Ari conducted this interview at the 2018 APP Conference and Expo in Las Vegas; while speaking to Georgina, Nick Giordano popped over to say hello and joined the conversation. A rare Ari two for one! Photos will be added soon. -SP/SD
Ari – Hey Georgina, thanks so much for talking to me today. I always have everyone do the basic introduction so give us your name and where you work, etc.
Georgina – Of course! My name is Georgina Schiavelli, and I own Black Diamond Body Piercing in West Hartford, Connecticut. I have been piercing since 1997 and I’ve owned Black Diamond since we opened in 2008.
Ari – How did your apprenticeship start?
Georgina – Like so many people back in the 90s – totally by accident! I was an enthusiast and a college student – it’s how I ended up in Connecticut after growing up on Long Island. I went to University of Hartford, which is in West Hartford, and I walked into Green Man Tattoo. I actually got pierced by one of the tattoo artists first- they didn’t have a piercer yet- the tattooer did a terrible job on my piercing in case you were wondering – it was a hideously off-center labret. Other then that I had started to become friends with one of the owners, John, who did my right sleeve. I started just popping into the shop here and there. I was really interested in tattoos and piercings. Within a few months of that Jeff Goldblatt, my mentor, started working there. He had previously worked in Millford (I believe), which is around 45 minutes away from us. I walked in and was like, “oh, who’s this guy?” and when I found out he was a piercer I thought, “oh, you’re like an actual piercer and not just a tattooer!” I got a bunch of work from him and we became very fast friends. My sheer interest in the general business of it was why he pretty much offered me an apprenticeship; I was in there almost every day. I just always wanted to hang out there and learn everything- I thought it was all so cool. He saw my passion for it, I was about 19 at the time, took me under his wing, and that was 21 years ago!
Ari – What was the structure of the apprenticeship like?
Georgina – Those were the days of paid apprenticeships. I worked for the shop as a counter girl/cleaning woman for free and on top of that I paid $2,500. Jeff let me pay it off a little at a time so I got a part time job and paid him over a few months. My actual apprenticeship only lasted about nine months because back then there wasn’t a whole lot to teach! The jewelry was, “this is the ring you’re going to put in 67% of your piercings, here’s that straight barbell with external threads going in a tongue” – just so different back then, as opposed to now with my apprenticeships. I’ve apprenticed both of the piercers who started with me – Andie Saunders and Brooke Bittens. Brooke’s was basically two years, but we kind split it up into basics and then more advanced stuff later once she’d been piercing for a while. I was so busy I just needed her to start piercing! Andie’s was more recent, and it was like a year and a half to two years in a row. But the industry is so much more complicated now than it was so there is much more to teach! But mine was not super long, and when I finished I ended up working in this town – Thomaston, Connecticut – for literally three months. I got a job at a shop that just opened, it was a complete shithole, I hated every second of it but I loved my job and I drove an hour each way to get to this shithole. There was no other place to work – Jeff was still working at Green Man. I forget I worked there sometimes because I collectively did forty piercings in the three or four months I was there. Then I got a call from my boss that Jeff had taken a job with Steve Haworth out in Arizona, and if I wanted his job it was mine. I said, “hells the fuck yeah! Sign me up!” I started my apprenticeship in August and by the following fall I was their head piercer. This was 1999.
Ari – After taking over the shop did you have contact with any other piercers in the state or surrounding states? Were you online at all?
Georgina – No, I have some weird anxiety issues – I mean, I’m a piercer, I think we all have them. I actually never got into BME or anything – it didn’t interest me. I just wanted to learn my craft and the shop at the time – maybe not busy by today’s standards, but at the time for one person who didn’t really know all that much about what they were doing – it was a lot. I worked six days a week and threw myself into that. I also worked for the kind of bosses who weren’t real psyched about days off let alone, “I’m going to take some time off and go learn from other piercers” type shit. They were like, “cool, that doesn’t make us any money, so no.” That was the main mentality. That was a big reason on why I didn’t want to be there anymore! But I worked for them for eleven years.
Ari – Did that mentality exist partially because you also had to do counter work and all that bullshit?
