Tom Sykes: You’ve been making jewellery for LGBT couples for some time now. How did you get into that world?
Rony Tennenbaum: I’ve been in the jewellery business for over 25 years. I worked for various companies doing every kind of job, from back-end manufacturing from the ground up, to sourcing the gold and the diamonds, to putting jewellery together, polishing it and finishing it. Then about 7 years ago I took all the knowledge I had acquired and decided to go it alone. I saw a niche because nobody else was catering to the LGBT community, which was my community. So I started my own line that would fill that niche.
TS: How is it that LGBTs’ tastes in jewellery differ from straight people’s tastes?
There’s definitely more trend awareness amongst LGBT people, especially with respect to fashion. I keep telling people that 10 years ago, when we didn’t have marriage equality, everyone thought the norm in wedding jewellery was a man going out and buying a diamond ring for a woman who he would then propose to.
The dynamic has changed now that we have so many LGBT marriages. All kinds of questions have been raised in my community. Do we both propose to each other? Do we both wear diamond rings? Do we both have to wear the same ring? Nowadays gay and lesbian couples will propose to each other and both wear jewellery. So there is a difference in taste and in attitudes to getting married. My experience with LGBT couples has taught me that they’re not looking for the traditional engagement and wedding rings that you find in your typical stores.
TS: What are the pieces you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
RT: My pride and joy is my LVOE trademark collection. The letters of the word LOVE are deliberately jumbled around to signify that love is love no matter how you spell it or define it. Love is love no matter who the people in love are. The LVOE line always resonates with people because the statement is so strong. It has a powerful sentiment and meaning beyond your usual rainbows and triangles and gay symbols. If you are going to wear a wedding or engagement ring then it must be very special and unique to you.
TS: You’ve been described as a ‘sought-after authority’ on LGBT wedding ring fashion. What’s exciting you right now?
RT: A couple of things. My community is not accustomed to the whole practice of getting engaged. We’ve been so enthralled about the changes to the law allowing us to get married in the first place that few of us stop and think about the practicalities of how we should get engaged and married. So there are all these new demands on jewellers like me. Gay men want to buy engagement rings and lesbians don’t want to wear the old-fashioned crown-head with a diamond sticking out of it, they want to buy a ring based on other criteria such as durability and wearability. In the LGBT wedding world we are moving away from traditional styles towards something more comfortable and distinctive.
TS: During the dark days when LGBT marriage was illegal across the whole of the United States, did you ever get into any trouble or feel threatened with regard to the work that you were doing?
RT: What is so great about the present day is that tolerance is growing fast. When I started out 7 years ago there were only something like 3 states that were pro-marriage equality and now we have reached almost half the country. There has been such a huge wave of acceptance of people like me.
Of course there are always going to be people who are ignorant about the facts, who don’t know LGBTs and who have misconceived notions about us. We need to confront those people and let them know that LGBTs are just as normal as anyone else. I had a store front for several years and a lot of my customers were straight couples. So there’s nothing about my jewellery that is exclusively LGBT, but my work comes from my heart and I do try to imbue it with symbols of love and tolerance.
TS: You’re also very passionate about charitable and philanthropic causes as ways of giving something back to the LGBT community. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
RT: I have a soft spot for the youth and especially young people who get bullied for their sexuality. There’s been a real increase in that in tandem with the growth of the internet; cyber bullying is so often targeted at LGBTs. One of my collections, called LVOE Life, is about learning to love who you are, no matter what your sexual persuasion is. Through my work, I want to help as many young gay and lesbians to understand that there are role models out there. I didn’t have that; I grew up in a time when there was no one to aspire to.
I’m so excited and proud to live in a time where I can say that I’m an accomplished gay businessman. I want others to be able to say the same thing; it’s a real passion of mine.