Exotic treasures have long been part of tropical island lore. When swashbuckling pirates and privateers plied Caribbean waters seeking riches in the 1600s, St. Thomas served as their base of operations.
During the 1700s, legitimate trade took hold and in 1764, King Frederick V declared St. Thomas a free port. By the 1800s, the island was the trading center for the entire West Indies.
Today, the thick-walled downtown shops of Charlotte Amalie —formerly warehouses for the rum trade — retain legendary status reflecting the timeless appeal of gems and jewels on display.
At House of Rajah on Raadets Gade, dazzling adornments and timepieces are yours to discover in an enchanting family-owned enterprise rich in its own history.
Enter and prepare to be fascinated by the welcoming ambiance. Whether you are looking for fine jewelry, engagement rings, wedding bands, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, signature VI jewelry, Caribbean ‘hook’ bangles, or Larimar — the official gemstone of the Virgin Islands — you have come to the right place. Quality timepieces include Rolex, Citizen, Breitling, and Invicta. Custom-designed jewelry also is a specialty at House of Rajah.
Charismatic proprietor Gobind “George” Chugani will tell you he grew up in the business but at first glance, you may think you are talking to George Clooney. His resemblance to the movie star has long been a source of lighthearted fun — and countless requests to pose for photos. By the way, the nickname “George” dates back to early childhood and has nothing to do with his status as the celebrity’s look-alike.
A peek into the retail history books reveals House of Rajah was originally founded in Louisville, Kentucky by Chugani’s father, Victor. The year was 1965. Victor and his wife, Indra, had settled on mainland USA by way of India and Hong Kong.
The final move to St. Thomas — where House of Rajah opened in 1973 — was encouraged by Indra’s brother-in-law — visionary businessman David Mohanani.
In the 1960s, Mohanani settled on St. Thomas, inspiring friends and family to join him in embracing the territory for its business opportunities and diverse culture. The Chuganis were among the first to relocate.
From age 12, “George” began honing his skills as a young St. Thomas. entrepreneur. “I used to sell custom Christmas cards. Then I started making signs for local shops,” he said. All the while, he was learning the family’s jewelry business from the ground up. In time, the shop was passed from father to son.
Over five decades, House of Rajah has maintained a solid reputation for incomparable customer service and personalized attention. While keeping alive the timeless traditions instilled by his father, Chugani also acquired a keen eye for trends, making House of Rajah headquarters for a host of truly unique shopping experiences. Services available include appraisals, jewelry and watch repair, ring re-sizing, in-person and online consultations.
Chugani graciously credits the shop’s ongoing success to managers, “… Harry, Jose, Vinnie, Hatty, Lavina and the entire staff,” many of whom have been loyal employees for 10, 20, even 30 years.
Asked if there is special meaning to the shop’s name, Chugani referenced the Indian translation, “It reflects my father’s wish that everyone who enters House of Rajah be treated like kings and royalty,” he said.
Reflecting further on the impressive 50-year-long history of the shop, Chugani said, “We are proud to be part of the island community and contribute to many causes.”
In his personal life, Chugani is a devoted family man. He refers to his wife Kusum — better known as “KC” — as, “The angel in our house.” The couple has two children, Alsha and Ashwin.
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A BIT ABOUT EARLY V.I. SETTLERS
Many historians and archaeologists agree the island known today as St. Thomas served as a significant stepping stone in the migratory patterns of early Caribbean settlers. Diggings in the Hull Bay area revealed pre-ceramic Ciboney tribes left their mark as far back as 1500 B.C. Other early cultures inhabiting the Virgin Islands included the Igneri from 50 to 650 A.D., the Tainos and Arawaks from 650 to 1425, and Caribs from 1425 to the late 16th century.