Luisa Graff was born in Lima, Peru, and escaped to the United States after a political coup there. At 14, when she landed in Colorado Springs, it took her only a few months to get a job. Ed Megel had been selling Graff’s family’s emeralds at his jewelry store here, and with determination, she began working there at 15. Now, at an age she’d prefer to keep to herself, Graff is married to her “soulmate,” Matt Coleman, whom she met before she learned English. “He says I was a lot quieter back then,” she joked. Together they have five children and six grandchildren.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
My father was American, a metallurgist/engineer. My father founded and developed three mines. In the late 1960s, [Juan Velasco Alvarado] became a dictator. Soldiers came to my house and took my father away. Later, the soldiers came back to let us know “The ugly American” had abandoned us, and as Peruvians, we couldn’t leave. Whenever there’s a coup, people cannot leave the country, because they do not want the wealth to leave.
I escaped later. I’m a child of war. I lived through civil revolution. I escaped by myself. I went to Panama, changed identities and went to Costa Rica, where I met my dad. He brought me to America. My mother escaped later. We never lived as a family unit again. The only thing that we saved was our jewelry. Jewelry has so many different values to me. The history with my parents, and the fact that it was the only thing we escaped with. It helped us get started in America. My sister escaped with my auntie when the coup first started, and that’s what put us on the Black List, sadly. Obviously, we were all touched by it; nobody goes unscathed in dictator coups. A little shop downtown would sell our emeralds on consignment. I became the first female gemologist in the state.
Talk about your store.
We are a full-service jewelry store that believes in Colorado Springs, gets involved with fundraisers and wants to make a difference here, where our families are. Our store is more than 8,000 square feet in size with three full-time master jewelers and 15 designers and gemologists. We are in total, 25 individuals committed to making a difference and serving with integrity.
How did your career grow?
As time went on at Mr. Megel’s, I became a minority partner in that venture. I went out on my own during the holidays of 1999 and opened up in the Centennial Commons Shopping Center. I was there until July 2011 when I had the opportunity to move here [5901 N. Nevada Ave.].
How has your location been for business?
I have always believed that when you do the right thing, you will be blessed. So it is with this location. Many of my Rotarian friends thought I had lost my mind when I moved here because it was still a dirt road, but I wanted to reclaim the land and do something beautiful. I wanted the area around UCCS to improve so that it would benefit UCCS. (Education is such a big part of our future.) The first six months were tough, as the road was being finished, but in 2012, we grew tremendously, 37 percent. I think the visibility from the highway helped. People who come in to see us expect great service, quality and great selection, as those are our trademarks, but probably their biggest surprise is our great prices.
“We are committed to making a difference and serving with integrity.”
[/pullquote]Which holiday at Luisa Graff Jewelers does the best in business?
Most holidays are a time to celebrate, and jewelry is a favorite gift because it creates memories. Having said that, the Christmas season is the busiest because celebrations get compounded, people get engaged, celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and their own special traditions which normally include a gift exchange.
What is the most popular item?
Talk about your Snow and Ice Valentine’s promotion, where you refunded the price of purchased items if it snowed a certain amount during a specific time period.
It was fabulous. It did snow, so everyone that signed up for the promotion got a full refund [except for tax, as that is the law]. This is the second time our guests have won with a weather type of insurance. The first was tied to rain on your wedding day, and it did rain, and the guests got a full refund — in essence, a free engagement and wedding set.
How much money did you give back to your customers?
Around $200,000. It was backed by insurance. It was tremendous fun, 98 percent of the time. As you can imagine, there are always some disappointments, because it was a contract that had to be signed to participate. As with everything in life, there were rules that had to be followed. Some individuals opted not to participate. I imagine some individuals did not believe it would snow, and when it did, they were disappointed. But, there were approximately 160 individuals that would tell you it was fabulous!
Talk about your travel for gemstones.
When you want the top 10 percent of quality gemstones, you can’t wait for it to come to you, because it is competitive. So I end up traveling, more than I wish, to get the quality we want to have for our guests.
Talk about your family.
Between my husband and I, we have five kids and six grandchildren. Currently, my youngest son Andrew has joined me after serving in the Navy for eight years. He is doing incredibly well. I think it was the discipline he learned in the Navy.
What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time?