The auction world’s expanding digital presence, where private sale items are now surfacing online due to the limitations on interaction in person, has brought a new opportunity to see high value items that historically have only been offered behind closed doors. In the luxury division, a 2016 Himalaya niloticus crocodile Birkin is available from Christie’s private sales division. Named after British actress and musician Jane Birkin, the Birkin bag of French label Hermès is among the most highly coveted and expensive luxury items on the secondary market.
Hermès Birkins have seen high results in recent seasons which has led many to view them as an investment category. In 2018, a Crocodile Birkin 35 with 18k White Gold and Diamond Hardware was sold for $300,322 and in May 2017, Christie’s Hong Kong established a record for the for a luxury handbag sold at auction with a white crocodile Hermès Himalaya encrusted with 10.23 carats of diamonds realizing a total selling price of £293,000. “The Himalaya Birkin is like a rare jewel or work of art” said Head of Christie’s Handbags in New York, Caitlin Donovan. “Understanding what makes a Hermes Himalaya Birkin Bag valuable is to understand the dedication and detail to craft that goes into making each individual part of the bag” noted Donovan.
The bag was introduced to the luxury market in the 1980s. It became a globally recognized status symbol in years to follow. “The introduction of the original series of Himalaya Birkins spawned a collecting phenomenon,” says Christie’s Donovan. “The designation ‘Himalaya’ does not apply to the origin of the bag, but rather to the delicate gradation of the color. The smoky grey fades into a true white, resembling the majestic, snow-capped Himalayas.”
Emphasizing the rarity of the piece, Donovan noted the limited editions made available in the primary market have lead to a growing secondary market, noting “in order to procure one of these bags you must be well versed and valued as an Hermes client, as every major Hermes collector desires to have a Himalaya Birkin amidst their collection.”
Although vintage Louis Vuitton and Chanel items at auction have strong market values as well, the Hermès brand is the most iconic of the leading labels which drives its increasing return rate. According to the 2020 Knight Frank wealth report released in March 2020, luxury handbags are the new most profitable luxury investment having seen a 13% rise since last year. And as the luxury retail sector takes a hit amid the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the historic brand’s market resilience will be tested.
“While luxury consumption as a result of a weaker economy may slow at large, Hermès as a brand has proven to withstand past economic downturns, as evident in 2008 when we saw a rise in the Hermès market” said Donovan. “During times of economic uncertainty, collectors want to invest in luxury items that hold or appreciate in value.”