Iconic and collectible – Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags
Originally associated with royalty and celebrities, the legendary Birkin and Kelly bags by Hermes are now sought after by fashionistas and collectors alike. Whether it’s for their enduring elegance, for their value as an investment, or a canny combination of the two, these handbags are increasingly popular among the discerning.
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Hermes bags – a new collectible
Sophisticated, ultra-exclusive, and unsurpassed in quality, the Hermes Birkin bag has always had a unique aura as an elite fashion accessory and status symbol. The idea of a Hermes bag as a collectible, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
“People are becoming more aware of the Hermes bag as an investment piece,” says expert Antoinette Hunter of Lilac Blue, a London-based seller of luxury handbags. Having specialised in Hermes bags for a decade, Hunter has seen a growth in interest for the Birkin and Kelly as collectibles, and a solid annual rise in their value since 2008.
This comes down to a range of factors. Not only the exclusivity and desirability of the bags, but also the exceptional quality of craftsmanship and materials contribute to their longevity and value as a collectible. This is also sustained by the fact that the retail price of Hermes bags rises each year by around 10%, which ensures that demand for pre-owned bags remains strong.
What makes Hermes bags so sought after?
Along with its glamorous origins – it was originally designed especially to Jane Birkin’s specifications after her chance meeting with Hermes CEO Jean-Louis Dumas – the Birkin owes its appeal in part to its famous rarity. Only a few thousand are produced every year, and the opportunity to purchase a new one comes only by invitation from Hermes.
While the classic and recognisable design gives it an enduring elegance, the superlative Hermes quality also makes the Birkin distinctive. “People know it’s the best handbag in the world but they don’t necessarily know why,” says Hunter. Each bag is handmade in France, with expert craftsmen devoting up to two days to finish one handbag. This handmade process means that each one is an individual piece.
Hunter explains that the Birkin is two separate bags in one, which makes it extremely tough: “the longest serving accessory you’ll have will be a Birkin handbag.”
One classic design, a wealth of choice
While the design remains a constant, Hermes produce the Birkin and Kelly bags in a range of different leathers and exotic skins and in a dazzling variety of colours – from the traditional and stylish to the bold, gorgeous and exciting.
This gives the bags very different characters and appeal, and limited edition colours are released each season, which means that there’s a seemingly endless array of variations to explore.
Bags are typically made from leather, crocodile or ostrich, (or, very rarely, chèvre) – all reared with care to obtain the best quality. Pebbled leather, such as Togo, is more likely to be scratch-proof; Clemence leather is also pebbled, with slightly flatter and wider grains, and is a softer leather, which means the bag gradually acquires a more relaxed shape.
Epsom leather is stamped, similar to Prada leather, which makes it more rigid, but not as resilient to scratches. There are also smooth leathers such as Box and Tadelakt, an expensive leather which is also not scratch-proof but which acquires a sheen over time which gives it character.
Ostrich is a durable and less well-known option, and for that reason can be a good investment piece. “A 35 ostrich Birkin is an amazingly good investment,” Hunter says, while also noting the current rise in popularity of ostrich Kellys.
Prized for the fine gradient of its scales, Porosus crocodile from northern Australia is the most expensive Hermes crocodile skin and is identified by a ^ sign on the bag. Niloticus is an African crocodile with slightly less fine gradient of scale and is marked with a .. sign.
Alligator, from Florida, is frequently used for matt rather than shiny bags, and is marked with a sign. While Porosus may be the most expensive in terms of the price for a new bag – current prices are around £39000 – and alligator the least expensive, there’s little difference in investment terms.
Finally, there is the Himalayan crocodile bag, which is Niloticus crocodile skin coloured by artisans to achieve a beautiful grey-to-white shading effect. “This is usually hailed as the world’s most expensive bag,” says Hunter. It’s produced in extremely limited numbers, and is only offered to select Hermes customers. With such rarity, this is considered the best investment piece of all, not least because Hermes may stop producing them at any time.
Collecting – where to start
With this cascade of options, where should a new collector start? A good entry point is to opt for a classic colour, such as black, etoupe or the distinctive Hermes orange. A limited edition, or with special detailing such as ghillies, may also enhance long term value, while limited edition hardware, such as matt gold or rose gold, is also something to look out for. Hermes have also begun to explore collaborations with artists, such as Nigel Peake’s eye-catching design ‘On a Summer Day’ for the Constance bag – another limited edition.
A mini Kelly – 20 cm – currently sells for around £5000 – £5,500 and is currently highly sought after, while a classic 35 cm Birkin is priced at around £8000. Prices are considerably higher for exotic skins such as crocodile or ostrich.
An ideal entry level piece, Hunter suggests, would be a black Kelly in Box leather with gold hardware, currently a highly sought after investment piece. Vintage bags – over ten years old – are also currently gaining in cachet among American and European fashionistas and are gradually becoming more appreciated elsewhere, and collectors are beginning to take note.
Other essential tips for the collector
As with most collectibles, it’s wise to have it authenticated before you purchase. Hunter, who authenticates for the public and for auction houses, advises looking at the quality of leather and stitching, and the zips (these won’t hang down on an authentic Hermes bag), although these aspects can be difficult for an untrained eye to differentiate from fakes.
90% of bags are sold with the original sales receipts. For collectors intending on resale, the original packaging supplied with the bag is important – this includes the dustbags for the bag itself, as well as for the lock and key and the shoulder strap. Retain the orange box for visual appeal. Finally, as crocodiles are protected, the CITES certification papers for crocodile skin bags will need to be present and in order – this is vital if travelling with a bag to certain countries.
If you’re looking to buy or sell a Hermes bag or require an expert response to a question, simply get in touch with us at coin email@example.com download our app www.coi-n.com and get in contact directly with Antoinette of Lilac Blue.