A very small but incredibly influential group among the super-rich (net worth = US $500 million or more) are connoisseur collectors. They often mold opinion in their respective fields of interest such as artwork, watches, cars, coins, and wines. Aside from impacting the buying preferences of the wealthy, they drive the tastes among the mass collector culture as well as passion investors. 

Their influence is derived from their commitment to developing a deep understanding of their field of interest coupled with their willingness to use their monies in “perfecting” their collections. Super-rich connoisseurs are not passion investors, nor are they ruled by their emotions. 

Passion investing is where the wealthy invest in luxury items with the expectation of these items appreciating coupled with the intention of making a profit on their sale. To a great extent it is about investing, first and foremost, in the asset class (broadly defined) as “luxury.” For many passion investors, there is the appeal of the luxury items; however, their fascination and appreciation of these items pales compared to that of the connoisseur.

Whereas the passion investor intends to sell the collection at a future date, the super-rich connoisseur is very much less inclined. With the preference to keep the collection intact, super-rich connoisseurs are motivated to maintain them in their lifetimes, and either pass the collection to future generations or appropriate charitable organizations such as museums. When super-rich connoisseurs sell their prized collections it is commonly under duress such as in cases of bankruptcy or divorce. 

Compulsive behavior is sometimes mistakenly attributed to super-rich connoisseurs. This is far from reality. The difference between being a super-rich connoisseur and a fixated eccentric depends in part on whether other, more important aspects of life are neglected. It is not uncommon for compulsive collectors to get so immersed in their obsessions that their professional and personal lives suffer. For super-rich connoisseurs, building a significant collection is but one facet of their lives. 

In addition, the role of emotional decision-making while characteristic of fixated eccentrics is not evidenced by super-rich connoisseurs who are habitually anything but impulsive. Acquisition decisions are exceedingly rational and well thought through. Their expertise in their field of interest provides them with the requisite knowledge and insights to make highly informed calculated choices.

Along the same lines, whereas compulsive collectors are known to lose astute decision-making capabilities (presuming they had such abilities to start) in many acquisition scenarios, super-rich connoisseurs are known for their precision and exactitude. While highly passionate when it comes to their field of interest, their desires do not distract them cerebrally. 

Psychological perspectives: When it comes to expert collecting, there are three sets of interrelated psychological factors in play There is the creation of identity; there is the sense of evolved well-being; there is the pursuit of “absolute” mastery of the field of interest.

Identity encompasses the super-rich connoisseur’s sense of self in relation to the process and result of building a prestigious collection. It is the manifestation of ego fueled by demonstrable accomplishments. The collection regularly will be a manifestation of the unique aspects of the super-rich connoisseur. It is a powerful form of self-expression and self-extension. 

There is little doubt that super-rich connoisseurs see themselves in their collections as they see themselves in other activities that are extremely meaningful to them such as business and philanthropy. For these elite collectors, their collections are deep reflections of themselves, and in this way they impact decision-making across a spectrum of personal and professional issues.

Evolved well-being entails the progressive feelings of happiness derived from expanding and managing a top-flight collection. Super-rich connoisseurs are exceedingly passionate when it comes to their collections.

The evolved well-being come from “being one” with the process of collecting and the collection itself. Often this is referred to as “flow,” which is where the super-rich connoisseur becomes so intensely immersed in aspects of acquisition or the collection per se that the experience is extraordinarily pleasurable. 

The pursuit of mastery includes all components where super-rich connoisseurs become expert (i.e., extremely knowledgeable and insightful) in their field of interest. At this point, their high-level mental skill proficiencies are evidenced in their capacity to rapidly and fluidly make fine distinctions and comparisons, and their facility at recognizing patterns within their collection including not only the elements that make up the collection but the gaps in it as well. 

Super-rich connoisseurs have learned their fields of interest through hard work coupled with leveraging their talents and desires. Their monies contributed tremendously by enabling them to work with and deal with professionals and other connoisseurs as well as providing the means to actively invest in their field of interest.

RUSS ALAN PRINCE is the Executive Director of Private Wealth magazine (pw-mag.com) and Chief Content Officer for High-Net-Worth Genius (hnwgenius.com). He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs, and select professionals.