Crafting a new market for the LGBT community is never an easy feat, but doing it might seem a a virtually monumental challenge. Thankfully, Tom Leonardis knows a little something about taking on challenging and inventive projects. The man who has worked in lockstep with the legendary Whoopi Goldberg on numerous projects and initiatives throughout her career is now the man behind Gámos (which means “matrimony” in Greek). The rings are meant to be as individually stunning as the people that will be wearing them, with the creativity behind them truly bringing each story to life. I caught up with Tom Leonardis to chat about how he and his co-collaborators started the line, what Whoopi Goldberg thinks of the idea (their relationship is built on mutual honesty) and Leonardis dishes with me a bit on all things Oscars!
Michael Cook: Tell me about what made you launch Gámos The idea is so inventive and unique!
Tom Leonardis: Two years ago, when one of my closest friends, Woodie, became engaged to his boyfriend & he posted a photo on his social of a ring on his finger. I saw the picture and lost my mind. The ring looked like a wedding band, so I assumed he ran away and got married without telling me. When I called Woodie, he explained it was their idea of an engagement ring and it would be replaced with a wedding band at their ceremony. The problem with this plan was the “throwaway” engagement ring now had significant sentimental value and they weren’t quite sure what to do with this ring after the wedding.
That’s when Woodie and I had the idea to create a ring that could “join” to another ring and be the first engagement ring for everyone. We brought in jewelry designer Elisa Melegari and the three of us created Gámos which means “matrimony” in Greek. The three of us fit – Woodie is an entrepreneur who was one of the first to bring crowdfunding to the forefront, Elisa had just completed a very complicated, intricate, stunning bracelet for Whoopi Goldberg so I knew she was up for the task, and I have had a few companies with Whoopi over the years, so I was pretty confident I could get this one off the ground.
MC: What sets Gámos apart from every other wedding or commitment ring site out there?
TL: There are a few things that set Gámos apart from other wedding or commitment rings. First, it solved the problem for gay folks about what to do for an engagement ring. Woodie didn’t know what to do and another friend was also confused so when he proposed he gave his partner his Bar Mitzvah ring as a placeholder until the wedding. When you ask someone to marry you, it should be a magical moment and the engagement ring should be on your finger forever. This ring has just as much importance as the wedding band. The second way this ring is unique is that both Gámos styles interlock the engagement ring to the wedding band. There’s nothing out there like this and we have patents pending on both rings.
Another important distinction is these are all handcrafted and are customized for you. You like diamonds, we have diamonds, you want to mix and match metals, go right ahead. You’re not walking into a chain jewelry store and getting something out of a box. We believe our rings are as unique as your relationship. And the last thing that is different about this ring is that it’s for everyone. Why can’t all men, straight and gay, wear an engagement ring? Why have we made the engagement ring a woman’s showpiece? If a woman wants something non-traditional, here it is.
MC: As a creative, what are the facets that you truly wanted to capture in the rings?
TL: I think we wanted to capture all the facets that set this ring apart, a beautiful engagement + wedding ring for ALL, a ring that locked together. In the beginning, I remember we would say “we want to lock the rings like you lock your love when you get married”. And we wanted something that was classic but had style and offered options. Woodie and I had an idea and Elisa brought it to life.
MC: Ideas like this always have a story that is almost as unique as the item; what is the story behind Gámos
TL: Well, the story of Woodie getting engaged and not telling me. It’s a good thing he didn’t run away and get married or we wouldn’t be here today. And now he’s married wearing a Gámos ring. When we came up with the name we wanted to look for Greek and Italian words. When we found out gámos was Greek for matrimony it was a no-brainer.
MC: Whoopi Goldberg is counted as one of your nearest and dearest collaborators and friends; what did she think of it?
TL: Whoopi was one of the first people I went to. She’s 100% behind us. After over twenty years together, how could I not go to her? It would be like going behind the back of your mom or best friend. When things get off the ground, we’ll move Whoopi into the mix. There are still more designs ahead. She’s been so good to me over the years I could never leave her out. And she loves the LGBTQ+ community. There’s no better partner than Whoopi.
MC: What advice has Whoopi given you as an entrepreneur that you are taking to heart?
After 20 something years of producing movies, TV, and theater together we always listen to one another. We’ve built her clothing business, her holiday sweaters, our cannabis company together. We’re producing Sister Act 3 now and a few other things so we’re busy and we always have each other’s back. But I know if she didn’t like the concept or the rings she would have told me straight up. Whoopi has impeccable taste. Her homes are stunning. If she thought the design was off, she would have told all three of us. She’s worked with both Woodie and Elisa so she knows what everyone is capable of. She thinks it’s a great idea – Whoopi’s all about love and inclusivity and she thought we hit the mark and she loves the design.
MC: Who do you think the Gámos customer is and what are they looking for?
TL: I think the Gámos customer, first and foremost, is the gay man. We don’t have an engagement ring. But we do think it’s for everyone – anyone else who doesn’t want the non-traditional engagement ring and this can be anyone in the LGBTQ+ community or outside. We’re hoping it makes every person think and know they can wear an engagement ring — gay, straight, blue, yellow – everyone.
MC: The Academy Awards just passed; any thoughts on the show, movies at the moment, or how we start coming back?
TL: The Oscars – Why in the world wouldn’t you have Whoopi host?!? She was needed. Or at least present. She’s an Oscar winner, she works for ABC, she’s on the Governor’s Board of the Academy, she’s female, she’s African-American, she’s funny, she knows how to move a show. OMG! I’m probably going to get in trouble for this but you asked…. I didn’t understand the show. A lot of folks never saw those films so why not show a clip of the movie so you can bring the audience in? Don’t make it so inside. Personally, I would have done it a lot differently. It’s the Oscars! It’s the Oscars!
MC:Gámos is helping people celebrate some of the biggest moments in their lives; what do you celebrate or love the most about yourself?
TL: I think I celebrate that I grew up a simple kid from New Jersey and somehow the universe brought me to a place I never could have imagined. I have traveled the world, had dinners in the White House, flew the Concord, met the Queen – the real one. Whoopi’s given me many of these gifts and opportunities and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful. Now I hope we have created something that will give others a treasure of love that they can wear on their finger forever.
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