The idea of bending jewelry into the shape of a heart for earrings is not a new one, existing in lobes probably back hundreds of years. In the daith, where it really took off in this subculture, piercers have been doing them since the 1990s if not earlier, but it can be difficult actually proving this since the documentation of piercing prior to about ten years ago was limited at best, and more importantly, it’s easy enough for any old person to say “well, I did this back in 1992″… the key is proving it, which generally means publication in a tattoo magazine, or on BME or some other independent site that marks pictures with a date stamp. It’s unfortunate there’s so little documentation from that period, because I suspect that there were more of these being done in the mid 1990s than in the mid 2000s, because in the former, it was not uncommon for piercers to make their own jewelry, but every year that passed that became less common.
So… let’s figure out what BME has to say on the subject. Now, I want to be clear that this is far from definitive. There may be older images, because there are literally tens of thousands of pictures to sift through and not all of them have proper captions so it’s not as simple as searching for “heart”. The only gallery where I took the time to manually look at every photo between 2006 and the beginning of BME was the daith gallery.
On December 9th, 2005, Phil Barbosa posted a picture of a daith heart to BME’s galleries. At that point we were usually running about a week behind at most, so the dates may actually be a little earlier — and of course there’s no way for me to prove when it was actually pierced — but we can only go by the publication date since it’s the only one we can outright prove. This was done by Nicc Stienmetz, a piercer at Seattle’s Slave To The Needle. It was popular with his clients, and he started submitting more, the next one coming at the end of January, 2006. Then another one a few days later from John Lopez, also at Slave To The Needle, which was posted to ModBlog. You can see the first two pictured below, or click here to see the one that hit ModBlog.
At the time, ModBlog was the most widely read piercing media in the world, and it was instantly loved by the general public. Person after person posted with some variation on “sign me up!”, and almost immediately piercers all over the world started doing them and posting them to BME. Giving credit where it’s due, I should mention that Penelope from Haven Body Arts (Lucky’s at the time), the company involved in filing a trademark application for this jewelry’s name, and thus central to the drama, did her first one on Dailee Joyce in 2006, which I processed and added to BME on April 29, 2006. So she’s not the quite first, and not as early as it claims on their website, nor did she even do it before the design was widely known internationally by both thousands of piercers and hundreds of thousands of piercing enthusiasts, but she was definitely an early adopter and has been an ardent supporter and promoter of the design ever since. Below is that early picture of Dailee’s piercing from BME’s archives.
I’m also happy to say that I continue seeing new ideas in this general design — different ways of bending the jewelry, different materials, gem settings, and little design nuances like overlapping metal with little “notches” to hold the shape together better. But the funny thing is that all these things, as new as they seem to the people doing them, have almost certainly been done before. Piercing is definitely a place where the old saying “great minds think alike” is very true and oft validated in our history. And while I think most piercers claiming to be “first” genuinely believe it and make the claim with honest intentions, even if it’s not true, there is also some truth to the other old saying, sometimes attributed to Picasso but probably apocryphal, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Anyway, if anyone can document an earlier date than December 9, 2005, let me know. I know there are lots of people who’ve done it earlier — so the real trick here is documenting it. Until then, as far as I’m concerned, the person who first documented it — which had the effect of popularizing it — is Nicc Stienmetz, and he is who could best to be said to be responsible for this trend taking off if we’re going to track the “influence chain”.