Georgina – Well, we had a counter person but the shop had, depending on the year, between three and seven tattoo artists and always just one piercer. But the tattooing outweighed the piercing, certainly at first, so whenever I wasn’t with a client I was helping work up front and did not get paid for that. It was 100% expected of me. Whenever I would complain about that I was called greedy and a bitch, and, “why couldn’t I just be a team player?” Which is hilarious, like oh since we’re all team players maybe just once a tattooer could pick up the phone then? By default I then became the other counter girl. We were busy so I really worked my ass off. Thank god I never had to clean tubes or anything unless the manager wasn’t in. But on those days I got paid, but if she was in I didn’t – not even tips. Again, this was a big motivator in why I couldn’t stay there.
Ari – It seems fair to say you were sort of disconnected from the culture initially
Georgina – I definitely was. I knew what it was – I got to go on one vacation to see Jeff when he was out working for Haworth. I spent five days in Arizona and got to go to a suspension for the first time, which was fucking awesome! I got to see where Steve made jewelry, see his whole workshop at his house, and it really blew my mind. It was all something I wasn’t a part of and that’s what made me realize how much bigger the piercing world was than my little corner of it. Yet I still couldn’t participate in it. I couldn’t get time off in the summer for the APP conference. They really were giant dicks about it. I could take the time off but my shitty ex boss who would “pierce” was one of those old school tattoos guys who felt like any monkey could pierce so whenever I wasn’t there he was like, “oh, ok, I’ll do the piercings,” and he did. He fucked people up and then I would fix them for free for the following months so I just stopped taking days off. It was too stressful. I literally worked every day for forever, I was too protective of my clients. He was a good bullshitter too, he’d claim to have taught me and whatnot. I feel like this is all typical though for anyone who came up in the 90s. Piercing was the peon part of the industry, like “you’re lucky that we even have you here.”
Ari – Do you remember who you were ordering jewelry from at that time?
Georgina – Pleasurable Piercings and then this other little company in Florida. These two guys ran it, one of them was named Gordon, and they actually made really nice jewelry. The polish was actually really nice, it was just step-down externally threaded and better than the shit anyone else around us had. I remember asking for Good Art and Anatometal and when I showed them the price list they laughed in my face. Industrial Strength even came through at one point and the same thing. It was always just a constant battle to improve.
Ari – The studio bought all the jewelry and prevented any kind of autonomy in that direction?
Georgina – I worked there eleven years, and by year nine I offered to start buying the jewelry so I could get what I wanted and they said no. Year ten I asked to be a partner in the business, because they were open eleven and a half years and I was there for ten of them. Jeff obviously had been there to start and brought clients in and taught me. When I started there it was three to five piercings a day on a busy day. When I left Green Man I was doing around thirty piercings a day every single day. I knew that I did that – they didn’t do that. I presented it to them like, “this is how much money I make you, I deserve to be a partner – whether you want me to buy my way in or not, I should be here as a partner.” I was sick of constantly worrying – they would threaten to fire me once a week for giving them “attitude” – which was really just me vying to be treated like a human being. That was scary, ya know? There were no other shops to work in, no one else was nearby. It wasn’t like now where a bunch of shops are always looking to hire – back then it was a battle to get hired so I just dealt with it until I couldn’t do it anymore.
Ari – Would you categorize this as, “biker mentality?”
Georgina – They were definitely your textbook 90s biker tattoo shop. Cherry Creek everywhere in those little flash racks, total street shop – I mean, not a bad shop, they did nice work. It was just that, “tattooers are awesome, piercers are peons” mentality and it never changed no matter how much business I brought it. Even in the last couple of years when I completely stopped working the front counter because I was busier then the tattooers. It was a two story shop, so tattooing downstairs and piercing upstairs, and I wouldn’t come downstairs for six hours because I was that busy. They still couldn’t see what I was bringing to the place, even with all that, so I left.
Ari – When did you start to merge into the larger piercer culture?
Georgina – I would say right when I opened my shop because then I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t get to come to the APP Conference right away because I dumped my entire savings and retirement funds and maxed out four credit cards to open my shop, so I was really worried about just breaking even. At that point taking a week off was out of the picture. That’s when Facebook got big, the same year as my shop, and I was very grateful for that because it really connected me to more of the community. When I opened my shop I was like, “yes, here I come Anatometal! Industrial Strength everything!” But I didn’t really know people, and Facebook is how I got to know everybody. It was pretty slow those first couple of years, I had a lot of free time, and I used it to network and meet people and make friends. My first APP Conference was about six years ago. It’s when I could actually take a week off and it was great. It was mind-blowing. It was still a lot smaller six years ago, but even then it was overwhelming in the best way. I’ve only missed one since then.
