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The C&TH Guide to Collecting Hermès Handbags

The experts at Christie’s give us a run-down of the hows and whys

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According to a recent study, a Hermès handbag is a better investment than gold. Inspired to buy? Christie’s Handbag Specialist Rachel Koffsky breaks down why the Hermès Birkin and the Hermès  Kelly are investment quality, wearable works of art, and explains the importance of treating your collections as such.

The C&TH Guide to Collecting Hermès Handbags

Hermes Bag - Christie's Handbag Auction

© Christie’s Images Limited 2017 A limited edition black niloticus crocodile so black Birkin 35 with black hardware HERMÈS, 2010 Estimate: £30,000-40,000


Hermès was founded in 1837 when Thierry Hermès set-up his harness-making shop in Paris.  In 1880, his son moved the family business to the now iconic address of 24, faubourg Saint-Honoré, where Hermès soon began crafting saddles for the upper echelons of society around the world.  The advent of the automobile created a unique opportunity to diversify, and in the 1920s, fine leather goods were launched, utilising the same durable double-needle saddle-stitch employed in the creation of saddles. It takes between 30-40 hours to produce one of the most cherished Hermès models, the Birkin. The commitment to craftsmanship is evident in every object the house produces and drives the ever-increasing values of the rarest examples.

Hermes Bag - Christie's Handbag Auction

© Christie’s Images Limited 2017 A shiny rouge H Porosus Crocodile Sellier Kelly 35 with gold hardware Hermès, 1996 Estimate: £10,000-15,000

Investing in a legend

“The Kelly bag” was first designed in 1930, but shot to fame when it was carried by Grace Kelly, newly Princess of Monaco, in 1956 to hide her visible pregnancy from paparazzi. One of the first instances of viral advertising, Hermès was inundated with requests for “The Kelly bag,” and thus, the “Sac à dépeches” was renamed in honour of the princess.

Created in 1984, the iconic bag boasts as its namesake muse Paris-based British actress Jane Birkin. Its existence was a happy accident, borne out of an exchange between Birkin and Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas on an Air France flight from Paris to London in the early ’80s.

Birkin was taking her seat next to the executive when the contents of her straw tote spilled to the floor and Dumas suggested she needed one with pockets. This encounter sparked a conversation about her ideal accessory – the actress sketched her specifications for “a handbag that is bigger than the Kelly but smaller than Serge Gainsbourg’s suitcase”. The rest is handbag history.

Hermes Bag - Christie's Handbag Auction

© Christie’s Images Limited 2017 A limited edition shearling & ébène barénia retourné Kelly 35 with palladium hardware HERMÈS, 2005 Estimate: £10,000-15,000

Runway reinterpretations

While Hermès remains faithful to tradition, it is also a brand that innovates constantly and is celebrated for its sense of humour.  Jean Paul Gautier was creative director of Hermès from 2003 to 2010, and left his mark on the house by reinterpretating the classics. From the 2005 Fall Ready-to-Wear Runway, the Shearling Kelly is a whimsical reinterpreation of a classic design using unconventional materials.

One of the most collectible bags of all time is the So Black. In 2010, Hermès reimagined the classics in magnetic, moody Black tones with deep black hardware. Only available in Calf Box Leather and Matte Crocodile, the So Black Birkin and Kelly practiced black magic, bewitching collectors all around the world.

Hermes Bag - Christie's Handbag Auction

© Christie’s Images Limited 2017 A shiny vert émeraude niloticus crocodile sellier Kelly 28 with palladium hardware HERMÈS, 2015 Estimate: £20,000-30,000

Colour and leather

Hermès is known for its mastery of shades, with more than 100 to choose from. The colours are deep and rich, often presenting slightly differently on different materials. Reds – from fiery to deep blood tones have become legendary. Blues are available as rich turquoise, deep-blue marines or soft sky. Pinks range from shocking to the shade of light rosé, and greens come in tones of olive or rich chlorophyll.

From year to year different colours top the collectors list but some shades, such as vert emeraude are always highly sought after.

Hermes Bag - Christie's Handbag Auction

© Christie’s Images Limited 2017 A bleu agate swift leather Birkin 25 with palladium hardware Hermès, 201 Estimate: £6,000-8,000


The condition of a bag is one of the most important factors in the desirability, and ultimately in the price the piece could fetch at auction.

Here are three simple steps to ensure your bag will looks its best:

  1. After enjoying your bag, empty it fully and dust using a damp colourless tissue or alcohol-free baby-wipe.
  2. The second step is to stuff the bag with acid-free paper, a small pillow or bubble wrap to maintain its shape.
  3. The last step is to place the bag in a dust bag and the original box. Most importantly – handle with care and never hang your bag – it will distort the shape of the handles.

Want to own your own? Christie’s inaugural sale of Handbags & Accessories at Christie’s London will be held at the King Street saleroom on 12th June. The viewing opens on 8th June and is free and open to all.

READ MORE: How to Buy at Auction / The Most Collectible Handbags in the World / How to Collect Photographs / The Luxury List 

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