We wrote a bit about Jim in our Piercing Is Gay post earlier this month, and today we’re celebrating the life of the person who, probably more than any other, is responsible for where the piercing industry is today. Happy 80th, Jim Ward!
Jim Ward was born on this day in 1941 in Western Oklahoma. He moved to New York in the mid-sixties and discovered the city’s gay leather scene—and had his first forays into piercing. He later made his way to Colorado before settling in Los Angeles, where a chance meeting introduced him to Doug Malloy.
Doug was an eccentric businessman who was an early piercing enthusiast—and, among other ventures, was an early franchisee of Muzak. He was a mentor and financial backer for Jim’s early jewelry-making business which eventually became Gauntlet, the first body piercing business in the United States—and most likely the world.
Established in 1975 in Los Angeles, through the next two decades Gauntlet went from a small piercing studio (with a one-man jewelry manufacturing facility out of the back) to a large jewelry retailer and wholesaler with studios in not only Los Angeles, but also San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and even a franchise in Paris. In 1977, with the input of Doug and Fakir Musafar, Jim started Piercing Fans International Quarterly (PFIQ), the first (and highly influential) publication dedicated to body piercing. Jim is also personally responsible for developing many of the tools, techniques, and jewelry designs that are still in use. Much of what we do today, from the piercings we perform to the jewelry we put in them, can be traced back to Gauntlet.
Gauntlet was brought to a tragic end through duplicity and greed worthy of the best soap opera—all narrated in Jim Ward’s amazing memoir Running the Gauntlet. Jim’s life has been an incredibly full one, and anyone interested in knowing more about not only him but the early days of modern piercing can read the story from the man himself. Jim’s book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how modern body piercing arrived at the place it currently occupies.
Since those early days in Los Angeles, the piercing industry has evolved into a behemoth Jim could never have dreamed it would become. (Many of us would have never imagined it when we started out.) Jim continues to be involved in the industry, often speaking at the annual Association of Professional Piercers Conference while all of his “children” (and now “grandchildren”) gather around him to hear stories about the early days. Jim still does occasional graphic design work, including currently overseeing The Point: The Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers.
Several years ago, it was decided that Jim Ward’s birthday would be celebrated as International Body Piercing Day—and it has ever since. All of us at Infinite would like to wish everyone the best on a day that means so much to so many of us, and a very Happy Birthday to Jim Ward. We all owe you so much.