Plaistow.

Papalian's is a self-described full-service jeweler whose products
include diamond engagement rings; wedding rings; diamond earrings and
tennis bracelets; mother's rings; men's jewelry; fine gold jewelry;
and precious and semi-precious stone jewelry. One of his specialties
is custom jewelry and he can even create a piece from a photograph.
He also sells children's jewelry, anniversary gifts and gifts
imported from Italy, as well as selling and repairing watches.

A certified gemologist, Papalian also does on-site jewelry repairs
and appraisals for estates and insurance. He can reset stones in new
or old rings, size rings and do engraving. Papalian also buys
jewelry, such as estate pieces, and works with customers who want to
trade in jewelry to upgrade. He either melts the pieces down and
remakes them into other pieces or sells them to customers or other

Papalian estimates that about 50 percent of his business is in
engagement and wedding rings - many to professional athletes, with
about 20 percent in gifts, 20 percent in repairs, and 10 percent in
watch sales.

Papalian said that he works with manufacturers in New York City on
his custom pieces. He said that he has 4,000 to 5,000 jewelry molds
that he has designed, assigned an identification number, and placed
with New York manufacturers. He tweaks the various designs, adding or
subtracting details or stones, and then orders them. He usually
inserts the stones himself unless he feels another expert can do it

For his diamond business, Papalian works with one factory in Israel
that he has worked with for 22 years. He said he makes "sure that
they all come with papers," adding that 80 percent "could be
certified" and he "knows the cutters and where they come from."

Papalian said he is proud that he has loyal, long-time customers who
he knows by name and that he is known for his service and his
honesty. He advises people shopping for jewelry to "make sure the
person behind the counter has knowledge ... You are buying my
expertise at my store ... Tell me what you want and I'll go find it."

The 1,250 square-foot shop includes a showroom in front, with a
workshop and offices in the back, all protected by an alarm system.

The shop is run by Papalian and three part-time employees, with some
help from his children around the Christmas holidays. Papalian said
he works in the shop about 40 hours a week, including specific
appointments, and balances the jewelry shop business with his family
and his growing real estate development success.

Papalian's biography is the stuff of movies. He has come a long way
since he left his family in Iran, lived in Bombay, India, and London,
and entered the United States with an Iranian student visa and
backpack on July 2, 1977, at the age of 17. He recalls warmly the
older customs worker who processed him and asked where his baggage
was. Speaking very little English, Papalian answered nervously that
all he had was his backpack. The agent shook his hand and said,
"Welcome to the United States."

He managed to complete high school in Haverhill, Mass., by paying his
tuition through pizza shop jobs and worked his way to an electrical
engineering degree from Lowell University. Several years later, an
uncle moved to California from Armenia to start a jewelry business.
Papalian moved there with his future wife to help. They married,
started their family of four children, and moved back to New
Hampshire four years later.

He opened a jewelry store in Haverhill but closed when it was robbed
several days later. He opened a variety store in Plaistow and started
doing jewelry repairs on the side. Eventually he rented the present
store and "we've had nothing but success since then." Papalian said
that he opened in a "bad economy," but that doesn't "stop people who
buy jewelry ... When we have 6 percent unemployment, that means 94
percent are working. I keep my expenses at a level where I'm
comfortable. I control my budget."

Papalian said that the United States "is a wonderful country to come
to. I am first generation. I thank the country for the great
experience I have had. There have been some rocky roads, but I'm here
and I'm proud of what I've done."