When women walk into a jewelry store, Michelle Luchese says, they tend to get “the red carpet rolled out.”
But when she and her then-fiancé, John Ruggiero, went shopping for his wedding ring, Ruggiero says he heard something more like, “There’s a little table in the back of the store, go look at those.”
He typically saw only three or four rings, all of which he generally thought were unaffordable — and none that fit his large fingers.
“I’m like, ‘This is my wedding ring,’” Ruggiero said. “I’m supposed to wear this the rest of my life. Shouldn’t I be a little excited? And instead, it was just a huge hassle.”
That experience inspired the newlyweds to start their company, Manly Bands, in their garage in Rosemary Beach, Fla., in 2016.
Today, after a move to Utah, Manly Bands offers men’s rings made from tungsten, wood from whiskey and wine barrels, antlers, carbon fiber, meteorites and even dinosaur bone. In a military history series, they have made rings of metal from retired aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, a Sherman tank and parts of M1 Garand rifles.
“It’s cool watching guys connect to something other than a traditional gold or silver and white gold band,” Ruggiero said. “They really seem to want something that’s more of their personality than the traditional designs.”
The company has branded lines, with rings inspired by Jack Daniels, Fender guitars — some featuring an embedded guitar string — and DC Comics.
Then, earlier this year, the company found itself drawn to certain rings of power.
One ring to bind them
When Ruggiero heard Amazon Studios was planning a new television series prequel to “Lord of the Rings,” he reached out to Warner Bros. “We asked them, ‘Hey, we’d love to make the One Ring,’” he said.
Warner Bros. replied that it couldn’t connect the company to the television show, but it agreed to license rings from the trilogy of books and original movies, Ruggiero said.
Manly Band’s designers started brainstorming ideas for the collection back in March. “We’re really trying to make it fun … a lot of the team love Lord of the Rings,” Ruggiero said.
Of the nine rings made, The Gandalf, The Frodo, The Aragorn, The Legolas, and The Gimli are based on characters that form the fellowship of the ring — who seek to destroy the ever-corrupting One Ring created by the dark lord Sauron.
The company is also making rings for Sauron, the ringwraiths — corrupted men who do his bidding — and Gollum, who obsessed over the One Ring to the point of murdering to obtain it.
And, arguably a chilling choice for a wedding, the One Ring itself, an evil gold band that empowers the wearer to control others “and in the darkness bind them.”
The rings are each designed from different materials — for example, The Frodo contains moss trapped in epoxy resin. The Gimli features the pattern shown on the dwarf’s helmet in the movies. The Legolas has an embedded recurve bow string and The Sauron contains lava rock.
Warner Bros. had to approve each individual design before the launch about a month ago. Since then, The Lord of the Rings line “has been super successful for us,” Ruggiero said. “It’s been among our best sellers.”
Kaelin Douglas, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, ordered the wedding band based on Gimli for her partner.
“My fiancé was complaining about other selections and how boring the offerings were. Mostly gold or black simple bands,” Douglas said, “while there’s a world of different customizations and flash for women.”
She liked the Gimli design because “it’s subtle enough that no one but a fan would know on first glance,” yet was intricate and gave the impression that “they did their research on the characters,” she said.
“My fiancé is a huge Lord of the Rings fan,” she said, “and we wanted a wedding band that incorporated that without being too overt about what it was.”
‘Who buys the groom’s ring?’
Manly Band’s headquarters and manufacturing space is in Lindon, where it has about 65 employees.
Its staff machines rings from materials that are harder than precious metals, such as tungsten and Damascus steel. Rings made of wood, or with wood inlays, are carved on a lathe, and some rings are coated in Cerakote, a hardy ceramic finish that is used to paint guns and airplane parts.
Most of the rings in the best-selling category run between $300 and $1,000 and the company makes a wide range of sizes.
Manly Bands opened two retail stores in the last year, one at University Place in Orem last February and one in Fashion Place in Murray in September, said Eric Farlow, the company’s chief operating officer.
But the company still sees most purchases made online, where it began its sales.
Because some people hesitate to spend hundreds on a ring they can’t see, “we heavily invested in content creation,” Ruggiero said, in order to show the products up close and explain the differences between materials.
“We do a lot of YouTube content. We help people learn about rings, wedding rings, men’s wedding rings, we talk about the different materials, the different styles, why they should buy from us,” he said.
In these videos, often shot against a backdrop of sports equipment, whiskey bottles and gaming gear, company reps show off closeups of rings, compare their composition (”Pros and cons of wood rings”) and talk about wedding-related questions.
“Who buys the groom’s ring?” gets into ring history — American men didn’t start widely wearing wedding bands until the 1940s — and “WTF Did They Put On Their Ring?” shares what recent customers asked to have engraved on their bands. (Examples include ”I’m in it for the sex,” “No more diets for me,” “Put me back on” and “Don’t lose this one,” and on the sweeter side: “Wife’s B-Day” with the date, and “Two wishes left.”)
Manly Bands plans to make upcoming rings from a 1940s Willys Jeep fender and scrap metal — with authentic damage — from a B-17 bomber.
Designing rings is “a fun challenge,” Luchese said, as they ask with each new project, “how can we be different, better, more interesting, more innovative?”