Out & About: The Designer With a Gumball Machine at Bergdorf

EditorsFeb 22, 2022

Out & About: The Designer With a Gumball Machine at Bergdorf

It’s Marla Aaron, who previously had a jewelry vending machine in the Brooklyn Museum.

A shot inside Marla Aaron’s “residency” at Bergdorf Goodman, which will continue through the end of March. (Photo credit: Richard Cadan)
When my parents first started dating more than five decades ago, my mom broke it off after a couple months.

She had just started college in Clarion, Pennsylvania, and wanted to be free to enjoy it, not be tied down in a relationship with a guy who lived 90 miles away in Pittsburgh.

So, she wrote him a Dear John letter telling him so—the ‘60s equivalent of a sliding out of the DMs.

Years later, as she was about to graduate, she ran into my dad again, at an establishment called the After Dark Lounge in Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania. He was drunk but had the wherewithal to reintroduce himself and give my mother a plastic skull ring out of a toy vending machine, along with a promise that he’d call.

When my mother left After Dark with her friend that night, she said something along the lines of, “That guy’s not going to call me. He was drunk; he’s not going to remember even seeing me.”
Fifty-two years later (and luckily for me), my mom was wrong.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that vending machine ring, the power of jewelry as totem, and the joy of the unexpected after visiting with a designer and her jewelry vending machine in a setting slightly more upscale than the After Dark Lounge.

A couple Fridays ago, I trudged uptown through yet another miserable bout of winter weather to meet with Marla Aaron and her company’s head of marketing, Sarah Daniel, at Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Aaron currently has a temporary presence inside the iconic department store in the form of what I’ve heard referred to as both a “residency” and a “takeover.”

What it is, basically, is a shop-in-shop occupying a small space that serves as a passageway between the main jewelry show floor and the elevators. And it is, for now at least, all Marla Aaron and all masterminded by Daniel.

The space is decorated with the same detailed wallpaper, custom-made by Timorous Beasties, Aaron has in her New York City showroom.

The ceiling is made to look like fordite—a material Aaron utilizes quite a bit—and the case displays, like Aaron’s jewelry, are utilitarian and beautiful at the same time.

I love the peg boards mixed in among the traditional neck forms; they remind of me my dad’s workbench in the basement of my childhood home. 

Also included among the jewelry are large-scale, decorative versions of the various pieces of hardware that make Aaron’s jewelry function. The large spirals, for example, mirror the threading in her signature locks. 

The centerpiece of this mini showroom is the jewelry-dispensing gumball machine.

“Automated retail,” Aaron said, “is something I feel very strongly about.”

It’s also something the designer has experimented with in the past, as Aaron is the one who had the jewelry vending machine I went to see in the Brooklyn Museum a few years ago.

This gumball machine is not a device that needs a great amount of introduction; it works like the basic gumball- or toy-dispensing machine you’d hit up on your way out of Kmart.

But instead of sticking a quarter in the slot and turning, customers must buy a $110 token (this is Bergdorf, after all) from one of the sales associates in order to make it work. 

Then they simply insert the token, turn the knob and, voila, a tiny, clear plastic egg emerges with a sterling silver “Babylock,” the smallest version of Aaron’s signature style and the piece she considers the “gateway” to her entire collection.

Now, here is where the unexpected joy comes into play. 

Mixed in among the small silver locks at first was a rose gold and diamond “Baby Heartlock,” which someone got, and now there’s a yellow gold and diamond Babylock. Insert that token, and you might be the lucky one who ends up with a little something extra. 

 Related stories will be right here … 

While I was interviewing Aaron and Daniel at Bergdorf, I got the chance to see the machine in action.

A young woman wearing a few Marla Aaron pieces and proclaiming herself to have an “obsession” with the brand came in and bought a token.

An Alabama native who now lives in Washington, D.C., she was in New York City for the weekend with her boyfriend and said she just had to come in after seeing the gumball machine on Instagram.

The air was heavy with excitement while Aaron and I filmed her attempt for social media. Will she get the yellow gold and diamond lock?!? I was genuinely rooting for this person I’d never met before.

Ultimately, she did not, but it was fun anyway, just like Aaron and her jewelry.

Aaron shows her latest creative retail venture some love. (Photo credit: Richard Cadan)
Aaron shows her latest creative retail venture some love. (Photo credit: Richard Cadan)

This space in Bergdorf, Aaron told me, is her brand’s U.S. department store debut, with the designer admitting she was initially resistant to the idea of a department store because she doesn’t feel they fit the way her jewelry is sold.

She likes to take out a bunch of locks and let her customers play, see how the pieces they already own are going to work with new pieces. It brings out creativity in the wearer and is a big part of what has made Aaron such a collectible success story.

Yet in most department stores in America, “it’s this idea of the case,” Aaron said, of things being locked away and displayed on neck forms. 
At Bergdorf, though, there is a private room that allows for a more Marla Aaron-like appointment. 

And the brand was able inject a bit of its DNA into the display cases, mixing in the large-scale hardware elements, the peg boards, and pieces of “raw” fordite among the traditional jewelry display forms. 

So, will she stay after her shop-in-shop’s time is up? 

“There’s always an opportunity,” Aaron said. 

