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

CollectionsAug 19, 2022
As Its Namesake Sets to Retire, Serena Williams Jewelry Debuts New DTC Website

The company is no longer selling its jewelry at Zales, which first partnered with Williams last August.

CrimeAug 19, 2022
Suspects Use Bear Spray on NY Jewelry Store Employees During Robbery

Ten masked suspects stole $800,000 in merchandise from a jeweler in the Bronx.

WatchesAug 19, 2022
WatchBox Names Jack Forster Global Editorial Director

He was previously editor-in-chief at Hodinkee.

Brought to you by
The American Mined™ Collection: Ethical Sourcing That Matters

Rio Grande provides a pathway to responsibly sourced gemstones.

CollectionsAug 19, 2022
Piece of the Week: Akaila Reid’s ‘Wavy’ Bangle

It’s the hero piece of the emerging designer’s new “Wavy Baby” collection.

Weekly QuizAug 18, 2022
This Week’s Quiz
Test your knowledge of the latest jewelry news with this quick test.
Take the Quiz
Supplier BulletinAug 18, 2022
Why Online Auctions Are Ideal For Selling Hard-To-Find Jewelry

Sponsored by HiBid

ColumnistsAug 18, 2022
Squirrel Spotting: The Travails of Attracting and Retaining Talent

The job market is tight, making it paramount for employers to have the type of culture employees really crave, Peter Smith writes.

Brought to you by
Knowledge and Skills for Today’s Hot Topics

From laboratory-grown diamonds to design to country-of-origin, GIA's Alumni Collective™ has a seminar to suite your needs.

MajorsAug 18, 2022
Pandora Charms Pet Owners with New Accessories

The jewelry company has also hired a new chief marketing officer.

CollectionsAug 18, 2022
Hearts On Fire’s Latest Collection Reaches for the Sky

“Aerial” is edgy and glamorous, inspired by nature’s wild forms.

GradingAug 18, 2022
VDB, Lab Grown Source Add 8X to Cut Grade Search Filter

8X is now the top cut grade on both platforms, above Ideal.

CollectionsAug 17, 2022
Playing Doubles: Monica Rich Kosann, Chris Evert Team Up on Tennis Bracelets

It is the first tennis bracelet collab for the legend, whose lost-and-found moment put the term “tennis bracelet” in the jewelry lexicon.

FinancialsAug 17, 2022
Watches of Switzerland’s US Sales Double in Q1

The company posted a strong start to the year but is cautious about the second half.

Events & AwardsAug 17, 2022
6 Things to Know About the Second HardRock Summit

The event will bring gems, minerals, and fossils under one roof from Sept. 8-11 in Denver.

SourcingAug 17, 2022
Diamond Supplier SRK Pledges 750 Solar-Power Rooftops

The charitable mission is in honor of India’s 75 years of independence.

Lab-GrownAug 16, 2022
Pandora’s Lab-Grown Diamond Line Heads to the U.S.

The announcement preceded the Danish company’s release of its second-quarter results.

ColumnistsAug 16, 2022
The PR Adviser: Describe Your Customer

Columnist Lilian Raji continues her tour of the customer journey by asking, who is your customer? And, what do they like?

CrimeAug 16, 2022
3 Packages Containing $6.9M in Fake Watches, Jewelry Seized in Ohio

Customs officers in Cincinnati intercepted the shipments in early August, finding counterfeit Cartier jewels and Rolex watches.

SourcingAug 15, 2022
Q&A: Moyo Gems Celebrates 3 Years and Many Milestones

In honor of the anniversary, Pact’s Mines to Markets Director Cristina Villegas discusses recent expansion and where it goes from here.

Events & AwardsAug 15, 2022
David Webb to Hold an Exhibition of Its Animal Jewelry

“A Walk in the Woods” will open at the brand’s Madison Avenue flagship this fall.

Events & AwardsAug 15, 2022
Plumb Club, JVC to Hold Webinar on Sustainability Marketing

The Jewelers Vigilance Committee’s Sara Yood will give an overview of what the FTC guidelines currently say and what may be changing.

Lab-GrownAug 12, 2022
Report: State Bank of India to Begin Lending to Lab-Grown Producers

The loans will go mostly to the import of machinery rather than working capital, according to a recent article from The Economic Times.

FinancialsAug 12, 2022
Brilliant Earth’s Fine Jewelry a Hit in Q2

The company is also continuing its retail expansion.

AuctionsAug 12, 2022
2 Rolexes Paul Newman Gave to Stuntman Stan Barrett Head to Auction

The sale also will include a third Rolex, with all three watches tied to Barrett’s 1979 attempt to break the world record for land speed.

CollectionsAug 12, 2022
Piece of the Week: İTÄ Jewelry’s ‘Danza’ Ring

It mixes diamond shapes and colors.

Supplier BulletinAug 11, 2022
AGTA GemFair™ Denver – Back and Better Than Before!

Sponsored by AGTA

AuctionsAug 11, 2022
Sotheby’s Is Preparing its First Art Jewelry Auction This Fall

“Art as Jewelry as Art” features works from artists like Salvador Dalí, Alexander Calder, and Max Ernst.


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