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Business Stories

ENGINEER TURNED JEWELRY PURVEYOR

Customers trying on jewelry at Omni Jewelers in Alaska

by Greg Klupar

4 weeks ago


Although he’s an engineer by trade, Indresh Chawla fell in love with gemstones and moved to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands in 1979 where he began as an employee for Omni Jewelers. After sixteen years of learning the trade, an opportunity to buy the store came when the original owner decided to retire— Indresh gladly took on the challenge. In 2003, Indresh, his wife Simi, and their two sons, Shivaang and Sharan opened two more Omni Jewelers locations in Juneau and Skagway, Alaska.

“The Caribbean is too hot in the summer and the remoteness of Alaska really appealed to us,” Indresh says. “I absolutely love it here. I spend the majority of my time in Skagway. Everyone knows everyone and it’s the safest place you can hope for when raising a family. The community here has really embraced us— and us them.”

Indresh takes pride in catering to every type of customer at Omni Jewelers. He hand-selects every design and brand he sells, from affordable Pandora bracelets to high-end Tissot and Fendi watches. Other popular brands he carries include: Alex and Ani and Le Vian. Omni Jewelers carries gemstones like tanzanite and ammolite and locally-sourced specimens like gold nuggets, gold in quartz, and Star of Alaska.

As a veteran of the jewelry business, Indresh is professional, friendly, and knowledgeable. He is gentle-mannered and soft-spoken, and many of his employees have been with him for decades, traveling with him between his Alaska and St. Thomas stores each spring and fall.

Kara, a manager, describes him as “one of the most gracious people I have ever met,” which is a true testament to how Indresh is throughout his professional and personal life.

In 2011, Indresh’s wife, Simi quit her full-time teaching job to help manage the family’s seven different stores in Juneau and Skagway. In addition to their two Omni Jewelry locations, they also own and operate Skagway Jewelry Co, Skagway Gem House, Juneau Jewelry Co., Juneau Gem House, and Heart of Broadway, his newest store, which he acquired from Cara Cosgrove in 2017.

Indresh says that his favorite part of owning businesses in Alaska is meeting new people and hearing their unique stories. He will never forget that cold and windy day back in September 2007 when an 85-year old woman visited his store. While she was waiting for her jewelry to be sized, she told Indresh a story from 66 years prior, December 7, 1941- the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was supposed to be the day of her wedding in Honolulu, Hawaii. “She remembers seeing and hearing the explosions from a distance, the ground that she stood on shaking beneath her,” recalls Indresh, who will never forget this woman and the many other stories that come with meeting wonderful people he meets in his stores.

“I learn so much from visitors by listening to their experiences, lifestyles and hardships. I have met amazing people in my working career— people from all walks of life,” Indresh boasts.

Although Indresh stays busy with his stores, he loves to sneak away for long, scenic walks across the Skagway River footbridge at the corner of 23rd and Alaska St. – his favorite way to enjoy the beautiful Alaskan summers.