Marianne Jennings, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, loved taking creative classes while her kids were in school, dabbling in knitting, sculpture, and even calligraphy. Yet, while she enjoyed each craft, she hadn’t yet found her creative match. When she set out to get a Master’s degree, she chose metalsmithing after her first choice of textile design was no longer available. But it would be meant to be—realizing metalsmithing was the passion she was always searching for, Marianne dove in head first, got her Master’s, made her first sale, and subsequently opened Marianne Jennings Studio. Today, her sought-after rings, bracelets, necklaces, and pendants are forged with silver, gold, precious, and semi-precious stones and are heirloom-quality works of art. She’s also teaching others about the craft at Kean University, in the same program where she first discovered her passion. We caught up with this very busy Mountainside mom of two to learn about the award-winning necklace that put her on the map, the practical reason she likes mixing metals in many of her designs, and the Essex County deli with a cult-like following she swears by.
Tell us a bit about your family and background. My husband, Dave Jennings, and I have been married for nearly 30 years. We moved to Mountainside soon after we were married–it’s where we raised our children, David, 29, and Alaina, 27. I’m a licensed realtor, though I don’t practice much anymore except for friends and family. I’m fully immersed in the jewelry industry as an academic specialist and teaching artist in Metalsmithing at Kean University and as a business owner at Marianne Jennings Studio, where I make custom jewelry for clients.
Our NJ Mompreneur teaching a metalsmithing cuff class at Kean.
What were the first steps you took to make it happen? To graduate, I had to complete my master’s thesis and do a gallery show. My teacher helped me realize that I kept returning to botanicals in my jewelry design, so I added a bit of an edge and called my show “Nature’s Poison” because I based my pieces on the most poisonous plants in the world and how they affect the body. After I graduated, I started making some pieces in my basement, and then we built a She Shed in our backyard for me to use as a studio. Right after I sold my first piece, I applied and got my business license and tax ID to do everything by the book from the get-go.
Have you ever been recognized in the industry? Tahitian Pearl and Air Tahiti were doing a contest; if you used Tahitian pearls in your piece, you could enter. I designed a necklace and forged and textured the flowers by hand. I came in 2nd place, and they also purchased my necklace, earrings, and ring. A year after I won the contest, they asked me to contribute to a new exhibition promoting a new Seattle to Tahiti route. I was also asked to design a pin for all the flight attendants on Air Tahiti—quite the honor!
Marianne designed, hand forged, and textured this 44-inch award-winning Tahitian pearl and sterling silver necklace. A year later, Tahitian Air also asked her to create pins for their flight attendants.
What is your jewelry design philosophy? I love mixing metals in the same piece, partly because I’ve always loved that look but also because mixing gold with silver makes the prices more affordable. And when I’m doing custom work, I sit down with every customer and draw out what they want, and I’ll give my advice and tweak things to their specifications—it’s a real collaborative effort.
Is your family supportive? My entire inner circle couldn’t be more supportive. My daughter encouraged me to go back to school to get my Masters, and my husband had the She Shed built for me and helped make the acrylic displays for my Master’s Thesis. My son helps when I need templates to see a particular shape by drafting them on the computer. My daughter’s boyfriend is even in on the action—he designed my website and a unique program for me to determine pricing.
Marianne Jennings, with her family, in their Mountainside backyard.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? I love SQR Artisan Pizza in Summit, and though everything there is delicious—they have so much more than just pizza—my favorite thing is the Melanzana, a square pan-thin crust pizza that’s topped with crushed tomatoes, kalamata olives, broccoli, and more. I’m also a big fan of the Millburn Deli, a sandwich shop with a cult-like following because the sandwiches are the best, you get a lot for what you’re paying for, and the people that work there are friendly and make it a point to know their customers.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. When the kids were young and still lived at home, we’d always rent a bungalow at Ocean Beach III (aka OB3), a private beach community with beautiful beaches and fun activities. And I’ve always been into going to the movies–the AMC Theatres in Mountainside is a favorite. My daughter, who currently lives in Boston, and I enjoy movies so much that we joined the AMC Stubs Premiere Rewards program, which has many benefits and perks, regardless of which AMC Theatre you go to.
What’s your best piece of advice for a mompreneur just starting? If you have a plan and see it through, you can make your business idea work. When your kids are young, you may not have all the time to work on it, but if you use your available time to the best of your ability, you’ll see success eventually—you just have to stick with it.