by Suren Deheryan
Luxury jewelry in Russia has an Armenian connection, and not just because Moscow, and now Yerevan, are home to high-end boutiques.
The link in the chain of gold is made by the Papian family, who expanded their Louvre jewelry franchise to Yerevan in 2002.
Rafael Papian, 34, is one of the founders of the Louvre brand name’s presence in Moscow—one of the two largest networks engaged in the sale of famous Italian, French, Swiss and other European brands of luxury items.
Rafael’s sister, 26-year-old Narine, is in charge of marketing the network of eight Moscow shops including two owned by the Papians. The Papians opened their first 10 years ago. (The Papians formed a network that includes their shops with six others of different ownership.) Her goal is to make more known in Moscow such brands as Cartier, Piaget, Franck Muller, etc. (Louvre itself is not a brand, but a retail franchise through which some 30 luxury imprints are sold. While Papian would not reveal the revenue of his particular shops, the Louvre network, headed by Papian, does about $70-80 million annually in gross sales.)
The Papians only branched out to Yerevan after securing a stable market in Moscow, where they opened their first store in the early 1990s.
“It was a period when people did not know how to earn their living. My mother is an economist by training, my father (who is deceased) was a lawyer and during those years of confusion our family decided to set up its own business,” says Rafael. The mother of Rafael and Narine, Gohar Papian, took up the management of Yerevan’s Louvre and moved from Moscow back to Yerevan to set up permanent residence.
According to Gohar Papian, when the Yerevan shop was opened some people thought it was yet another shop of expensive and probably faked items. “But in the course of time people understood that they can buy original jewelry from world-famed producers,” says Gohar.
Her son in Moscow gives assurances that opening a boutique was a serious step for the family, since their corporate name, having already gained a certain reputation in Moscow, was to start everything in Armenia from scratch.
“We could have opened a shop in Yerevan much earlier, however we realized the time for that was not yet ripe in Armenia,” Rafael explains.
“We were the first non-Yerevantsis who opened a shop with such a wide selection and the arrival of our shop raised Armenia to a completely new level—a genuine boutique in the center of Yerevan offering the best items of the best brands.”
Rafael Papian says opening the Yerevan boutique was a patriotic gesture:
“It seems to some that we came to Armenia only for money. In fact, it is not so. The annual income from the Yerevan shop does not exceed a monthly income from one of our Moscow shops. But it doesn’t mean that we have no buyers in Yerevan; it means that we have many more buyers in Moscow,” says Rafael.
The boutique in Yerevan works directly with Western producers, who at first did not welcome the idea of opening a luxury store in Armenia. But Rafael says the reputation of the Moscow stores helped overcome their reluctance. To open the Yerevan shop, the Papians invested $1.2 million.
The family entry into business started as a stationery shop in Moscow’s Intourist hotel, when sudden wealth and luxury consumption was a fortunate combination for entrepreneurs.
“Customers were interested in expensive pens of famous brands and unique items and we tried to satisfy those needs,” says Rafael. “Later we opened a number of other similar shops in Moscow.”
Rafael and Narine were born and educated in Moscow. Rafael is a lawyer by education, and his sister is an economist—just like their parents.
The parents, who are from Yerevan, made sure that their children learn Armenian, and preserve their ethnicity. During her student years Narine was actively engaged in public activities in Moscow, founding an Armenian youth organization, “Aregak”.
Today they have their own families; Narine has one daughter and Rafael has two.
“As it is a family business, my mother decided to personally represent the shop in Yerevan and in fact for the sake of business now she is deprived of the opportunity to see her grandchildren everyday. But my mother likes staying in Armenia and she moved to Yerevan with great pleasure,” says Rafael. But as to the brother/sister businesspersons: “We are young and now it is not interesting for us to be in Armenia.”
The assortment of the Moscow and Yerevan Louvre shops is almost the same: expensive wristwatches for men and women, jewelry, women’s handbags, tobacco pipes, lighters, and other items.
“The demand (relative according to market size) in Armenia is nearly the same as in Moscow, perhaps it is because our compatriots often come to Moscow. Although one of the arguments for the opening of such a boutique in Yerevan was that Armenia is after all an oriental country where luxury and love for beautiful objects are quite high,” says Rafael, adding that, unlike in Moscow, in Yerevan almost half of the customers are women.
The Papians’ Yerevan shop may be seen as a barometer of sorts of a growing upper class in the Armenian capital.
“It is noticeable that a certain layer of rich people has formed in Armenia—people who have gorgeous houses, posh cars, like to dress well and after all this, there arises a new demand for objects of beauty that would accentuate their status. And it is a normal process that also took place in Moscow,” says the young Moscow businessman.
His mother, or Yerevan partner, gives assurances that at the initial period she made much effort to cultivate a respectful attitude towards their shop among Yerevan customers.
Gohar Papian personally met curious customers, telling in detail about one famous brand or another presented in the assortment of their shop.
“There were customers looking, and you understood that they would not buy anything. And some entered Louvre as if they had come to a museum,” says Gohar.
According to her, the customers of the shop are well-known in Armenia, for whom expensive taste is accommodated by expendable income.
“And I hope that in the course of time our items will become accessible for a wider stratum,” she concludes.