Jewelers Mutual Group is on the brink of debuting a signature event for the jewelry industry that it hopes will become one of the most unique happenings on the annual calendar.
The 109-year-old insurance company, which has in recent years expanded its business to include B2B solutions on its Zing marketplace, plans to host Conversations in Park City—a leadership retreat for the jewelry industry—in Park City, Utah, Oct. 14-16, for members of the jewelry, gemstone, and watch industries.
The event will be held at the St. Regis Deer Valley resort, a luxury property tucked into the majestic Wasatch Range on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. The conference will merge sessions on future-minded topics that will have a significant impact on business and retail in the coming years (including web3 and the Metaverse) with panels showcasing jewelry executives. Jewelers Mutual is partnering with New York City-based PSFK, a firm focused on the future of retail and consumer experience, on the conference’s content.
In addition to the planned sessions, unique networking opportunities will abound, and some promise to be quite extraordinary. Jewelers Mutual has contracted an outdoor excursions company, All Seasons Adventure, to guide attendees in fly-fishing, trap shooting, hiking and other mini-adventures (all activities are available to book a la carte).
“The dream is that people can look back together in a few years and say, ‘Remember when we were fly-fishing together in Utah?’ It would just be so great to be able to create those kinds of memories,” says Mark Smelzer, chief content executive for Jewelers Mutual.
We caught up with the executive to talk about what attendees can expect at the very first Conversations in Park City.
The Zing Report: Why do you feel an event like Conversations in Park City is needed in the industry?
Mark Smelzer: I was the publisher of JCK magazine for 18 years and during that time I always thought the industry would benefit from a thought-provoking, high-level leadership retreat.
When I arrived at Jewelers Mutual last year, I pitched the idea and they embraced it. Jewelers Mutual has always been this organization of industry largess. I spent years going to every industry event and seeing the JM banner. ‘Raising the Tide of the Industry’ is JM’s North Star, and Conversations fits within that; it’s the classic “doing well by doing good” idea. The healthier the industry is, the healthier we are. And JM is in this uniquely neutral position—we aren’t on any side of the fence on most issues.
Happily, the idea was immediately embraced by Jewelers Mutual president and CEO Scott Murphy and the executive team. This is in no way my event—the second I put the idea out there, the whole company got behind it. There are so many key people in the company helping to make this happen. And there’s nothing quite like it that exists today.
Two months before the event, how’s the planning going?
I’m happy to report things are going well! It’s been possibly the six scariest months of my life, but now two months out it truly is coming together. And I’m happy it’s going to achieve another key goal—we did not want to create an event that was duplicative of any other event out there. We didn’t want to repeat or compete with content at any of the events around the world. I think we’re succeeding in doing that.
Who’s coming to the event?
We strove for a really unique group of executives. This event is pan-industry, so we have folks from associations, retailers, miners, manufacturers, designers, influencers. Also, in terms of age and background, I’m excited that we have a lot of diversity represented. And I’m delightfully surprised that there are many next-generation leaders coming—those leaders on the rise in stores, at manufacturing, and across the board. We’ve also worked with organizations including the Black in Jewelry Coalition to make sure we’re being as inclusive as we can be. In many ways, it’s a unique collection of people and I’m thrilled about that.
Tell us about the content of the sessions for the event—and how did the partnership with PSFK come to be?
Emili Vesilind, editor-in-chief of The Zing Report and senior content editor at Jewelers Mutual, and I are putting the content together. She had attended conferences from PSFK in the past. She suggested we pursue them and we are partnering with them for the bulk of the full day of the conference.
The sessions aren’t going to be ‘writing on a white board’ type of sessions. The idea for Conversations is really to sit back, relax, and hear about the future. We’re going to be looking at the future of clientele-ing, the Metaverse, NFTs, digital twins, the store-as-content-studio, and more.
If I had to give an elevator pitch on the event, it’s a future-oriented event focusing on topics that will begin to affect our industry in the now but will really continue to affect our industry in the decade to come.
On the second day, we’re focusing on sustainability; I’m super thrilled that Iris Van der Veken, head of the Watch and Jewelry Initiative 2030, will be moderating a panel. We’re also going to have a trend panel on the “path of influence,” moderated by Emili Vesilind, that will include some really interesting folks.
As for the networking opportunities—we want to elevate those to new, unique levels. We’re going to have networking breaks throughout the conference, at meals, a cocktail party overlooking the mountain range. It’s going to be this great, intense three days. We’re basically taking over the hotel, so there will be lots of opportunity to run into people.
And then there’s this layer of outdoor activities!
Yes! We’re working with All Seasons Adventures and attendees can purchase hiking excursions, go fly fishing, skeet shooting, mountain biking and more. We’ve been trying to create terrific networking opportunities and striving to provide original content, and on the whole, we’re doing this.
How will the peer-to-peer networking at Conversations in Park City differ from, say, JCK Las Vegas?
We’re pulling together executives from different camps that sometimes overlap, but never quite like this. Certain people don’t go to Couture, and others don’t go to Conclave. They may see each other, but I personally have never seen this group in one place. At JCK Las Vegas, everyone is so busy—and that’s a compliment to JCK—that the best thing you’re going to get is sort of a breeze-by meeting. Since this is going to be probably around 150 people, it will be very intimate and very relaxed. People will have time to have real conversations.
Do you have to be an industry leader to attend Conversations in Park City?
When we say “leadership” we broadly mean people who have influence and are listened to within the industry. We don’t necessarily mean a certain title—it’s not CEOs only. It’s a broader definition of leaders. Secondly, it’s leaders who are established and leaders who are on the rise. So, it’s not the same group of executives from the same era; there are younger voices coming who will contribute so much.
You’re featuring some out-of-industry experts—what’s the thinking behind that decision?
I think our industry is in some ways a bit of a cul-de-sac. I’m not the first person to recognize that and I don’t mean it as a criticism. We don’t get a ton of people from outside the industry coming in. So, it’s always great to bring in someone from a luxury brand outside the industry to talk. But then we will also be highlighting folks in the jewelry industry who are dabbling in these futurists concepts. We’re going to have both.
What makes the St. Regis Deer Valley a great setting for this?
A group of us went to Park City on a fact-finding mission, and the St. Regis was the last property we checked out. In the process of talking to other hotels, we found out that October is the slowest month of the year in Park City. We found out the price of the rooms in October—which are significantly less than they are any other time of the year—and we were bowled over. We said, ‘Okay, it has to be here.’ It’s just a really lovely place. When we have cocktails, we’ll be overlooking the western-most part of the Wasatch range, the final range before the Salt Lake Valley.
How do you hope people walk away feeling from this event?
Ideally, they will feel that their minds were a bit blown by what’s coming, and what they didn’t know. But also, hopefully, they will feel like they have a lot of fresh, exciting follow-up to do. And hopefully it will remind them how much they love this industry.