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Everything You Need To Know About Handbag Auctions

The right handbag can be seen as a great investment, and let’s be honest, most women today would rather invest their money in a handbag than in gold. They are looking past the glossy windows of luxury stores and the current season offerings to get their hands on those elusive, rare, and one-of-a-kind collectible pieces. These pieces, fresh off the store, have an endless waiting list. Remember when Samantha in Sex and the City wanted the Hermès Birkin? She was on a two-year wait list that wasn’t applicable to Lucy Liu.

It’s this need for investment pieces has been tapped into by auction houses who secure unique pieces from luxury brands such as Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Hermès and sell them to the highest bidder.

While auctions do take place live at galleries across the globe from London and New York to Hong Kong, there are also online auctions where one can place their bid on that coveted piece they are eyeing.

The Auctions Houses To Stay Tuned To

Back when the second-hand luxury market was emerging, its rise led to several digital upstarts such as The Real Real and Vestiaire Collective. Some of the world’s biggest auction houses took note of this and began to target the opportunity, including Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Chiswick, and Heritage Auctions. Christie's, for example, has a live auction calendar that is specifically dedicated to Handbags and Accessories. They have experts that appraise the products and mark their prices before the product is up for a bidding war. Bidding can take place online or live, or via private sales. Christie’s is attributed to having sold some of the most expensive Hermès Birkins of all time.

Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram
Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram

Why It Costs What It Does

There are several factors that determine a bag’s potential worth, the most important one being the rarity of the handbag. The condition of the bag is of equal importance, with the appraisers grading them from one to six, with one being new and six being damaged. Then there are factors such as the model, age, materials, label, and size. Details such as the previous owner of the bag also plays an important part in determining the value of a bag. As of 2015, six of the seven most expensive handbags ever sold at an auction were Hermès Birkins, and the only non-Birkin was a diamond and gold handbag that was previously owned by Elizabeth Taylor and was sold at $218,500 in 2011.

Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram
Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram

Hermès Birkin Tops The List Of Most Exclusive Handbags

At auctions, handbags dominate the luxury accessories category. And the handbag category is dominated, overwhelmingly so, by Hermès. It is all about the craftsmanship, desirability, and the scarcity of the product. Hermès is a success on the resale market because there is a greater demand for Hermès purses than there is supply. The bags are hard to get your hands on, given the waiting list that is years-long, and that exclusive styles are only offered to the VIP clients, which only further hikes the resale value of the handbags. Another aspect key to Hermès handbags is the horseshoe stamp. The bags emblazoned with this stamp denote that the bag was a special order, making it an extremely rare piece.
Purchased by traditional buyers and art collectors alike, the demand for the Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags account for about 90 percent of global auction sales.

Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram
Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram

A Peek Into The Costliest Handbags Sold At Auctions

In 2018, a second-hand diamond encrusted Hermès bag sold for $217,144 (£162,500) in London, becoming the most expensive handbag ever sold at an auction in Europe. The 10-year-old bag, made of Nile crocodile skin was the ‘Himalaya Birkin’ bag, which features an 18-carat, white gold, diamond-encrusted lock. It exceeded its list price of $129,600-$194,400 (£100,000-£150,000). A 2006 version of the same handbag in blue sold for $1,29,600 (£100,000) at the same auction. The bag is 30cm wide, smaller than the original designed by the French fashion house in 1981.

The ‘Himalaya Birkins’ get their name from the colour of the bag, which fades from a smokey grey to white resembling the Himalayan mountain range. These bags are extremely rare with just one or two such bags being crafted each year owing to the time-consuming process used to dye the crocodile skin.

In 2017, another ‘Himalaya Birkin’ shattered the world auction record, fetching $3,80,000 from a Christie’s auction. It was a Hermès ‘Matte White Niloticus Crocodile Himalaya Birkin 30’ produced in 2014 with 18 karat gold buckles and strap loops encrusted with 205 diamonds.

The ‘Himalaya Birkin’ bag has been seen on the arm of several A-listers such as Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham among others.

