Connoisseur collectors make up a very small but incredibly influential segment of the super-rich community. Their importance is a function of their authority and impact on artwork, watches, coins, wines and other collectibles. Furthermore, they’re likely to have significant influence on high-end luxury products and services sought by the wealthy as well as those aspiring to greater affluence.

These exceptionally well-to-do individuals not only reflect tastes, but can also influence trends in tastes—especially among mass collectors and passion investors (of which they’re not members; see below). Their influence is derived from their commitment to developing a deep understanding of their fields of interest, coupled with their willingness to spend money to perfect their collections.

Three Segments
To better understand super-rich connoisseurs, let’s divide them into three categories:

• Cubs are the super-rich with limited experience and expertise in collecting quality items. They’re beginners, exploring a field of interest with the hope of one day managing and enhancing or starting a notable collection.

• Collectors are the super-rich who have created or are managing a valuable collection. Relatively speaking, they’re educated and experienced in their field of interest. However, they’re not nearly as knowledgeable in their field of interest as those in the next segment.

• Connoisseurs are at the intellectual pinnacle of their field of interest. They’re established experts

and quite experienced. They’re exceedingly adept and dedicated to not only their collection but also to mastery of their field.

Psychological Perspectives
When it comes to expert collecting—the world of super-rich connoisseurs—we find three sets of interrelated psychological factors. There’s the creation of identity; there’s the sense of evolved well-being; and there’s the pursuit of absolute mastery of a field of interest:

Identity encompasses the connoisseur’s sense of self in relation to the building of a prestigious collection. It’s the manifestation of ego fueled by demonstrable accomplishments. If the collection is viewed as an extension of the unique talents of the connoisseur, it’s a powerful form of self-expression. For elite collectors, collections are deep reflections of themselves.

Evolved well-being refers to the happiness derived from expanding and managing a topflight collection. Connoisseurs are passionate about their collections—feelings that can sometimes rival the ardent attachments people have for loved ones.

Evolved well-being comes from being one with the process of collecting and the collection itself. This is often referred to as “flow,” where the connoisseur becomes so intensely immersed in collecting that the experience is extraordinarily pleasurable.

Pursuit of mastery refers to all the qualities connoisseurs must have to become extremely knowledgeable and insightful in their fields of interest. Connoisseurs have high-level proficiencies on a number of levels:

• The ability to observe acutely.

• The capacity to rapidly and fluidly make fine distinctions and comparisons.

•  The ability to recognize patterns in collectables, including not only the elements that make up a collection but also the gaps.

Super-rich connoisseurs have learned their fields of interest by working hard and leveraging their talents and desires. Their money contributes tremendously by enabling them to work with professionals and other connoisseurs and giving them the means to actively invest in their field of interest.

Decision-Making Influences
When it comes to the super-rich, there are distinct differences between cubs, collectors and connoisseurs. A place where this is particularly apparent is how they often make acquisition decisions (see chart).

Media consists of the messages centered on their field of interest, such as advertising and public relations. With respect to acquiring luxury products and services, media plays an important and sometimes determining role. Media influences cubs, and when a publication is perceived as authoritative it can influence collectors as well.  

Referential group refers to peers or other people the super-rich look to as role models. An undisputed leading authority in a field of interest would be somewhat impactful on all three segments, but less so with connoisseurs who have developed their own strong, well-reasoned opinions.

Intermediaries are professionals directly involved in helping the super-rich acquire and manage substantial collections. Their knowledge, experience and skills are often of extreme importance to cubs and collectors.

Connoisseurs, on the other hand, work with intermediaries very differently than cubs or collectors. Because of their extensive knowledge, connoisseurs tend to deal with intermediaries as colleagues.

Personal research refers to the actions taken by the super-rich to become experts in their fields. This occurs through dedication, education and experience.
Cubs, because they’re new to serious collecting, generally lack the competencies to rely on themselves without professional assistance. The importance of personal research among collectors varies, ranging from those who will not feel expert enough to make unaided decisions to those who readily do. Connoisseurs, in contrast, rely heavily on their own opinions while often incorporating the perspectives of others.

Super-rich connoisseurs are an elite segment that not only strongly impact various categories of collectibles, but also, through the actions of its various members, have a ripple effect on the broader collector culture and high-end luxury products and services.

Super-rich connoisseurs are amazingly erudite and remarkable students when it comes to their collections. While they employ intermediaries to assist them in addressing their collections, these relationships with these authorities are usually very cooperative.

Douglas D. Gollan is a recognized authority on the ultra-high-net-worth lifestyle. He is co-founder of Elite Traveler Media Group, publisher of the award-winning Elite Traveler magazine (