How two ex-Army Rangers started an engagement ring business : NPR

Wove is an engagement ring design company started by two former Army Rangers who came up with the idea while deployed in combat.


This next story has two veteran Army Ranger veterans, a detailed strategy plan, and thousands of dollars in diamonds. No, it’s not a heist movie. It’s the story of veterans turned entrepreneurs, as NPR’s Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: I’m walking around New York’s Diamond District with two veterans who started — what else? – an engagement ring company. Andrew Wolgemuth describes the scene here on Jewelers’ Row.

ANDREW WOLGEMUTH: Yes. So it’s kind of dirty, dirty – it’s like walking into a pawn shop. It’s definitely not aimed at consumers at all.

LAWRENCE: Before Wolgemuth became an Army Ranger, he worked in his family’s jewelry store. So he can say this.

WOLGEMUTH: And the jewelry industry, as a whole, already has this reputation of being a little, you know, a little slimy.

LAWRENCE: That’s because most people don’t know much about what a good diamond looks like and what it should cost, says Wolgemuth. This was the case of his business partner, Brian Elliott.

BRIAN ELLIOTT: Personally, I had a really bad first engagement ring attempt.

LAWRENCE: Elliott was living at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, and he was planning on proposing to his girlfriend, so he went to the nearest jewelry store.

ELLIOTT: I was in a mall at exit 8. And here I am. I talk to the guy. He’s having trouble selling me, and I can feel Aunt Anne’s pretzels floating in my nose as I’m about to spend $10,000 on this thing that I… it was probably worth, you know, a quarter of that. And I realized, like, wow, this is probably not the best place to make this purchase really for life in this kind of halogen light mall in this shitty environment. And I just left then.

LAWRENCE: It’s common enough to be a military cliché – the young soldier coming back from deployment and doing some really stupid shopping at the mall off base. Another cliché is what Andrew Wolgemuth was dealing with on deployment – soldiers who wanted to propose as they got off the plane back from Afghanistan.

WOLGEMUTH: A bunch of Rangers in my platoon, they were at that point in their life where they wanted to get engaged, but they want this idea of ​​buying an engagement ring. They’re just coming out of a combat deployment, and all the wives, girlfriends, family members are standing there with signs. And they can come out, get on their knees and propose.

LAWRENCE: That perfect moment – ​​except those soldiers had no way of getting a decent engagement ring in Afghanistan, even by mail.

WOLGEMUTH: The odds are not, you know, in your favor that this package shows up.

LAWRENCE: But then the Ranger Regiment was made aware of Wolgemuth’s family business.

WOLGEMUTH: The lieutenant knows how to make engagement rings.

LAWRENCE: Lt. or Lt. Wolgemuth started setting up video calls with jewelry makers to design rings and then create very compelling duplicates with brass and glass to send in the mail. The real ring could be retrieved later. But the guys would have a ring coming off the plane. And for a few of his fellow Rangers, it worked.

WOLGEMUTH: I mean, yeah, it was a once-in-a-lifetime proposition, off the plane. They had the moment, a beautiful moment, yeah.

LAWRENCE: Wolgemuth came back from Afghanistan and left the military. He lived at home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but had no interest in the family jewelry business. He organized a workshop for veterans who want to become entrepreneurs. And then he was listening to a podcast.

WOLGEMUTH: And so I was like – I just listened to NPR, How I Built This, the – I know, right?

ELLIOTT: What a catch.

LAWRENCE: We’re putting it on the air.

WOLGEMUTH: …With the Neil Blumenthal – Warby Parker.

LAWRENCE: How I Built This tells the story of successful businesses. Warby Parker is an eyewear company that lets you order five pairs, try them on at home, and then decide which one you want.

WOLGEMUTH: Wow. Like, you know, we did this thing in Afghanistan with these rings. What if we built the same experience for engagement rings?

LAWRENCE: Wolgemuth says he knew he couldn’t mail five diamond rings. Even in the United States, the insurance bill would be crippling. But with 3D printing, he could create inexpensive models that people could see and then review before buying the real thing. He called Brian Elliot, who was also out of the Rangers and also trying to get into business.

ELLIOTT: I’ve been to a few startups, so he called me. And a few days later, I fly to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see how the jewelry is made.

LAWRENCE: It was two years ago. They’re all online, so they haven’t been much affected by the pandemic. They called their company WOVE. Some people make the ring a surprise, like they did in Afghanistan. But Wolgemuth says more people want to design their real ring together.

WOLGEMUTH: The jewelry industry has hardly changed in the last hundred years, and it’s very patriarchal. And so I like the collaborative approach that we offer, a kind of equal partners coming together. Keep the proposal a surprise. But they can also wear a ring that they really want to wear.

LAWRENCE: They’re banking on that cultural shift, says Brian Elliott.

ELLIOTT: You know, a man surprises a woman with a stone. Now we stay together. Like, it’s, like, 2023 now. Like, having both partners involved is so much more equal and so much more meaningful because, like, it represents, you know, how they’re going to make decisions when they buy the house, get the car, have the kid . It’s a collaborative decision.

LAWRENCE: Elliott himself is part of this trend. His trip to the mall’s diamond store near Fort Benning, that engagement didn’t work out. But this spring he is getting married and he designed the ring with his fiancée.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, New York.

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