Ari – I know it’s tough when you’re doing that nonstop grind early on, but I’m curious – if you weren’t super into the piercing universe, what was the rest of your life like outside the studio?
Georgina – I got married when I was very young. I was twenty-two. I was your typical wife – I cooked, I did laundry, I took care of the dog, I hung out with my husband. We had a pretty chill life because I spent all of our money on the shop so we couldn’t afford to do anything! We’re divorced now but he was an x-ray field service engineer so he worked crazy hours too. We had Sundays off together, that was the only time we had together, and probably why we got divorced within five years of my shop opening. I gave up all my free time for Black Diamond. Happily, obviously, but when you got to work an hour early and stay an hour later because you’re the only person that works there and paperwork has to get done your marriage is going to suffer, and it did. It was then a quick transition to me having the time to do things, and now that I have a lot of free time I still end up at the shop plenty. I only live a block away from the studio. But I do Crossfit, I love to decorate. Finally enjoying some real free time for the first time in my entire adult life is pretty awesome.
Ari – Do you think not being sucked into “piercer land” all day and night for so long aided in the longevity of your career?
Georgina – Definitely! Even now people probably have no idea who the fuck I am and I am totally fine with that. I’ve never been that, “look at me look at me look at me!” type, never wanted to be famous. I want my shop to be busy, I want to be successful, I want my employees to be successful, but I don’t need or want the other stuff. I never really tried for it. It’s made me a happier person not getting sucked into the bullshit. My manger handles all the online stuff for the shop – I don’t do any of it nor do I want to. I still love piercing and this industry but I am happy to take a step back from being the face of the shop. I think it’s hilarious that some of my people are more well known than I am. Brooke and Andie are both very active online though, they’re the prime age group for it. I don’t have that mentality; it would stress me out to be online all the time. I want Black Diamond to be everything but I don’t need myself to be the face or get the credit.
Ari – As the studio was developing did you know you wanted it to sort of be this “female powerhouse” or did that happen organically?
Georgina – I knew it at first -I mean now we’ve hired Rob. But initially that was for pretty specific reasons. There were piercers in my area, and still are, who are disgusting. They are your horror story, “take-your-pants-off-to-pierce-your-nipples give-me-a-blowjob-for-a-tip kind of guys.” It was well known how they were, and at the time I was the only female piercer in the area. Now there are a few outside of our studio but at the time I was it, no other female piercers for easily an hour to hour and half outside of town. When I was looking for an apprentice I knew I wanted a female apprentice. I didn’t want to work with a guy – I knew whoever I taught would take over most of the piercing quickly since I was feeling a bit burned out. My shoulder was fucked up at the time and Brooke was a long time client. She was enthusiastic. She reminded me of me when I was nineteen – she’d come bring me coffee, was super sweet, and was a natural choice. She’d worked for me for the summer helping out and answering the phones, and then she moved to one of the Carolinas, I don’t remember North or South, with her friend. Within a month of her moving I reached out, like, “I’m getting ready for an apprentice and I know you just moved but you’re my first choice and if you want it its yours.” She said, “I’m packing my bags!” and turned around and came right back. I didn’t know she’d accept if obviously but I knew how bad she wanted it, and I had to offer it to her. She’s been a great fit. Brooke’s been with me for eight years. I don’t know what it is about Connecticut, but there’s a lot of creepy assholes, a lot of old school tattooers who are super inappropriate in conduct, so when it got busy enough to expand I still wanted to keep it female. It gained us a piercing clientele which has always been predominantly female, easily 95%. Once we had Brooke in there, we really saw the reviews start to mention that aspect and we knew we had something and had to keep it going. It started out as an idea but as it grew and took off the concept became more important to me. But then it sort of changed – when I started looking for another piercer we had a lot of guest piercers come through, and a lot of those guest piercers were males. Some of them weren’t super comfortable with the flow of it, but some were great, and Rob especially was a comfortable fit. I felt like he was the kind of person who should work around a bunch of women – he’s very soft spoken, very chill, not your typical dude and all hipstered out. He did five or six guest spots and I thought, “oh my god, just stop going home!”
