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.

20220222_Marla Aaron Bergdorf.jpg
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.

20220222_Marla Aaron BG gumball machine.jpg
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

Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo modeling Jacquie Aiche’s Rebel Heart collection
CollectionsApr 22, 2024
Jacquie Aiche’s New Campaign Stars Adam Levine, Behati Prinsloo

The “Rebel Heart” campaign embodies rebellion, romance, and sensuality, the brand said.

Virtual Diamond Boutique
SourcingApr 22, 2024
Virtual Diamond Boutique Rebrands as ‘VDB’

The overhaul includes a new logo and enhanced digital marketplace.

Signet Jewelers employees and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
MajorsApr 22, 2024
Signet Raises Nearly $9M for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

The money will go toward supporting ongoing research and aftercare programs for childhood cancer survivors.

Brought to you by
The Blueprint for Success in Scalable, Personalized Jewelry Retail

With Ho Brothers, you can unlock your brand's true potential and offer customers the personalized jewelry experiences they desire.

Retrouvaí’s Treasure Necklace
CollectionsApr 19, 2024
Piece of the Week: Retrouvaí’s Treasure Necklace

A new addition to the “Heirloom” collection, this one-of-a-kind piece features 32 custom-cut gemstones.

Weekly QuizApr 19, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge by answering these seven questions.
Take the Quiz
Stock image crime handcuffs
CrimeApr 19, 2024
Grand Jury to Hear Case Against Jeweler Charged in Fatal Shove Following IJO Show

Last month in Dallas, David Walton pushed another jeweler, David Ettinger, who later died.

China Pearl collage
MajorsApr 19, 2024
Unique Designs Acquires China Pearl

The move will allow the manufacturing company to offer a more “diverse and comprehensive” range of products.

Jewelers of America Fly In Washington, D.C.
Brought to you by
How Jewelers of America Represents Your Business

For over 30 years, JA has advocated for the industry, fought against harmful legislation and backed measures that help jewelry businesses.

Printed and digital AGS Ideal grading reports
GradingApr 19, 2024
AGS Ideal Report Now Available in Printed Form

From now through mid-May, GIA will be offering the reports at a 50 percent discount.

Stock image of a polished diamond in tweezers
SourcingApr 18, 2024
Diamond Trade Remains Cautious Amid Economic Uncertainty

De Beers’ rough diamond sales were down 18 percent year-over-year in its latest round of sales.

Supplier BulletinApr 18, 2024
Discover History’s Hidden Gems at the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show

Sponsored by the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show

Kelly Yoch
WatchesApr 18, 2024
Watch E-tailer Collectability Hires Kelly Yoch

The Patek Philippe expert will serve as personal curator for the brand-focused company.

Interior of TAG Heuer Boutique on Carnival Cruise Ship
WatchesApr 18, 2024
TAG Heuer Opens Its Largest Standalone Boutique at Sea

The 553-square-foot shop is aboard the Carnival Jubilee cruise ship.

 Stock image of a gavel
Policies & IssuesApr 17, 2024
NDC Prevails in U.K. Case Over Lab-Grown Diamond Advertising

NDC filed a complaint against Skydiamond for use of phrases like “diamonds made entirely from the sky.”

John Carter, 2024 Shipley Award winner
Events & AwardsApr 17, 2024
And the 2024 Winner of the Shipley Award Is …

John Carter received the AGS’s highest honor Tuesday afternoon at Conclave in Austin, Texas.

Visual from Tiffany & Co.’s With Love Since 1837 campaign
FinancialsApr 17, 2024
LVMH’s Q1 Jewelry Sales Fall 5%

LVMH said the company performed well despite an uncertain geopolitical and economic environment.

 B&D ribbon cutting in RI
MajorsApr 17, 2024
Stuller’s B&D Opens New Headquarters

B&D Sales and Service held a ribbon-cutting event for its new location in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Model Wearing Eat Cake Collection
CollectionsApr 16, 2024
Akaila Reid Launches ‘Eat Cake’ Collection

It’s ultra-feminine and filled with gold, pearls, and soft pastels.

Emily Highet Morgan, Emily Bennett
MajorsApr 16, 2024
Loudr Adds 2 Directors

Emily Highet Morgan and Emily Bennett have joined the agency’s team.

Stuller catalogs
MajorsApr 16, 2024
Stuller Releases First Lab-Grown Diamond Jewelry Catalog

Its updated book for mountings is also now available.

Headshot of Karen Rentmeesters
SourcingApr 16, 2024
Karen Rentmeesters Takes Over as Interim CEO of AWDC

She has been with the organization since 2010, most recently serving as its chief officer of PR and industry relations.

Joyce’s Jewelry
TechnologyApr 15, 2024
Judge Rules Jeweler’s Lawsuit Against PNC Bank Can Move Forward

Joyce’s Jewelry sued the bank after cybercriminals drained its accounts of nearly $1.6 million through a series of wire transfers.

Alfred W. DeScenza
IndependentsApr 15, 2024
Alfred W. DeScenza of DeScenza Diamonds Dies at 95

He is remembered by loved ones for his loyalty, integrity, and kindness.

Madeleine K. Albright
AuctionsApr 15, 2024
Madeleine K. Albright Jewelry, Pins Coming to Auction

Hosted by Freeman’s | Hindman, the sale will take place May 7-8.

Audemars Piguet circa 1985 emerald car watch
AuctionsApr 15, 2024
All of Sotheby’s ‘Rough Diamonds’ Sold in Less Than an Hour

The auction house said all 24 timepieces offered in its underground sale of rare and avant-garde watches quickly found buyers.

AGS Conclave 2024 logo Austin
Events & AwardsApr 15, 2024
10 Can’t-Miss Sessions at AGS Conclave 2024

From lab-grown diamonds and AI to the inevitable Taylor Swift mention, here are some of Conclave’s most intriguing educational offerings.

My Next Question webinar
Recorded WebinarsApr 12, 2024
Watch: What Jewelers Need to Know About Insurance

From cybersecurity liability to trade show coverage, insurance experts share tips on how to build the right policy.


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