Unpopular opinion time. Today, I want to talk about the gauge system of measurement in piercing, and why I think it’s horrible. Specifically for stretching piercings, but it’s kind of not great all around. The gauge system comes from the American Wire Gauge system, also known as Brown & Sharpe wire gauge. It’s a logarithmic stepped system for measuring wire gauge. Specifically round, solids non ferrous wire, often used for electrical wiring. This system is also used for jewelry wire, since there is much cross over. We have this system because when piercing was starting out, most piercers made their own jewelry in house. Early on it was mostly rings (the technology to make barbells was more complex and less readily accessible for many). So piercers purchased wire from jewelry supplies, and since it came in gauge, we used that as our primary unit of measurement. It was convenient! As the modern primitive movement began to grow, and ear stretching rose in popularity again, we kept using the gauge system for measurement because we already had been and it was again, convenient.
Just because something is easy or convenient however, doesn’t make it good, or the best thing possible. As gauge measurements get up, the sizing begins to skip around. Remember, this is a system from the 1800’s for measuring wires for electrical wiring. Never once did anyone design this with body jewelry or ear stretching in mind. So measurements skip all over. It doesn’t go in single millimeter increments because we don’t need wires in every millimeter increment when we are talking wiring. We eventually kind of switched the AWG system over for piercing, but did the same thing- measurements skip millimeter increments and jump around. This is unfortunate because lobes should be stretched in 1mm increments max, and some peoples ears need half sizes and smaller jumps.
For example, 7/16 is 11mm. 1/2 is 12.5mm. 9/16 is 14mm. And 5/8 is 16mm. And sometimes we can’t even agree on a size- some companies make 00g as 9mm and some make it as 10mm. And there’s no real consistency. This is not only confusing and inaccurate, but it ends up hurting clients. You thou think you are doing the right thing going from 0g to 00g, but you accidentally go 2mm larger and blow out because the stretch is too much for your skin to handle. Skin is elastic, but only to a point. I cover this in-depth in my ear stretching guide here. So the gauge system often misleads clients, which can cause damage and really hurt folks.
Well if it’s so awful, and can mislead people, why do we use it? The answer is easy- profit. Gauge sizes are still cheaper to purchase raw material in, so many cheap companies only produce pieces in those sizes because it costs them less and they can make more money off of it. They are plenty well aware of the shortcomings of this system, but since it allows them to make more money, we keep utilizing it. Quality companies offer all sizes, and even have them listed online as well. Good makers understand the importance of going by mm increments to keep clients safe while they stretch.
So what would it take to see this outdated system replaced? Well, a collective effort from all of us to normalize the use of mm measurements, piercers and clients alike. Make sure you are aware of not just the gauge size of your piercings but the mm measurement as well. And lets stop thinking of things like 1g, 13mm, etc as ‘in between sizes”. They aren’t inbetween, they are just as important and crucial of a size on your stretching journey as any others. Companies could do better by listing these sizes more fairly online, and reworking their pricing formats to keep costs for these sizes fair and in line with costs for other sizes. It’s time we use a system that’s not born of convenience, but actually designed and made to work for us!