Ari – Was Rob before Andie?
Georgina – No, Rob has officially worked for Black Diamond since March of this past year, but was back and forth for a year and half before that. Andie was one of my receptionists when Brooke started piercing and she was there for two years. You couldn’t ask for a more dedicated, passionate person – she’s one of those people who absorbs information really well. Aside from our current manager she’s the best front counter employee I’ve ever had. When Brooke started at counter we weren’t busy so it was a pretty chill position, but when Andie started it was a real job, it was a serious thing and she was amazing. She was so good at it. Her ability to remember shit was so impressive. At one point she left to go back to doing hair because she needed to make more money – at five years we were still paying back loans and whatnot, we couldn’t afford to pay anyone that much. I called her after a month and said, “I miss you so much, I want you back!” She said, “I’ll come back for the same amount of money if I also get an apprenticeship.” I said, “deal!” I knew she’d make a fantastic piercer so there wasn’t even a hesitation, I just told her to get her ass back here. Andie has been finished with her apprenticeship for around two years now.
Ari – Coming out of the era that was really learn-as-you-go, what was it like trying to format an apprenticeship?
Georgina – I gotta say, especially for the 90s, Jeff was pretty structured. My apprenticeship made a lot of sense and I based the ones I did off of that.
Ari – I would love to hear about that!
Georgina – Totally! Basically what he did and what I ended up doing was the first three months you don’t touch shit – nothing, no needles, no clients, no inserts. It was all background and cross contamination. “Here’s a pile of rings – open them fifty times. Screw this ball on and off a barbell all day. This is your job today.” This was before threadless! After that, you graduate to a month of inserts, where you do every single insert so you can get used to talking to them and working on them and honing your room skills. Around five months is when you do those volunteer piercings where you put it out there looking for people to use, and thank god for Facebook, it’s why they got their shit done so quickly. I did the same thing Jeff did as far as categories, so all ears first-we start with the easy ones and move onto the hard ones. After that, we move onto facial piercings in the same way, start with the easy ones and work your way to the hard ones, then torsos, etc. They did between five to seven of everything with me in the room. Andie’s first Industrial got reblogged by Industrial Strength and Safe Piercing – I think I only made her do one more after that. I was like, “yeah, you got it!” It’s a centerpiece Industrial and she fucking nailed it. I didn’t do shit either. She marked it, lined it up, pierced it, and just did it all perfect. It seemed to work well with Brooke so I did the same with Andie. I don’t have any interest in apprenticing anyone else, but if I do I’ll most likely stick to that formula.
(At this point, Nick Giordano comes over only to say hello to Georgie, but get’s roped into the conversation)
Nick Giordano – I’m not that interesting of a person. I just have good taste in jewelry and convinced a bunch of people to help me with this dream I had, and somehow thirteen years later it’s still going!
Georgina – You literally just described how I feel.
Nick – I do kind of want to get up early tomorrow so I can do the walk-through of the exhibit with Ron Athey just so I can fanboy over him. I’ve followed that guy since the 90s. I first heard of him because this weird little bookstand that sold bizarre magazines had this one called Dragazine. The tagline was “The magazine for Halloweeners and In-betweeners” and I thought it was so funny. That was the stand I also bought my first PFIQ from, and Body Play. In my area they weren’t readily available so it was a big deal to find those things. The article was Ron in drag, but it was mostly just like Ron in a wig and you could see all his tattoos..It was a picture, which I didn’t know then but know now, from him at Club Fuck. From that point on I just kind of followed all his work. Tomorrow just seems like a good idea to follow him around and take a selfie for the five dirty friends who would get it.
Georgina – Whisper in his ear, “I just want to be around you.”
Nick – Oh, I did just convince Dana (Dinius) to pack up his entire life with his pretty lady and his dogs and leave the desert life to come work at my little shop so that’s impressive. Although the most impressive thing I’ve ever done is convince my husband to stay! The first three years I just thought he was going to leave. He was so quiet, and nice, I was like, “he doesn’t want this life!”
Georgina – My boyfriend is a tattoo-free carpenter.
Nick – Yeah, it’s great. But otherwise the shop is great. Sometimes I feel like a dad though, everyone is so much younger than me. Well, that’ll change once Dana is there – he’s been doing this so long he just knows what needs to be done.
