The first time I saw a Marla Aaron lock, I didn’t get it. I thought, “Oh, cute, a lock,” and scrolled on through my Instagram feed.
The second time I saw a Marla Aaron lock, I paused. My eyes liked its polished surface, its golden curves. I enjoyed that it was a replica of a household thing in precious metals. I scrolled on through my Instagram feed.
It wasn’t until the third time, when I happened across a picture of the locks in action, that I finally understood that a Marla Aaron lock is two things in one: a beautiful object in its own right and an infinity of possibilities.
The locks come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, all made from solid precious metal: from silver to yellow or rose gold and platinum, engraved or embellished with gemstones, even completely gemstone-encrusted. The tiniest, the babylock, is smaller than a fingertip.
The last time I was in NYC, Marla was kind enough to invite me to view her collections (the locks are only the beginning, but they’re what we’re focusing on for today).
As I sat in front of a table covered in Marla Aaron locks, the pieces spoke to me. Suddenly they weren’t jewelry, they were promises, goals, symbols of love and strength. I felt like I could sense the locks’ future owners, just waiting to imbue these waiting symbols with their own deeply personal meaning.
They so much more than beautiful objects: each a tiny blank talisman waiting to take on the significance that its new owner needed it to have. They remind me of sentimental antique jewelry – no wonder, since locks have been a popular motif repeatedly throughout history – but these locks are streamlined for the modern age. Streamlined, and fully functional.
Here’s Marla Aaron herself, the lady behind the locks, standing in front of an exhibit at the Museum of American Finance that features a selection of her work.
An introduction in her own words:
When I quit my day job to launch the collection, it was pretty terrifying. I am not a trained jeweler. I had a blind idiotic positivity and a deep, obsessive love for the locks themselves. I still do. So basically any time someone told me they didn’t like them or didn’t want to buy them, I thought inside my head that they were crazy. And I think you need that.
For example, I was told how “masculine” the locks were by more than a few retailers. That I should do a “men’s line” (in fact I got a very detailed and kind letter from a retailer early on with all of their advice on how I should go about turning the collection into a men’s line) And yet more often than, not it is women who are buying them for themselves. I love this.
I can not paint a specific picture of the woman who loves my locks because literally there is no “type”– I like to say from 15-92 (Nana is 92 and I think she may be my oldest customer but hoping that we break that record every year.)”
The Marla Aaron lock collection includes several styles of complementary chains, both necklace and bracelet length, but the lock’s uses are limited only by the owner’s imagination.
Because the locks really open and close like the hardware that inspired them, they can be combined and swapped out in any number of ways. Marla explains that this was a key part of the concept for her:
I love high functioning objects–I could go on and on about this. I live in a small apartment in New York City with my family and (too) many pets and I love to cook but I refuse to bring in kitchen gadgets that only have one use. My husband shares this obsession and interest. We both love “repurposed” objects in jewelry and in life. I suppose the locks are my highest expression of this “multipurposeness.”
The lock started as the standard carabiner-inspired design, but now comes in a number of forms.
Marla says that she sold a number of the heart locks as Valentine’s day gifts, as one might expect, but that large number of her heart lock sales are women buying the locks for themselves.
I told Marla that I enjoyed seeing how different collectors had styled her locks, via Instagram. She agreed, and told me people have used her locks in ways she never could have imagined:
Like putting 14 Babylocks together and making a bracelet (thank you Alabama) or hanging an engagement ring from them while you do the dishes, or taking your two grandmothers’ pearl necklaces that you were left and combining them into one and adding a Regular lock in gold and engraving their names your name and your daughter’s name as you begin to create the jewelry you will pass down to her.”
I don’t own a Marla Aaron lock yet – for the sole reason that I haven’t been able to decide which one to buy first – but I’m already thinking of all the ways I could incorporate one into my existing collection of jewelry.
Here’s one of my very favorites: the garnet full pave lock. Despite its wealth of gemstones, this beauty is still fully functional.
I wore the garnet full pave lock on a heavy silver curb chain the whole time I was photographing other pieces. Can you blame me?
One last word from Marla before we end:
“I love lots of things about the locks but essentially I do not think they could exist and work the way they do without BOTH technology and handcraft. They really exist at that crossroads. Each one is finished by hand and it takes time–the same amount of time whether or not it is a silver or gold one.
So if you buy our silver Babylock which is the most inexpensive item we sell, you are buying something that has been made by hand with time and attention and I am very proud of this because it means that almost anybody can have “access” to a kind of jewelry that is very personal made with care and by hand right here in America and this is becoming a rarity. “
The Marla Aaron locks (and Marla’s other collections) are available in a variety of beautiful independently owned boutiques in the United States and Japan and on her website.
A huge thanks to Marla Aaron for sitting down with me and letting me play with all of her locks! All photos involving a hand and the close-up of the garnet pave lock are my work; the top two are via Jasmyntea‘s beautiful Instagram. All other images c/o Marla Aaron.