The Robb 50 Connoisseurs

On November 11, 2014, when an anonymous individual bid around $24 million for a pocket watch at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva, some observers perhaps imagined the buyer to be a pampered potentate determined to prevail at any cost. Others, however, surely recognized that this price—the highest yet paid for a timepiece at auction—was insignificant compared to the rarity of the piece in question, which remains the most advanced watch made before the era of computer-assisted design. Completed in 1932, this intricate 18-karat-gold specimen by Patek Philippe features more than 900 parts and 24 functions, including chimes, a perpetual calendar, and a celestial map of the sky above the original owner’s Fifth Avenue residence in New York. The banker Henry Graves Jr. did not commission the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication as an emblem of his own prestige; rather, he sought to meaningfully surpass the technical complexity of a Patek produced for a fellow enthusiast of horology. He was, in other words, a true connoisseur.

Connoisseurship—like Plato’s formulation of all human behavior—has three components: desire, emotion, and knowledge. Sales such as that of the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication generate the kind of excitement that leads to desire, drawing new adherents into a category, notes Lynn Raynault, who is the vice president of global marketing for Wealth-X, an international research firm specializing in intelligence on the ultrahigh-net-worth demographic. “These record-breaking numbers at the very top of the market create a halo effect across the entire industry,” she says. “More and more people want either to grow their collections or start one.”

Emotion, of course, fuels this process: Collectors seldom enter a category purely as an investment. “Passion nearly always takes over before long,” says John Rear­don, international head of watches for Christie’s. Yet if a passion for both the object and the quest drives most collectors, a handful of these ardent acquirers set the pace, even for their competitors on the auction floor. Knowledge is the alchemical element that transforms these individuals from mere hunters and gatherers into true authorities.

In collaboration with Wealth-X, Robb Report has assem­­bled a list of the world’s 50 most influential connoisseurs of art, automobiles, jewelry, watches, wine, spirits, sports memorabilia, and Thoroughbreds. These aficionados are recognized not because they own the largest or most valuable collections (though many do), but because their appreciation and detailed understanding of their chosen subjects have earned them the deep respect of their peers and industry experts.

Learn more about wealth intelligence at Wealth-X.