Other than the Hermès ‘White Himalaya Diamond Birkin,’ the list of the most expensive Hermès Birkin handbags ever that have been auctioned are:

  • The ‘Fuchsia Crocodile Skin Hermès Birkin’ with gold and diamond hardware was sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong in the year 2015 for HK$1.72 million (approx $2,19,140).
  • The Hermès ‘Birkin’ in dark blue crocodile skin with gold fittings and 18-karat diamonds was sold for $2,00,862 (£1,55,000) at a Christie’s Mayfair auction house.
  • The Hermès ‘Exceptional Collection Shiny Rouge H Porosus Crocodile 30 Birkin’ was auctioned off for $2,03,150 in Texas back in 2011.
  • The Hermès ‘Metallic Bronze Chèvre Leather Birkin’ was sold at a Christie's handbag sale in Paris in December 2017 and set the record for the most expensive leather ‘Birkin’ sold at auction.
  • The Hermès ‘Blue Crocodile Birkin’ bag with Palladium Hardware was sold to a bidder for $1,13,525 during a sale hosted by Heritage Auctions in Texas, in 2011.
Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram
Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram

Noteworthy Louis Vuitton and Chanel Bags Sold At Auctions

While most of the bags available at auctions are classic and vintage pieces, a lot of designers at the helm of luxury fashion houses are creating limited edition handbags that are more sought after. Louis Vuitton bags became more coveted when Marc Jacobs took over the house and collaborated with several artists such as Stephen Sprouse and Yayoi Kusama to breathe new life into the heritage brand. Recently, the brand collaborated with artist Jeff Koons to create the 'Masters' collection to recreate paintings such as the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, making these a collector’s item. The brand, in an attempt to recapture their exclusivity, also released their ‘City Steamer’ bag, which is the most expensive Louis Vuitton handbag ever and sells for $55,500. In fact, twice a year, Louis Vuitton releases its runway collection handbags that are rare and produced in limited quantities for special and VIP clients, making them a collector’s item.

But, the most exclusive still continue to be the Louis Vuitton trunks. Louis Vuitton produced just a handful of aluminium trunks in 1892. Today, only two examples of these are known to exist. One is in the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. The other is a piece that sold for $2,10,2221 (£162,500) on 12 December 2018 at Christie’s in London. Another set of trunks that caught the eye of many were the ones that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. Auctioned in December 2011 in New York by Christie’s, the set comprised of four Alzer cases and Botie Pharmacie, and fetched a whopping $1,10,500.

The reality is that the designers at the helm determine how covetable the handbags are. The worth of Chanel handbags went up when the brand banned the use exotic skins and fur to craft their handbags, hiking the demand for these pieces—that rose even further after the death of Karl Lagerfeld. While Chanel is known for its quilted bags in lambskin or caviar leather, their classic ‘Double Flap’ bag is a must-have for every Chanel collector. The ‘Classic Flap’ is crafted using lambskin and caviar leather, but has also been issued in exclusive materials such as ostrich and alligator. Chanel’s rare shiny black alligator ‘Diamond Forever’ medium classic double flap bag with 18-carat white gold and diamond hardware is the most expensive Chanel bag ever made. The bag incorporates more than 500 grams of 18 carats white gold and 348 brilliant and colourless diamonds with a total weight of 3.14 carats. One of a limited edition of 16 pieces crafted in 2011, the bag will be offered in a Christie’s Handbags and Accessories auction on June 11 in London. You can place a bid online here.

The top five most expensive Chanel handbags sold by Christie’s include:

  • The ‘Enamel Jeweled Medium Classic Double Flap Bag’ with enamel and gold Hardware was sold at an auction by Christie’s in Hong Kong in 2015 for $29,500 (£22,300).
  • The blue alligator handbag was sold at an auction by Christie’s in Paris in 2016 for $21,800 (£16,500).
  • The ‘Lime Crocodile Green Classic Double Flap’ handbag made from crocodylus porosus, which comes with gold metal hardware, was sold in an online auction for $20,900 (£15,805).
  • The turquoise alligator handbag was sold at an auction in 2016 by Christie’s in Paris for $20,650 (£15,600).

Designers such as Alessandro Michele of Gucci and Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior are reissuing archival pieces such as the revival of the ‘Saddle’ bag to create collecting frenzy via channels such as Instagram and influencer-marketing.

Image Courtesy: Christie's
Image Courtesy: Christie's

As of 2019, the Mouawad 1001 Nights Diamond Purse is the most expensive handbag and is priced at a whopping $3.8 million. If you are a collector, keep an eye out on this beauty to hit the auction lots.

Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram
Image Courtesy: Christie's Handbags' Instagram

Featured Image: Hermès, Chanel, and Fendi

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