If you look up “jewelry lover” in the dictionary, you’ll find Maria Dueñas Jacobs. She has a meticulous eye for jewelry and objects, especially cultivated during her tenure as Former Accessories Director at ELLE.
Maria has helped shape the trajectory of the industry and emerging designers for years, plus she has a seriously covetable personal collection. Maria gets behind designers she believes in; a trait we very much admire. It was on her hand that we first discovered Foundrae, now a cult favorite.
Maria’s most important role is mother to three beautiful, smart, and sparkle-loving daughters. Given their mama’s love of fine jewelry, the girls always try to abscond with her necklaces, bracelets, and rings. The beads that Maria would buy them were never decadent enough, so her daughter Luna challenged her to create something just as shiny and glitzy but for her mini me’s. And Super Smalls was born! When we heard Maria was launching something in the jewelry and kids space, we gathered over breakfast at our shared work club, Spring Place, to learn all about it plus get her insights on how she builds her collection of heirlooms.
Super Smalls is off to a smashing start. The brand launched with eight sets of mini jewelry boxes and single accessories (my favorite are the shoelace charms, perfect for my sneakers) all under $40 for kids ages 4 to 12 but anyone can enjoy. Super Smalls is designed and packaged to look and feel like opening an indulgent gift, à la the ritziest diamond necklace. Who doesn’t love that? -Jenna Wise for The Stone Set
Tell us about your path to starting Super Smalls and its mission. How did your career prepare you?
The idea for Super Smalls didn’t actually come to me until this past March! I’ve always been the kind of person who toyed around with the idea of starting a company, but had never landed on exactly what the right thing would be. So back in March, after years of letting my girls play with and dress up in my jewelry (and years of worrying they’d break my things or lose them!) the idea popped into my head: a kids’ accessories brand inspired by high fashion and fine jewelry, translated for a kid’s eye. I set off researching and developing the idea and it still feels wild to me that less than a year later, I’ve just launched Super Smalls!
Looking back, my work experiences (Elle, Glamour, Stitch Fix!) all helped shape me as a designer and a small business owner – in really different and sometimes surprising ways. I definitely credit my eye to my days in editorial, and I have learned so much about business and retail at Stitch Fix, but probably most important has been the amazing network of friends I have in the industry who have offered me – and Super Smalls! – their invaluable advice and support.
Do you have a favorite Super Smalls set?
The truth is I love all our sets in different ways and (a little like with children) it feels unfair to play favorites. If pressed, I’d say one of my favorites are the Super Smalls shoe charms. I especially love that they didn’t really exist in the market before we rolled them out. I’m such a fan of mixing cool/sporty pieces with glam ones and the shoe clips look as awesome on a pair of Supergas as they do on Doc Martens.
Love your outfit. Details, please!
I’m wearing an Everlane bodysuit, an oversized Marc Jacobs cardigan, vintage Levi’s jeans, and Veja sneakers. I try to keep my clothes comfy because they need to go from meetings to dinners to bedtime stories and cuddles, but I always pile on a ton of jewelry so I feel a bit more dressed up. I’m a big believer that a special piece of jewelry (or three!) can elevate a big cozy sweater or a pair of distressed denim.
What are the most worn pieces in your jewelry box? Are you drawn to certain stones or metals?
Over the years, I’ve definitely built up a collection of special pieces with a lot of sentimental value. I try to take things off at the end of each day so that when I get dressed in the morning, I’m more likely to put on something totally different than what I wore the day before.
I love my white enamel Foundrae Wholeness ring so much and especially love and chose it for its meaning. The snake represents continued growth to find balance (shedding of skin, get it?) and other symbols on the ring represent energy and divine guidance. I could spend hours in the Foundrae store just learning about all the symbols and way to personalize their jewels—I love it!
My Jemma Wynne ring is very special to me because it was a custom piece I designed with Jenny Klatt and Stephanie Wynne after my mother-in-law gifted me a pear-shaped diamond. I had a design in mind (an open setting and an emerald stone) and knew that I would be in the best hands with Jemma Wynne. They took my idea and elevated and executed such a beautiful ring. Fun fact, this style is now one of their bestselling styles!
I have always been drawn to opals (also my birthstone!) and watermelon tourmalines, because they are the most magical-looking stones, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever met a gemstone I didn’t like. I probably wear more yellow gold, which feels warmer to me, but I love mixing metals.
Who are some of your favorite jewelry designers? Are there any up and comers you’re excited about?
This is impossible! I have so many favorites. Some of the designers I wear most include: Foundrae, Monica Rich Kosann, The Last Line, Jemma Wynne, Aurélie Bidermann and Brent Neale, but really my list could go on and on! Jewelry is such a fun category to work in and there are so many kind, fun and insanely talented people designing out there.
What have you learned in this industry as a working mom? I have a son and admire how you seem to balance it all.
I’ve learned that moms are great prioritizers and multitaskers—they’re basically super humans. I don’t believe it’s possible to do it all, or have it all, but I think one of the things I’ve learned most in my time as a working mom is to make the most out of the time I spend with my kids – lots of playing, dress up, dance parties – those are the things they’ll remember. And I think my job (and starting my own business) even when it keeps me too busy to do every last thing with them, is also setting a great example for them as well. I’d love for them to grow up and find things they love to do and are passionate about doing.
Can you share some holiday traditions?
My husband is Jewish and I grew up Catholic so we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah (!). This means the holiday season is a whirlwind of blending old traditions and making new ones and finding time to be thankful and together as much as possible.
What’s something about you that would surprise people?
I was pretty introverted growing up. I was really reserved and only had a few close friends. Working in the fashion and jewelry world definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me become more confident and self-assured than I was when I was young. I’m way more social now than I was when I was in high school and college!
Describe a dream weekend.
Lots of time with my kids and my husband, a cozy dinner out with friends. Just lots a quality time with the people I care about. Oh—and a good night’s sleep!
Give the world some advice.
If you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no. 🙂
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set