Marla Aaron’s Bergdorf Goodman residency, including her gumball machine, continues through March 30.

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

The Latest

Supplier BulletinJun 30, 2022
Here’s Where You’ll Find The Best Online Jewelry Auctions

Sponsored by HiBid

CrimeJun 30, 2022
What JSA’s Annual Report Tells Us About Jewelry Crime in 2021

Plus, JSA President John Kennedy talks about the trajectory of industry crime over the last 20 years.

CrimeJun 30, 2022
Smash-and-Grab Robbers Hit Booth at TEFAF: Watch the Video

The fair was evacuated temporarily Tuesday after four suspects smashed a showcase and stole jewelry from British jeweler Symbolic & Chase.

Brought to you by
Preparing for Proposal Season with High-Quality, A.I.-Graded Natural Diamonds

Rare & Forever is helping to create an enjoyable diamond buying experience for the millions of newly-engaged couples.

Events & AwardsJun 30, 2022
Nominations Are Open for Gem Awards 2023

The 21st annual awards show and gala will take place in New York City next March.

Weekly QuizJun 23, 2022
This Week’s Quiz
Test your knowledge of the latest jewelry news with this quick test.
Take the Quiz
Events & AwardsJun 30, 2022
Registration Open for JIS Fall in Miami

The jewelry trade show is scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

AuctionsJun 29, 2022
Bonhams Expands Again with Purchase of Paris Auction House

It is the fifth acquisition under the ownership of private equity firm Epiris, which bought Bonhams in 2018.

Brought to you by
Discover The Extraordinary Italian Jewelry In Las Vegas!

Experience all the Italian Jewelry market has to offer in Las Vegas.

MajorsJun 29, 2022
Zales Has a New Diamond Cut

The “Celebration Infinite” diamond has more than three times the number of facets in a traditional brilliant-cut diamond, the retailer said.

WatchesJun 29, 2022
Bulova Introduces New Frank Sinatra Watches

The brand again partnered with the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School to celebrate the launch of the “Summer Wind” watches.

SurveysJun 29, 2022
U.S. Platinum Jewelry Demand Starts 2022 on a Strong Note

Retail ounce sales were up 23 percent year-over-year in Q1, according to the recent Platinum Jewellery Business Review.

Events & AwardsJun 29, 2022
Registration Is Now Open for the HardRock Summit 2022

Scheduled for Sept. 8-11, the event will comprise more than 310,000 square feet of show floor, exhibits, and education space.

ColumnistsJun 28, 2022
The PR Adviser: Why Should Someone Buy From You?

If you’re having trouble answering this question, columnist Lilian Raji can help you get a started with a few fill-in-the-blank statements.

IndependentsJun 28, 2022
This Jeweler Is Celebrating 40 Years With 40 Days of Giveaways

Continental Diamond in Minneapolis is awarding a total of $25,000 in prizes via daily sweepstakes.

CollectionsJun 28, 2022
Melissa Kaye’s New Collection Doubles the Color

“Lenox” marks the designer’s foray into bespoke jewels and large colored gemstones.

Events & AwardsJun 28, 2022
Second AGS Virtual Education Conference Is All About Negotiation Skills

“Confluence” is happening in August.

MajorsJun 27, 2022
George Holmes, Longtime Head Editor of JCK Magazine, Dies at 93

He first took a job at then Philadelphia-based Jewelers’ Circular-Keystone in 1963 and retired in 1996.

MajorsJun 27, 2022
Mayors, Analog:Shift Team Up With Goop

The lifestyle platform will stock fine jewelry and watches from the retailers on its website and in store.

CrimeJun 27, 2022
JSA Warns of ‘Pandemic’ of Distraction Thefts Nationwide

It cited two recent cases in California, plus incidents in Florida, Kansas, and Illinois.

IndependentsJun 27, 2022
Lewis Jewelers Set to Open New Ann Arbor Store This Summer

The 10,000-square-foot location allows for expanded collections from design partners while continuing custom design and other services.

CollectionsJun 27, 2022
This Designer Has Found a New Way to Bring Gemstones to Life

Svetlana Lazar’s “Wishing Well” collection utilizes an innovative component to mimic the movement of water beneath them.

Supplier BulletinJun 24, 2022
AGTA GemFair™ Denver is the Place to Be in September!

Sponsored by AGTA

Recorded WebinarsJun 24, 2022
Vegas Jewelry Recap: The Editors Weigh In

Watch the webinar in which National Jeweler’s editors talk about jewelry market week trends and their predictions for the rest of 2022.

MajorsJun 24, 2022
Banter by Piercing Pagoda Celebrates Pride with ‘SayGay’ Necklace

All proceeds up to $25,000 will benefit the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ youth.

CollectionsJun 24, 2022
Piece of the Week: Marie Lichtenberg’s Hidden Message Locket

It’s a reminder that life is best lived with discretion.

TechnologyJun 24, 2022
Cloud-Based POS Software Jewel360 Launches for Jewelry Retailers

The end-to-end software allows for real-time control over all sales, inventory, repairs, customer communications, and marketing.

GradingJun 23, 2022
AIGS Launches Grading Report for ‘Santa Maria’ Aquamarine

The Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences aims to set a color standard for the trade name.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy