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Making a Path All Her Own

Sustainably minded fine jeweler is inspired by the outdoors.

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WEND, Seattle, WA

OWNER: Wendy Woldenberg; URL: wendjewelry.com; EMPLOYEES: 1 part-time; ONLINE PRESENCE: 5.0 Stars on Google; FOUNDED: 2020; Opened featured location: 2021; AREA: 300 squarefoot showroom; 450 total square feet


Wendy Woldenberg

Wendy Woldenberg

WENDY WOLDENBERG HADN’T done any serious hiking in years when a few friends asked whether she wanted to join a two-week backpacking trek around Mount Rainier in 2016. The 100-mile Wonderland Trail proved a revelation to Woldenberg: Where her hiking partners saw rivers, glaciers and waterfalls, she saw rings waiting to be made. When she kept dreaming about those rings once she got home, she knew it was time to take her dreams seriously.

The result is WEND, a fine jewelry studio and retail shop where everything is inspired by Woldenberg’s affinity for the natural world. Set in a mixed-use area of West Seattle — a geographically isolated neighborhood that feels like a small town within the big Pacific Northwest city — WEND has a townhouse-meets-treehouse vibe, with 17-foot ceilings and window displays draped in lichen and moss within sight of the jeweler’s benches.

Although Woldenberg makes most of her jewelry to order, walk-in customers find a smart selection of ready-to-wear pieces in this streetside gallery, along with a custom-made maple Ring Bar where people can try on sample rings or take classes in jewelry design and other arts. A steep, space-saving staircase accesses an open-air mezzanine where Woldenberg and her part-time employee/long-time friend Mitzy Oubre work their magic at a lost wax casting station, buffing wheel and pulse-arc welder. And a wall running the length of the shop showcases goods ranging from pottery to candles to culinary salt, all by Seattle makers, plus a gallery for rotating art shows.

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Like many creative people, Woldenberg has forged a career path that seems both meandering (true to her shop’s name) and purposeful. She had taught jewelry design at a high school in Auburn, WA, for more than two decades, yet she also designed wedding bands in her home studio on the weekends, starting with her own, which were inspired by the waves of a little fishing village in Mexico where she and her husband married “a million years ago.”

Still, it was a leap to leave a secure teaching career to pursue her own vision. Woldenberg spent several years job-sharing with a former student while she developed her collections. In 2019, she found an ideal retail-studio space in a new building that hadn’t yet hit the market. The business opened on Earth Day 2021 — no small thing since its buildout coincided with the height of the pandemic. “The city kind of shut down and (permitting) was incredibly backed up,” she recalls. “I had the plans in place, the builder in place, everything ready, but it took forever to get the go-ahead.”

WEND_looking_down_the_staggered_stairs_by_Christophe_Servieres

A steep staircase and 17-foot ceilings give WEND a townhouse-meets- treehouse vibe.

Yet that left plenty of time for Woldenberg to refine her ideas for what WEND would — and would not — be. Her style and sensibility mirror that of many people who find their way to the Northwest: understated, unpretentious and immersed in the natural world. WEND’s two signature collections take their cues from tree roots and tidepools, with rings available in four widths, with or without gemstones for a modern, gender-neutral look.

Woldenberg describes how, when she and her now-husband were thinking about wedding rings, the term “bridal” meant nothing to them. “I certainly didn’t know what that meant,” she says. “It was outdated then and it’s even more outdated now.” Traditional wedding jewelry styles seemed limited, too, especially for couples who prefer to spend their time outdoors, as well as for people who live outside traditional gender norms. “It felt really boxed in. It didn’t fit my personality, nor did it fit anyone I knew. I thought, ‘We can’t be the only people who don’t fit into this.’”

Sustainability is another key hallmark of the WEND approach. Many pieces are reworked from customers’ existing jewelry; others feature certified recycled metals, lab-grown diamonds or sustainably sourced gemstones, including some that come from not so far away. “I have a true obsession with Montana sapphires,” says Woldenberg. She prizes them for the way they are found near the surface and how “they don’t have to be chiseled out, so nobody’s getting silicosis or dying in mining accidents.”