Georgina – Oh my god, I feel that way too! I love my staff so hard but sometimes I feel like I’m their fucking mother! The age gap is so big.
Georgina – I got real lucky- I never got on that septum scare train. The first septum I did came out perfect and it really took the fear out of it. It may have been by accident but I stopped thinking it was a hard thing. Fast forward fifteen years and I’m looking at people and thinking, “why are we freaking out? It’s just a septum. Get over it!”
Ari – I firmly believe septum piercing fear is transcendental. You think you’re gonna fuck it up and so you do. You get that fear in you young and it’s so hard to kick it.
Georgina – It’s like three dimensional aspect of it that freaks people out. Everything else is on two planes.
Ari – I mean, its the same with bridges, yeah?
Georgina – Yeah but how many more septum do you do than bridges? And how many septum are just undistorted and easy? It can be stressful.
Nick – It’s the lack of control. Piercers are control freaks and you can’t see this shit no matter how you may try. You can’t look to see, you just hope you’re lined up and your bevel theory is right and nothing is secretly jutting out sideways that you couldn’t feel beforehand. Sometimes it’s perfect and sometimes you’re thinking“this is so fucked up!” I just convinced this person that $600 septum piece was perfect for them and now I can’t get it in their face right!” But it’s not necessarily because of any fault of your own.
Georgina – Jeff taught me that you use a 6g receiving tube, needle and receiving tube as your horizon line, and I’ve never had a fucking issue- it just makes sense.
Ari – You still do them that way?
Georgina – Oh yeah.
Ari – That’s amazing. I think at this point I’m on like my eight different method for septum piercings.
Nick – I like using an 8g needle blank for a 12g needle. Too big of a tube makes it harder for me. I can’t have that range to miss.
Georgina – That initial way just always made sense to me, so I never fucked with it.
Nick – I’ve bounced all over. I’ve done forceps and then receiving tubes and then back to forceps and then needle blanks and then freehand and now I’m back on tubes again.
Ari – Georgina, you kind of made a nostril screw joke earlier…
Georgina – Oh God, I hate nostril screws.
Ari – Now thats your personal preference or you genuinely feel like they don’t have a place with us anymore?
Georgina – I mean I really feel like they did have a time and place. I understand people with healed nostrils want them so they have an easy way to take them in and out, and you can bend them all nice and tight. But I never really enjoyed using them. I wasn’t sad to see them go, and very happy when Neometal rose up so I could phase them out. I also work in a humid climate so I notice a lot of swelling- not always immediately but sometimes months later, and nostril screws would always be problematic. They’d swell over the bend no matter how much room I gave them. It was like, “what the fuck? How do I fix this?” But flatbacks are perfect. I know a lot of people tell clients to downsize in a month but we can never do that because of the humidity. We have so many clients re-swell so we tell them two months minimum. I mean, I tried the month run but we had too many issues pop up at certain times of the year, especially summer, and then it gets really dry in the Winter. The extreme seasons make it so difficult for piercings.
Ari – Do you also not do many piercings with initial rings?
Georgina – We almost don’t do any piercings initially with rings – same reasoning. I mean we will if they’re ok with going a full size up but most of the girls we pierce are like, “no, that’s not happening” Occasionally you’ll find someone with the anatomy where their helix is so flat and thin, but even then it’s 16g or thicker and a full diameter up. Most people don’t care as much for ear stuff though. But we’re pretty specific about not doing that; for the most part and they get a full five minute, “this-isn’t-going-to-be-fitted and you-probably-won’t-like-it talk beforehand” talk. It’s not really a super big issue. The one thing that doesn’t tend to be an issue are earlobes since most people don’t want those super tight anyways. Oh, and daiths too! But again, nowhere near fitted.
Nick – Maybe I’ll stick around for a bit.
Ari – Might as well – I’ve already been recording everything! The ring issue sounds like it correlates more to climate. Is there anything elective where you’re like, “nah, I’m not gonna do that anymore?”
