Complete Guide to Buying a Kelly Bag

Complete Guide to Buying a Kelly Bag

What to consider before you buy an Hermès Kelly bag
What to consider before you buy an Hermès Kelly bag

History of the Kelly Bag

The history of the Hermès Kelly bag dates back to the 1852 but didn't gain in popularity until Grace Kelly used it to hide her pregnancy from paparazzi. The Princess of Monaco was introduced to the Kelly bag while filming To Catch A Thief in 1955 and refused to part with it. Hermès renamed the bag the “Kelly” in 1977 as a nod to the actress-turned-princess. The Kelly bag’s original trapezoidal design included two triangular gussets, a cutout flap, a handle, and two side straps. The Hermès bag now features an optional shoulder strap, increasing its functionality. It is constructed out of thirty-six pieces of leather and six hundred and eighty stitches by a single artisan over the course of 18 to 24 hours. The Kelly has taken on many new forms since its original release. The Kelly bag has also inspired a range of Hermès accessories including the Kelly wallet, the Kelly belt, the Kelly watch, and an array of clutches, smaller leather goods and jewelry. The Kelly bag is one of the most popular and iconic bags from Hermès.

Hermès Mini Kelly 20

Kelly Bag Price

Since there are so many variations of the Hermès Kelly bag, this guide is focused on the classic Kelly bag and excludes the limited edition variations and clutches. We are defining classic Kelly bags as having a top handle, front flap and removable strap in leather or exotic skin. The classic Kelly bag price ranges widely from $8,000 to over $100,000 for a Himalaya Kelly or Diamond Kelly bag. Excluding the Kelly Himalaya or a Kelly bag with diamonds, condition is always the most important factor followed by size and material. The most expensive Kelly bags are the Mini Kelly 20 bags in pristine condition. You can expect to pay $25,000-$40,000 for a pristine leather Mini Kelly bag and $55,000-$80,000 for a crocodile or alligator Mini Kelly. The Kelly 25 and the Kelly 28 are the next most popular size and prices range from $15,000-$30,000 for a leather Kelly bag and $40,000 - $70,000 for an alligator or crocodile Kelly bag. The least expensive Hermès Kelly bags are generally older leather bags in size 32 and size 35 that have some marks or scratches on hardware. Prices range from $8,000-$12,000 for the Kelly 32 or Kelly 25 in leather. While the the secondary market price for a pristine Kelly bags is correlated the equivalent Hermès retail price, the premium to retail is much higher for leather bags versus the equivalent exotic skin bag. The leather premium is driven by the much larger demand for leather Kelly bags versus exotic skin bags.

Vintage Hermès Mini Kelly 20 I Black Shiny Porosus Crocodile 18K Yellow Gold and Diamond Hardware, 1990s

Kelly Bag Sizes

Size is almost always the first consideration for buyers of Hermès Kelly bags. The smallest classic Kelly bag is the Mini Kelly 20, followed by the Kelly 25, Kelly 28, Kelly 32 and Kelly 35. While the Mini Kelly 20 is the newest and most popular size, the Kelly 25 and Kelly 28 are the most practical for every day use. If you need to carry more than a credit card and a lipstick in your bag, the Mini Kelly is likely too small. It is often a bag carried with another bag. In Asia, must users carry their phone attached to a strap and wear the Mini Kelly as a separate cross body bag. Since most phones with a protective case won't fit inside the Mini Kelly, this is the least practical size. The Kelly 25 and Kelly 28 are the most popular with the largest group of buyers. The Kelly 25 or Kelly 28 is also the preferred size for first time Kelly bag buyers. The Kelly 32 and Kelly 35 are generally too large for most buyers as an every day bag unless you want to use it as a lap top bag. Interestingly, the Kelly 32 and 35 were the standard sizes when the bag was first popularized by Grace Kelly. Despite the fashion press insisting large bags are back and increasing in popularity, in the world of Hermès bags, buyers are decidedly more interested in the smallest bags.

Hermès Kelly 28 Bleu Brume Epsom Sellier Palladium Hardware

Popular Kelly Bag Materials

The most popular leather for a Kelly bag is Epsom followed by Togo, Swift, Box and Clemence. Togo, Clemence and Swift are used for retourne Kelly bags. Sellier Kelly bags are most often Epsom and Box leather. Ostrich is the least popular exotic material followed by lizard. Alligator and crocodile are the most popular exotic materials for Kelly bags. Deciding between leather or exotic is both driven by personal preference but also price since exotic material bags are in many cases twice as expensive as the comparable bag in leather.

Hermès Kelly 32 Black Shiny Niloticus Crocodile

Kelly Bag Sellier or Retourne

The Mini Kelly 20 only comes in the more structure Sellier shape but the other classic Kelly bags come in the more relaxed Retourne shape or structured Sellier shape. A Sellier Kelly bag has the seams on the outside of the bag and has very distinct corners making the bag more trapezoid shaped. The advantages of the sellier is it's more structured shape means less wrinkling as the bag ages. The disadvantage is the structured corners can also show more wear with usage. A Retourne Kelly bag has the seams on the inside and is less defined in its overall shape. The corners are also less likely to scratch on a retourne bag but the overall bag can lose its shape with usage, especially for the larger Kelly 32 and Kelly 35 sizes. For many buyers that like both Hermès Kelly bag shapes, the sellier Kelly bag is viewed as more formal and appropriate for evening, while the retourne Kelly bag is the more casual bag for day.

Hermès Kelly 25 Black Box Sellier Gold Hardware

Kelly Bags for Sale

Sotheby's has a selection of Hermès Kelly bags available on our Buy Now Marketplace for immediate shipping. New Kelly bags are listed weekly but the most popular leather Mini Kelly 20 or Kelly 25 bags often sell quickly. Demand is also highest for pristine "store fresh" bags with date codes from the past two years. Kelly bags that have some signs of wear or are larger in size generally take longer to sell. Bags in new Hermès neutral and pale colors are also more sought after since they are often in limited supply on the secondary market. A classic black Hermès Kelly bag in leather or exotic with gold hardware is also a sought after bag. Sotheby's also sells Kelly bags at auction in New York, Hong Kong, Geneva and Paris through out the year. A small selection of Kelly bags are also available for private sale. Finally a Sotheby's handbag specialist can also source a special Hermès Kelly bag but it may take some time depending on the bag. You can email HandbagSpecialists@sothebys.com if you have questions or would like us to source a special Limited Edition Hermès Kelly bag.

Hermès Kelly Bags Available to Buy Now

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