MoMA Ball Bearing Key Chain

Concept:  2 out of 5
Execution:  3 out of 5
Yeah, but:  If it hangs on a wall it’s a painting, and if you can walk around it it’s a sculpture.

The Long Version: Ball bearings are nifty things. The MoMA store - Museum of Modern Art, New York - is also nifty. Its website is where I first found the Mighty Wallet, of which I now own seven, and it also features the Ball Bearing Keychain. When I was in New York MoMA was one of my obligatory stops, but I hesitated before spending the not-insignificant cash to buy one of these iconic keychains. Eventually I rationalized it as a souvenir that I would use every day, but I have to be realistic: it's shiny, mechanical, and pointless. How could I resist?

The keychain itself is quite substantial, with a very heavy split ring to attach the keys to. One of my keys has a squared-off hole in the bow that binds on the ring, making the spare-no-expense build into a little too much of a good thing, but it hasn't been enough of a hassle to get me to change it. And while it may seem strange to say, this is a working ball bearing, so it's free to spin and move as it was intended to. It was a little stiff straight out of the box, but it loosened up after just a few days' use. The shaft diameter for the inner race is 15mm, making it just slightly smaller than a 4.25 ring size. Sticking a finger through it and twirling the keys around and around is surprisingly entertaining; I'll also toy with it and flip the inner race and cage around in those quiet moments when I'm idle but there's nothing interesting on my blackberry.

The polished stainless steel has been surprisingly difficult to scratch; while it does show a few marks, the keyfob in these photos has spent six weeks jostling around with lose change and other pocket items in addition to the keys that it carries. It's also quite heavy, which lets it bully its way to the bottom of a jacket pocket instead of getting tangled up in the gloves and toque that I invariably carry these days. That means that there's much less chance of launching my keys into a snowbank - a very good thing. With lighter summer clothes the weight might not be quite so welcome, so I predict that this keychain will need to be put aside when I'm not wearing a jacket.

The ball bearing keychain is an executive toy that's disguised as a tribute to an important machine with a fascinating design, but without the MoMA connection it would have been much harder to justify its cost. While I'm glad that I bought it after a happy afternoon in the galleries, I wouldn't buy another if something tragic happens to this one. But I'm not in any way dissatisfied: it's almost impossible for me to leave it alone when it's sitting on my desk, even when I have an important review to write. Never underestimate the entertainment value of things that are shiny, mechanical, and pointless.

last updated 18 dec 2010


  1. I have this keychain, in time the ball bearings inside get lost and ultimately falls apart


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