This is a new section that I’m adding to ModBlog in which we talk to some of the best artists around the world about the nuances of the business of being not just good at what you do, but great. In this first column, we’ll be talking about jewelry — does it really make a difference if you’re using generic “316LVM” versus something that’s “ASTM-spec”? Is titanium really better? Is threading important? What if someone brings in their own jewelry?
I thought this would be a good one to start with, given the recent example of the kid who thought chain links would make acceptable jewelry!
In today’s column, commentary comes from (shown left to right below), Patrick Bartholomew (a mostly retired piercing pioneer who you may know from the London Piercing Clinic, and can be found at iam:PatrickB), Tom Brazda (iam:TomBrazda, TomBrazda.com, former owner and head piercer of Stainless Studios, now doing research and development into new body modification technologies and aftercare at BodyArt Pro), “Moddoctor” (iam:Moddoctor (a practising physician in the United States that is primarily a cosmetic surgeon but who also does piercing), and Leo Ziebol (iam:5point, co-owner of 5pointstudios)
After fighting a running battle with rejection from allergies to stainless steel jewellery I finally stopped using it in fresh piercings on the first of January, 1992. I changed to titanium, and I have stayed with it ever since. With the steel I would have an average problem factor with rejection as high as twenty percent of all piercings, either minor “walking” out of alignment, or full rejection — with the Titanium it reduced to less than one piercing in four thousand. That was good enough for me. I also insist on supplying the initial jewellery.
ASTM complient materials are designed to survive inside the human body and also release little to no toxic elements. These standards are changed as new information comes to light. If it does not comply with these standards then its considered a “commercial” grade material.
But material alone does not make a good piece of jewelry — you need a good smooth surface finish since the surface of the jewelry is what will be in contact with the healing tissue. If it’s not truly smooth it will increase scarring during the healing process by abrading the tissue as it moves around. The balls on the jewelry whether, it’s a barbell or captive need to be held on well and not come loose easily. The edges of the ring or barbell need to be rounded and smooth as well so that there is no sharp edge being pushed against the tissue.
The internal/external issue is a tough one since I’ve seen crappily made internals and well thought out externals. Whats important is what is in contact with the tissue during a jewelry insertion. Any sharp edge will cause damage.
Titanium is better in the sense that the tissue growth around it is not as dense as the tissue that forms around stainless, and since it’s lighter it’s better in heavier gauge piercings. But there are people out there that are sensitive to titanium, just like there are people sensitive to nickel. What makes the biggest difference is how “passive” the surface layer of the jewelry is. This can be achieved well in both stainless and titanium with proper processing.
Finally, if a customer brings in a piece of jewelry, unless I know who made the jewelry, I won’t use it. Most of the time its not even an appropriate size to do that persons piercing. People don’t come in standard sizes so “standard” sized jewelry doesn’t work!
It’s pretty remarkable how little difference jewelry material often makes. People with no metal sensitivities can heal with anything it seems. You could pierce those people with a paperclip (not really!) and they would do fine. Other people, though, just refuse to heal with stainless jewelry and I have found that changing to titanium resolves those problems. That said, jewelry quality makes a big difference across the board. Cheap jewelry seems like it sticks in a healing piercing, which may be the result of less than smooth polished surfaces.
As for internal versus externally threaded, I definitely prefer using internally threaded. It’s easier to pass through a fresh piercing and jewelry changes are less traumatic even in a well healed hole.
When it comes to jewelry, I don’t know much about how different metal affect the body on a cellular level but I do know that I want to do everything I can to help that piercing heal as easily as possible. I have seen a lot of problems associated directly to poor jewelry. I’ve also seen some of the most god-aweful pieces of reconstituted tin can heal excellently. For me, using quality jewelry is another way that I minimize the chance factor. I will never eliminate it but I will do my best to keep it as low as possible.
It is rare that I will use jewelry brought in by a client. We have one other shop in our area that uses ASTM internals and I would gladly use a piece that was brought in from there as long as it wasn’t damaged or of improper size for that client. If I don’t know where it came from or what company made it, I won’t use it.
So… Four experienced piercers, one a piercing pioneer, and one a doctor, all appear to be in general agreement — not only is it important to seek out not only jewelry made of high quality materials that are inherently biocompatible, but that the finish of the jewelry is of equal importance (so even if jewelry is a good material, if it’s not well manufactured, it will still complicate thing). All quality studios should be able to tell you exactly what materials they are putting in you and who manufactured them. You may pay a little more, but really, would you rather pay $25 for a piercing that’s going to be irritated, take longer to heal, and potentially reject, or $50 for one with a solid shot of lasting a lifetime?
In the next installment of this column we’ll be talking about items a good studio should have, that too few people have gone to the effort to obtain.