Gauntlet was America's first piercing-only studio and originally opened in November, 1975 by Jim Ward, (with the help of Doug Malloy). Jewelry and techniques commonly used today were pioneered at the Gauntlet in Los Angeles, with trial and error being the only method available at the time.
The Gauntlet's clientele originated from the gay S&M community of Southern California, and during the years that Ward ran his business from his home, many Gauntlet customers came from a group of gay Los Angeles men known as the T&P Group (Tattoo & Piercing Group).
The Gauntlet quickly became known as the location for body piercing, and its customer base quickly grew beyond its original roots. On the evening of Friday, November 17, 1978 it celebrated the grand opening of its first commercial location at 8720 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, California. The prominent corner location on one of Los Angeles' busiest streets brought the public awareness of piercing to a new level, and attracted clients from outside the piercing traditional subculture.
As piercing became more popular, the Gauntlet expanded, opening three more studios. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York City, the Gauntlet made body piercing big business. Piercers trained at the various Gauntlet studios went on to open their own independent studios, further growing the industy. Scores of imitators opened, all over the country. With Gauntlet's help, body piercing went from the backroom pursuit of gay leathermen to a worldwide phenomenon.
Run for two decades by Jim Ward, the Gauntlet turned out many of the best piercers in the industry it helped create. In the mid 1990's Jim decided to sell controlling interest of the company, and without his guidance the company went bankrupt shortly after.
Gauntlet Enterprises Today
In 2004 the trustee of the company’s name, trademarks, and intellectual property put those assets up for auction on eBay. On June 26 of that year, an anonymous bidder benefactor placed the winning bid of $6,623.32, in the last five seconds of the auction. Less than one month later, on July 20, 2004, the anonymous bidder sold the assets to Drew Ward's (Jim Ward's partner) corporation, re:Ward, Inc. for the sum of $1.00, returning the Gauntlet Enterprises name to its original ownership.
Gauntlet Master Piercers
Beginning in 1992, several of the Gauntlet body piercers were awarded the certification of Master Piercer. Many of these individuals went on to become highly influental in the body piercing community, training later generations of body piercers.
- Elayne Angel - the first person certified as a Master Piercer.
- Michaela Grey - Director of the Gauntlet Piercing Seminars and later founder of the Association of Professional Piercers.
- Dan Kopka - Trained many of the piercers who worked at the Gauntlet New York City studio.
- Mark Seitchik - Long time piercer at the Gauntlet San Francisco studio and later manager at the New York studio.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the gauntlet invented or refined many of the designs that are commonly used today, through a process of trial and error. Although both the captive bead ring and the barbell have histories that pre-date the Gauntlet, the Gauntlet was the first studio to manufacture them to the standards that we know today. Other designs, such as the nipple shield and the septum retainer originated at the Gauntlet, as did the use of niobium as a body piercing material.
Originally, the Gauntlet manufactured its own jewelry and did a brisk business in mail order, but as the company grew manufacturing operations were contracted out to other companies.
Piercing Fans International Quarterly
In 1977, disappointed by the lack of communication (and perhaps with hopes of being a bit of a "free advertising" tool) in the piercing community, Jim Ward set out to create the first issue of Piercing Fans International Quarterly, or PFIQ, which ran for two decades and remains the only piercing-exclusive magazine ever published in the US. A related publication was Pin Pals, a newsletter where pierced people could place classified personal advertisements.