From Army Rangers to Jewelry Industry Disruptors: The Future of Engagement Rings is WOVE.
Andrew Wolgemuth has never been a stranger to jewelry; he grew up living in the jewelry shop his parents opened when he was still a baby. "The jewelry shop was a central point in my upbringing," he says. "My bedroom was above the showroom, and my whole family worked in the store. Even our vacations were planned around trade shows." By the time he finished high school, Andrew had his eyes set on a military career, with no interest in pursuing the family business.
Years later, through a somewhat unconventional path, jewelry unexpectedly found its way back into Andrew's life. Today, Andrew is co-founder of WOVE, a design-your-own engagement ring company that works with customers to create their perfect engagement ring. The idea for Wove originated from a real-world problem that became apparent to Andrew on one of his deployments to the Middle East. "Some of the Rangers in my platoon wanted to propose to their girlfriends when they returned home; they wanted to step off the airplane and drop down on one knee," he says. "There was nowhere to buy an engagement ring at the small outpost we were stationed at, and shipping something that expensive would have been incredibly risky." Andrew started setting people up on Zoom calls with jewelry designers connected through his family business. The designers would sketch and iterate designs, and instead of shipping the final ring to Afghanistan, they created realistic duplicates and sent those overseas instead. They substituted brass and glass materials for gold and diamond, but the replicas looked and felt indistinguishable from the real thing. The Rangers could see what they were buying, propose with the duplicate ring in their hands, and then swap it out for the actual ring once they were back home. This grassroots solution was the earliest version of what is now WOVE.
What Andrew hoped to be a lifelong career in the Army was cut short by a military training accident that left him with a broken neck and jaw and forced him to medically retire from active duty. "Everyone always said the military transition is tough, and I always brushed it off. I took for granted all of the things I loved about the Army - like the camaraderie, working with my best friends every day, and more than anything, the sense of purpose and mission," he says. "Being a Ranger was such a huge part of my identity, and it was really challenging when I had to leave. One of the biggest blessings of jumping into a startup company was that I dove headfirst into it and dedicated all my time to it. Pouring myself into something new helped with the transition."
Andrew first met Brian Elliott in college at West Point. They both went on to become Rangers in the Army, and their paths crossed several times throughout their careers. Andrew and Brian were serving in Afghanistan together when they came up with the original idea for Wove.
"After I left the military, Brian and I met up," says Andrew. "I had recently listened to an episode of NPR's podcast "How I Built This," featuring Warbly Parker, an eyeglass company that lets you order five pairs of frames, choose the pair you like, and order them online."
Andrew wondered if he could start a similar business with engagement rings, but instead of sending customers five diamond rings, he would use 3D printing to make models that would be revised before they bought the real thing.
This was when Andrew called Brian for backup. "Brian had been in some other early-stage companies and had experience working on startups," he says. Brian jumped on a plane to Pennsylvania to discuss the idea in person and to see for himself how jewelry-making works.
The West Point classmates founded WOVE during the COVID pandemic in 2021 when many brick-and-mortar jewelry stores were closed. "The first guinea pigs were our Army friends," says Andrew. "They were a forgiving audience while we just kind of pieced things together in those early days." WOVE became an immediate industry disruptor, taking the process of choosing an engagement ring from a stressful decision to a creative one and eliminating a great deal of buyer's remorse.
"We created a process that is highly flexible," says Andrew. "These days, often both partners design and choose a ring together; it's a collaborative process. They get to the replica stage together, and then when we get to the price and the center gem, one partner will often drop out to keep a bit of the surprise. We take the stress out of the process, make it intimate and fun, and ensure it's a ring they want to wear for the rest of their life."
WOVE does not ship outside of the United States and Canada, with the exception of service members, who make up about 30 percent of their business. Andrew and Brian are currently launching jewelry beyond wedding bands and engagement rings, as well as opening in-person design studios.
"I fell in love with this industry not because I'm passionate about jewelry but because it's so fun to work with couples during what is probably one of the most exciting times of their lives," says Andrew. We get to help them build something highly sentimental that they will hopefully have forever."