An Hermes Birkin Bag with 18-karat white gold and diamond hardware broke the record for the most expensive bag ever sold at auction when it went to a bidder for $380,000 (HKD2,940,000) at Christie’s Hong Kong on May 31. The total for the Handbags & Accessories sale, including the buyer’s premium, was US$4,812,070 (HKD 37,493,800).
The bag, made in 2014 of Niloticus crocodile-skin that is dyed to have a delicate gradation in color from white to tan ombre, is said to resemble the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas and is considered the Holy Grail of handbags. Monika Arora, founder of PurseBop defines a “Holy Grail Bag” as the “most desired” bag on your wish list at any moment, and one that is “often difficult to acquire due to cost or scarcity.”
In recent years, handbags have become a new collecting category at auction, with the coveted Birkin bag making up a noteworthy 90 percent of the secondary market for collectible handbags. Made exclusively for the actress Jane Birkin in 1984, the bag has become the ultimate status symbol. Birkin, herself made headlines in 2015 when she asked the company to take her name off the bag after she was alerted to the cruelty of the process of slaughtering crocodiles in the making of the bag. Her actions haven’t deterred buyers.
Because the process of dyeing crocodile hide is time-consuming, only one or two diamond Himalayas bags are made each year globally, according to the Christie’s website. It’s their scarcity, owing to the limited production runs (there are waiting lists of several years for the exceptional bags), that make the bags so sought-after.
The tony handbags are believed to be a good investment because their value is almost certain to increase.
A Hermes Birkin Bag values study published on Baghunter in January 2016 compared the investment opportunities of the Birkin Bag to that of the S&P 500 and gold.
“However, unlike the S&P 500 and gold markets,” the report stated, “the value of Hermes Birkin handbags has never fluctuat[ed] downwards and has steadily and consistently increased. The bags experienced a peak surge in value in 2001, increasing in value by 25%, and with the lowest increase in 1986 when the value went up by 2.1%.” According to the report, the bag sees an increase in value year on year of 14.2 percent.
Adding to their cache as a smart investment is their status as ultra-luxury. “There is a difference between luxury and ultra-luxury,” Evelyn Fox, founder of Baghunter has said. “While the luxury market suffers during worse economic times the ultra-luxury market is impervious to economic factors that can affect other industries such as high-street retail and stock markets.”
The most-recent record-breaking bag sold to an unidentified bidder, but there has been speculation in Chinese media, including Sohu Fashion, that the buyer is Chan Hoi Wan, wife of Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau, who, with a $9 billion fortune, was recently named the richest woman in Hong Kong. Previously, both Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian have been spotted carrying Himalaya Birkin bags.
The bag carried a pre-sale estimate of $193,500 to $258,000. The previous record for a Himalaya Birkin bag, which also had white gold and diamond hardware, was $300,168 set in 2016. That’s a 25 percent increase this time around.
Other highlights of the sale included a shiny rose Scheherazade Porosus crocodile diamond Birkin with 18-karat white gold and diamond hardware, which was the second-highest lot, having sold for USD $177,375 (HKD 1,375,000). A white Himalaya Niloticus crocodile Kelly bag came in third place at USD $153,188 (HDK 1,187,500).
The next high-priced Birkin bag coming up for auction that could possibly break a new record will be in June for a lizard bag with ruthenium hardware.