Georgina – I don’t know if any of them would fit into “anymore.” I’ve always been a cautious piercer. For example- I don’t do tongue webs. I never have, never will. We do offer smileys because clients seem to be able to take care of those but with tongue webs it’s like, “oh, you want a little plaque factory?” No thanks. As for surface anchors – we do them but give everybody a speech that they’re not permanent but in fact temporary, that it may not last long, but if you’re cool with it we’re cool with it. We don’t do any heavy mods. I mean we’re in Connecticut so there aren’t any dermal punches and nothing over a 4g. We’re in an area where that’s just not possible.
Ari – What about surface bars? I know Jeff taught a class on those back in the day – do you still offer them?
Georgina – Oh yeah, he taught how to bend my own surface bars in 1999. Let me tell ya, I’ve had clients where I’ve changed them out to a nicer barbell ten years later and that shit has healed perfectly. So I appreciate his weird tutorial from back in the day. That shit worked! I mean, in 1999 I was bending them with externally threaded jewelry but those motherfuckers actually healed up. Now I’m sort of horrified I used to do that to people!
Ari – Back in the day you did what you had to do! I mean, it’s just ingenuity – need a surface anchor before surface anchors? Try a nostril screw!
Georgina – You know, back in the day I was guilty of occasionally using nostril screws in tragus piercings, because it was either that or a 14g barbell! I mean they healed, so…yeah!
Ari – Do both of you find it harder with your employees being younger and on the internet to disseminate information with them, like, “this is good and this is bullshit?”
Georgina – Not a lot. My apprenticeships can be annoyingly detailed. I’m constantly over-explaining. I’m thorough so they don’t make the same mistakes but also know a bit about the history of it. I mean triangles, right? They’re actually not that difficult once you understand them. I mean, in twenty-one years I’ve probably only done ten of them but I would say all but the first one I was very comfortable with. When I did my first one, the woman knew I hadn’t done any but she really wanted me to do it for her, she didn’t trust anyone else, and I had been piercing for around nine years. We took so much time in the room just poking around and it was awesome. It came out flawless, she healed it perfectly and it made me very confident because of how much time we took and the outcome. Like I said I’m a cautious piercer, so it’s not just like, “oh hey, triangle yeah!” You need to be really qualified, no outer labia interference, I can pull it all an inch away from your body, etc! I had an amazing opportunity to do one on a transgender person which was fucking so cool!
Nick – I don’t do triangles. The guy who apprenticed me showed me a few, but I soon realized he wasn’t actually doing triangle piercings; they were just like super deep double horizontal hood piercings. It didn’t go behind, it just went right at the base where it separated, so it was almost like a horizontal hood industrial! I had another piercer who loved doing female genitals and triangles so I just let them do that stuff. I’m sure if I had someone like your client to take our time and really delve into it it would change my mind, but we just don’t get that many requests for them.
Ari – Fair enough, so scare tactics aside we still live in a time when one person says something and it spreads like wildfire, as opposed to people saying something because they’ve done it thirty times and seen the results – does any of that sort of seep into the shop?
Nick – Yeah, I mean, we all kind of have these basic rules because we watched them all not work out over time. This is our experience.
Georgina – Have you noticed how Christinas have taken over? I think we do as many of those now as we do vertical hoods
Nick – I think we do more Christinas than hoods at this point! I’m curious if someone famous got it because it seemed like it blew up all of a sudden.
Ari – I would think it would be easier for pictures of a pubic mound to circulate all over social media than a straight up genital show. I’m sure that’s part of the reason.
Georgina – I have a Christina that Jeff did in 1998-still there and totally healed. It’s adorable actually- I love it. I didn’t want a hood piercing, I was already sensitive and didn’t need to add anything but I wanted a genital piercing. Outer labia or pubic mound? As soon as he marked it I knew that was what I wanted. It still gives a subtle sensation too. I got mine pierced with a 10g 7/8” straight barbell! It was horrible! It was the most painful thing I’d ever experience in my goddamn life. It rejected fifty percent in like two weeks. I was down to a half inch by a month, but it stayed there and then healed. I think I changed it to a 12g 1/2” straight barbell, and after a year and a half I took it out but it never closed. When L bars came out I decided to try it out, threw a 14g 1/2” L bar in there and it’s been super happy. It sits great and I love it. It’s been there five years now. I actually wore a ring in for a bit once it had healed which was hilarious! Experimentation! Jeff also did transverse lobes to antitragus’ on me! I had them for ten years- still got the scars. I still get build-up in the antitragus that I have to express.
