Tiffany & Co. has come out with a collection of vintage-inspired, key charm necklaces. The keys are gold, silver, and platinum, with heads shaped like ovals, squares, trefoils, quatrefoils, and hearts. With motifs like flower petals and fleur de lis, kaleidoscopic patterns, and designs reminiscent of rose windows, the keys look like snowflakes, especially the ones glistening with $17,000 worth of diamonds.

Keys carry so many meanings. Elementary school children who show up at home before their parents get off work are latchkey kids, and to them, keys are safety. A teenager with a learner’s permit sees a key as the promise of freedom. For someone who has just purchased his or her first home, a key is a dream realized.

Tiffany describes their key charm necklaces as, “An intriguing invitation. A revealing discovery. A promise of adventure. A whispered romance. A question answered. A secret kept.”

For the little girl with a diary, a key is seclusion. She doesn’t realize how useless that little key really is. She doesn’t think about how someone could easily learn her private thoughts with nothing more than a pair of scissors. She’s trusting. That won’t last.

Maybe the reason keys now make the perfect charms is that real keys have become passé. Why keep a diary hidden between your mattress and box springs when you can blog? Hotel rooms are accessed with plastic cards, and you can get into and start a car without ever taking the “key” out of your pocket.

A couple of years ago, I was in a costume jewelry shop and got to talking with the owner. Soon, he was giving me the complete history of costume jewelry. The thing that stuck with me the most was what he said about keys. He told me that at the turn of the 20th century, it was fashionable for a woman to wear necklaces with multiple keys.

The more keys a woman had, the more rooms in her home. The more rooms in her home, the more money her husband had. Keys were status.

I’m wearing four keys right now. Not from Tiffany. As a sixth grade teacher, I have a key to my classroom, a key to the teacher workroom (where the photocopier is), and two keys to my classroom cabinets. Sometimes I think that I’m being ridiculous locking up my paperclips and Post-It notes, but these are targets of opportunity. By not having padlocks on my cabinets, I’m practically inviting someone to filch my stuff. Keys are suspicion.

As a little girl, I locked my diary not because I wanted to prevent people from finding out my thoughts, but because I felt apart. Locking up my thoughts was just the physical expression of that feeling.

As a teenager, I wrote about how my stepmother called me “the b word” at lunch one Sunday at my grandmother’s house. I wrote about how shocked I was that no one came to my defense.

Now, I can see things differently. Teenage girls, thinking themselves innocent, occasionally say things that are completely selfish and out of line. While I still don’t think what my stepmother did was right, I do think she was justified. Keys are clarity.

The video on Tiffany’s Web site, “Through The Keyhole,” is hypnotic, simultaneously romantic and eerie. It’s as if you’ve unlocked a music box you shouldn’t have. What secret is inside?

Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at

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