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Many Montana sapphires go through a chemically intensive heating and treating process, but Woldenberg pays more to buy untreated stones. Recalling her visit to a sapphire supplier in Montana, she says, “I got to spend a weekend behind the scenes, separating them out from the rough.” Beyond gorgeous rings, the stones inspire everything from WEND’s logo to a custom chocolate bar to several shades of nail polish that Woldenberg often wears in homage to her favorite gem.

Seattle is a high-tech city, and WEND makes it easy for clients to book in-person or online consultation appointments via Calendly. “Many people are more comfortable setting their own schedules and prefer online booking to picking up the phone,” Woldenberg notes. Once a meeting is set, WEND asks how clients like to communicate, “then we abide by their stated preference. Many like to text, so our phone system supports texting.”

Lichen and moss are among the organic materials used in jewelry displays.

Lichen and moss are among the organic materials used in jewelry displays.

But when it comes to making jewelry, WEND couldn’t be more low-tech or high touch. “Our designs are wrought by hand” with no computers involved, Woldenberg says. “I don’t know very many fine jewelers who don’t use some CAD,” she adds, noting that “99.999 percent” of jewelry in the world is designed on computer. “But it’s best if you know how to hand-make it first,” she says, as she always taught in her high school classes. She elaborates with another West Coast metaphor: “Can you become a great skateboarder from playing it on your video game? No.”

And so Woldenberg creates entirely by hand, using a hands-on approach, keeping WEND firmly rooted in the physical world. Happily, it’s a world she can return to again and again from Seattle, where she lives within sight of the mountains and close to the sea.

Five Cool Things About WEND

1. BEFORE AND AFTER. Wendy Woldenberg specializes in reusing clients’ heirloom jewelry to create something new. Many pieces are accompanied by a certificate that documents the journey, and WEND showcases some of these stories on Instagram. “This has been a great way to engage people, celebrate our successes and find new clients,” says Woldenberg.

2. SWEET SPIEL. Among WEND’s trove of local treasures are gourmet treats from Seattle-based small-batch company ChocolateSpiel. Its founder, Angi Pfleiderer, previously had worked as a chemical engineer for paints in her native Germany (where “spiel” means “play”), and when she learned that chocolate and paint coatings used similar manufacturing processes, she was inspired to create wildly colorful bean-to-bar confections, including one specially made for WEND.

3. GOOD NEIGHBORS. During the pandemic, WEND started hosting low-cost yoga classes in its courtyard, followed by muffins and mimosas. “Since many yoga studios closed during the pandemic, a beloved yoga instructor in our community found herself in need of work, and we needed to bring people to WEND,” Woldenberg recalls. “People were excited to exercise again, see other humans in person, drink mimosas and look at jewelry. This idea really helped spread the word about WEND.”

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4. KEEP IT WILD. It’s only natural that WEND gives back to organizations that advance environmental sustainability, forwarding a portion of profits to the Washington Trails Association, Wild Aid (which works to end wildlife trafficking) and the Big Life Foundation (dedicated to wilderness protection in Africa).

5. BIG PICTURE. A blank exterior wall at WEND has all the makings of an artist’s canvas, and Woldenberg plans to have a mural of Mount Rainier painted there in 2023. It’ll be a fine tribute to Washington’s highest peak and how it served as inspiration for Woldenberg’s ring-making dreams.

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • Amanda Eddy:Love the use of space and versatility the store offers. Eco-friendly showroom and practices are in line with the brand and help promote the brand’s mission. Morning yoga and mimosas are an excellent way to spread the word and bring in new potential customers.
  • Gabrielle Grazi:Every element of the WEND brand feels seamlessly interconnected and infused with natural elements.
  • Shane O’Neill: Nice mix of jewelry and lifestyle makes for a unique store. Art, yoga and jewelry are great.

 

Try This: Buy If You Can.

“I found this space in 2019,” Wendy Woldenberg says of WEND’s small-but-soaring storefront/studio, and she was eager to buy rather than rent it. As a first-time, career-changing business owner, she didn’t want to “be kicked out or have the rent jacked up,” and because the property hadn’t yet hit Seattle’s red-hot marketplace, she got a good deal. Woldenberg also enjoys living in her own neighborhood, with work and home only about a mile apart, down from the 65-mile roundtrip commute to school. “I think of this as Life 2.0,” she adds.

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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