Nick – God, I love antitragus piercings, I wish those would take off. Such a great platform to showcase jewelry. Where’s that trend? Give me that over the triple forward helix.
Georgina – Oh fuck, just explaining to a million people you can’t have three. “But my friend has three!” And I have to explain; “you don’t have room for three. Or even two. You get one, how’s that? Every part of your ear is touching something else except for one spot.That’s all ya get.” I’m gonna fucking blow my brains out if I have to have this conversation one more time.
Nick – I just got to upgrade an antitragus piercing with the cutest little 1/4” gold curve, and I had done it back in 2000 with an externally threaded 16g 3/8” curve back when I didn’t really know what I was doing. Healed up so good. Back in the day I was working for a shop that was making their own externally threaded jewelry. They would order 316L rod stock from this weirdo dude from the middle of nowhere Florida. We even had two guys just to polish jewelry in the back of the place I apprenticed. But the place that sold us the rod stock also made jewelry and sold it to the fetish shop down the street from us. It was an indoor factory that had been converted to an indoor strip mall type thing, and one of those shops was Rochester Leathers. What was interesting about Rochester Leathers was the owner was the first person to start an online bulletin board for gay men to meet each other in the leather scene. He had a computer station there, it was all dial-up, and he set it up with multiple stations where you could talk to people. They carried Gauntlet needles and Silver Anchor jewelry. My first paper three fold catalogue from Gauntlet was from that leather shop. The guy behind the counter wanted to sleep with me so he gave me that catalogue. I remember I wore a Silver Anchor ring and everyone was like, “thats crazy, why would you spend that much on a ring?” I said, “I don’t know, I bought it from a guy who thinks I’m cute at the leather shop! I want to say the business in Florida was called The Warehouse, or the Wirehouse, or something like that.
Ari – Nick, what year did you start apprenticing?
Nick – I started apprenticing in 1999 and did my first piercing in April of 2000. It was less than a year in total. My apprenticeship was very unstructured – I had been working the counter and managing the studio, managing being a loose term though. I was doing that for almost two years before I started the apprenticeship, and I actually denied the apprenticeship twice. I was like, “oh no, I’m not doing that shit!” I was scared, genuinely afraid I was going to harm another person. I was even more gay and sassy at this point, and happy to work behind the counter. I don’t think I pierced full-time right away though. I remember reading through BME – I loved BME and IAM though for the culture. I was on it before I was a piercer. I heard of it in Toronto, which isn’t too far from Rochester. I was at an after hours party after a rave and I was talking to some girl with a piercing and she mentioned BME and told me to check it out. I remember it was like 1997, maybe even 1998, and that was how I ended up looking for a job in that field. I saw Luis (Garcia) and Derek (Lowe) on there.
Georgina – I mean this is when the internet was primitive and everything took forever to load! You’d be like I wanna see this frenum piercing, I’ll click download and then go do this piercing and twenty minutes later it should be there!
Nick – You were lucky if you had Netscape navigator but most of us had AOL. You were just hoping somebody didn’t call the phone and knock you offline!
Georgina – It’s just crazy to think about stuff. When Black Diamond first opened we were doing like one to two hundred piercings a month, and now we’re usually doing about a thousand.
Ari – How many piercers do you have per shift now?
Georgina – Monday through Thursday we have two, Friday and Saturday we have three. They’re so much busier than the rest of the week. Three rooms with a Statim in each one! And we’re about to buy the building we’ve been in. I always said I wanted to own my building by the ten year mark, and it’s about to fucking come true. But look – if I had to go back and do it again – if there had been a Black Diamond in Connecticut already – I wouldn’t have opened my own shop. I just wanted to work someplace that didn’t suck, and that didn’t treat me like shit.
Nick – I don’t know if I would do it all over again either. I had been piercing for four years in Rochester before I opened Dorje. I opened Dorje thirteen years ago in my late twenties, and I was young enough to have not thought about all the possibilities. I was fearless and naive, but old enough to where once it started working I didn’t fuck it up. It happened at kind of a sweet spot in my life. I was dumb enough to think it was easier than it was, but once it was harder I was old enough to push through it and manage it.
This interview has been interviewed for content and clarity. All photos courtesy of Georgina Schiavelli. For more information on the Better Safe than Ari series, click here.