Summer 2020

Tangible ownership and enduring value make the Hermès Birkin and Kelly a unique investment for luxury handbag enthusiasts and collectors.

Hermès Birkin 35 in Fauve Barenia Porosus Crocodile with Palladium Hardware. Courtesy JaneFinds.com and Fjolla Arifi

On a flight in 1984, actress Jane Birkin reached up to grab her travel bag in the overhead compartment. When she brought it down, everything in it fell onto the floor. Her serendipitous seatmate, Èmile-Maurice Hermès, founder of the eponymous luxury brand, looked around his feet at the contents, and back at her small leather handbag. There should be a better luxury travel tote, they thought, and together, on the back of an airplane cocktail napkin, the two sketched the first designs of what is today the world’s most expensive handbag: the Birkin.

Specifically, it is a Himalaya Niloticus Birkin, made of matte white crocodile leather, that holds the world record, set by its sale for HKD $3,000,000 (USD $388,937 including buyer’s premium) at Christie’s Hong Kong in November of 2020. Birkins of the same style hold second and third place, having realized auction prices of HKD $2,980,000 (USD $383,547) and HKD $2,940,000 (USD $379,260), both in 2017.

The resale value of a 2021 Birkin Niloticus Himalaya can be more than 200% of its retail price.

Matte White Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Diamond Birkin 30, One of the Most Expensive Handbags Ever Auctioned. 18-Karat White Gold and Diamond Hardware. Sold HKD $2,419,000 ≈ USD $310,128. Courtesy Poly Auction Hong Kong

The Birkin, as well as Hermès’ Kelly, an equally iconic bag with some structural and size differences, named after Grace Kelly, have both reached prices of such heights steadily over time. Hermès’ limited production, retail exclusivity, unmatched craftsmanship and strategic yearly price increases have contributed to this appreciation, making it an investable asset for many Hermès enthusiasts.

The value of larger Birkins at auction goes up 5 to 10% annually.

Hermès Birkin 35 in Craie with Rose Gold Hardware. Courtesy JaneFinds.com and Morgan Van Der Maas

Retail Prices of the Hermès Birkin and Kelly

The average price for Birkin and Kelly bags have grown steadily since their releases in the mid to late 20th century.

Data from Baghunter and PurseForum.

Since 2019 alone, auction prices for the Birkin grew by 42 percent, almost double that of a Banksy’s appreciation. According to the AMR Art & Collectibles Auction Market 2021 Q1-Q2 report, the price index for luxury handbags has risen 2.8 percent over a 12-month period, while wrist watches increased 5.1 percent and books 3.2 percent. At consignment, JaneFinds, a leading specialist in Hermès bags, estimates the Kelly’s value has risen 30 percent since 2020, 10 percent more between the previous year-over-year period.

The Kelly Mini in Sterling Silver fetched a record $63,750 at a 2018 auction. Today, collectors are willing to pay over $250,000—nearly 300% more.

Hermès Kelly Mini Sterling Silver with Chain d’Ancre Chain Strap. Courtesy JaneFinds.com

On the secondary market in Europe, a Birkin or Kelly can trade at around 62 percent more on average than if purchased at the Hermès store.

For example, a Birkin 30 in a classic black or gold color, crafted from “regular” leather, might be priced at around EUR €8,000 at initial retail, but trade upwards of EUR €13,000. More exotic colors command higher prices; Saclab Co-Founder and Managing Director Jan-Oliver Stück attests that the yellow Mimosa shade Birkin 30 “can easily be sold for EUR €65,000,” despite its EUR €35,000 sticker price.

Hermès Semi Matte Birkin 35 in Vert Olive Porosus with Gold Hardware. Courtesy JaneFinds.com and Alessiya Merzlova

High auction prices, in turn, can inflate resale values as well. With the Niloticus Himalaya Birkin holding the world record, it is often resold for over 200 percent its initial retail value of about EUR €46,000.

Hermès Birkin 30 in Black Niloticus Crocodile with Gold Hardware. Courtesy JaneFinds.com and Saina Khvan

“Prices for 2021 models in box-fresh, like-new condition start at EUR €140,000,” says Stück. Jane Angert, President of JaneFinds, says that Birkin and Kelly owners can sell at auction if they have a higher risk tolerance, and through consignment if not. For example, a bag retailing at the Hermès store for USD $11,000 might sell through an auction for up to USD $40,000, as did the Birkin 25 in Rose Sakura at the Poly auction in Hong Kong. However, the original owner would normally keep only around 64 percent of the realized auction result, and realizing such a high price is rare. Through consignment, bags will “rarely match the price of those high outliers like the Rose Sakura,” says Angert, but the original owner has security knowing how much profit they will make once the bag sells.

That said, for Kelly or Birkin enthusiasts, the luxury handbag market is not just about numbers. “There are more possible options out there with higher investment return, but the spirit for luxury item collection and art is driven by passion and a sense of ownership,” says Winsy Tsang, the Head of Department of Handbags and Accessories at Christie’s Asia Pacific. Buyers can become sellers and vice versa as their taste evolves. Rachel Koffsky, VP, International Senior Specialist of Christie’s Handbags, remembers, “One of my clients wanted to acquire a handbag from each year that her children were born, and another one wanted to acquire a special Birkin as its contrasting shades matched the colors of her favorite sports team.” Demonstrating that, like Grace Kelly or Jane Birkin did, Hermès owners love their bag with a fierce adoration, the greatest aspiration for a brand of all.

A Birkin 30 in classic color and leather can sell for 62.5% over its retail price.

Hermès Birkin 30 HSS Togo Blue Encre Gris Mouette. Courtesy ©SACLÀB/Barbara Medo




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