Wedding band e-commerce brand Manly Bands has done licenses with some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Fender instruments, Jack Daniel’s whiskey, and DC Warner Bros. But there always was one license the company wanted to acquire: The Lord of the Rings.
The challenge was getting that license and designing the right products to match not only the brand’s goals but also the fans’ rabid connection with the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien books. What Manly Bands went through to get to this point—in late October, it launched nine wedding rings inspired by The Lord of the Rings—is a master class in how to make licensing work for jewelers.
Tip No. 1 is perseverance. Company cofounders Michelle Luchese and John Ruggiero along with the company’s director of products Christopher Bright always had Lord of the Rings on its wish list for licensing, Bright says.
“When I got here, I said there’s got to be a way,” says Bright, who joined Manly Bands in September 2021. “We started [licensing] with DC, but we were working on Lord of the Rings in the background.”
Tip No. 2 is be prepared and patient. Licensing is expensive, and you often have to walk a very straight line to work with the licensing body to make sure you’re meeting its expectations, Bright says. Most licensing agreements come with a guide to the kind of products you can create, which characters you can use and how, and a plethora of other rules.
“It was really tough. It pushed us creatively but also economically,” Bright says. “Here, the Tolkien estate has to approve it. We had to go through two groups. That made it even more difficult. We had to push that [quality] standard even higher. We didn’t want them to be movie props or fashion jewelry.”
Tip No. 3 is taking time to get the design right. Bright says there were some tentative designs prepped in case the Lord of the Rings licensing came through. Bright says he appreciated the hard work that went into those early looks, but he ultimately felt they needed to be retooled. He sweated it out over many nights, losing sleep over what he felt had to be done to improve the designs.
Ultimately, the Manly Bands design team and overall company came together to rethink what it could offer, and the results are off the charts, Bright says.
“We walked that line perfectly” between the books and what Manly Bands wanted its brand to have within its overall collections, Bright says. “We did it the right way.”
Utah-based Manly Bands says it seeks to be the most popular online destination for men’s wedding bands. It sources unique materials, such as meteorite and dinosaur bone, as well as official licensing to make sure its offerings stand out from the rest of the jewelry industry.
The Lord of the Rings collection from Manly Bands ties back to that design ethos of sourcing one-of-a-kind materials within its bands. For example, it used moss and teakwood in the Frodo ring, green ash wood and actual bowstring in the Legolas ring, and lava rock inlay in its dramatic Sauron ring. Another standout ring is its Gimli ring, which has distressed runic carvings around the band.
It was thrilling when Manly Bands finally got to use the characters and themes it had been dreaming about for so long, Luchese says. But she and Ruggiero’s expertise in working with the film industry—Luchese was an actress—comes into play here, so she says the whole team knew and were prepared for the long haul of working through the regulations and costs associated with licensing.
The final tip? Tip No. 4 is to think about who you work with in your license. A book or celebrity can go from beloved to infamous in a second these days, and that’s why you have to be thoughtful, Luchese says.
“There’s a lot of risk, so be careful and pick carefully,” she says.
Top: Manly Bands designed the Frodo wedding band ($695) for its Lord of the Rings collection to show “that bravery comes in all [finger] sizes.” The ring is made with moss, teakwood, and black zirconium (photos courtesy of Manly Bands).@jckmagazine
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