The elusive Hermès Himalaya Birkin - ever present on the arms of celebrities and socialites and atop the wishlists of Hermès collectors worldwide. They may seem ubiquitous to those of us who live and breathe Hermès bags, but mystery is what gives the himalaya bag its power. According to some it's made from rare Himalayan crocodiles (what a whimsical idea). Its true namesake oxymoron is just the tip of the iceberg for this bag's many mysteries. How is this delicate Ombré effect achieved? Part has to do with the skin’s natural color qualities, but the rest is a result of meticulous finishing techniques. The end result is a perfect evocation of the world's highest mountain range. Contrary to their chart-topping value, a himalaya bag can be used without much risk of lasting noticeable wear. The matte finish and stippled gray degradé mask most common signs of use, making himalaya bags a pretty safe investment (with both pretty and safe having multiple meanings!).
The Origin of the Hermès Himalaya Bag
The Hermès Himalayan takes its true inspiration from early crocodile handbags that, if not dyed black or brown, would be lightened to highlight the skin's natural coloring. This natural ombré went out of style as dyeing techniques improved and color created more and more possibilities for exotics. In the early 1990’s, Hermès began development on a new glossy ombré crocodile that would become known as Natura Vert Celadon. This bag is the first link in the himalaya chain that continues to grow to this day.
The earliest known Hermès Celadon Himalayas were produced in 1994, with the final examples leaving Hermès’ ateliers in 2008. That same year a new himalayan bag would emerge. The new handbag would define collecting for at least the next 15 years. Initially the 30cm matte Himalayan Birkins were kept secret and only sold to top collectors. This new, unique style was only known to the most dedicated Hermes fans. That is, until 2010 when Jean-Paul Gaultier sent a Himalaya Birkin down the Hermès’ spring runway. From that moment on the Himalayan Birkin was the bag to have. The 30cm and 35cm Himalayan Birkins have been spotted dating back to 2008 and 2009 respectively. The first Himalaya Bikin 25cm wasn't released until 2012. The Himalaya Kelly was released a year later in 25cm, 28cm and 32cm. The 35cm Himalaya Kelly has only been seen since 2020.. In 2016 Hermes began experimenting with non-Birkin/Kelly Himalayan styles. Plumes were the first to be transformed and in recent years special-order Himalayan bags like Lindys, Constances and Kellys Pochette, Danse and Ado have been spotted in top-level Hermès collections, but have yet to come to auction.
How Much is the Hermès Himalaya Bag
Currently a 25cm Himalayan Birkin retails between $45,000 and $65,000 at Hermès (prices can vary by country and with local taxes). In the US the retail price is currently around $61,700. Larger styles retail for more. This trend, though, is reversed on the secondary market where smaller bags bring higher prices. In 2017 the average price for Himalayan Bags at auction was just over $106,000 with the record held by a 25cm Kelly that achieved just over $150,000. Fast forward to 2022 and the record is still held by a 25cm Kelly, but the top number has ballooned to over $435,000. Diamond Himalaya Bags selling for even higher. Over the last five years, Himalaya bags have increased in value at auction by an average of 21% annually, though the rates of increase for smaller bags are even more impressive, with 25cm Kellys climbing at 24%, 25cm Birkins at 37% and 28cm Kellys at 43%. Today, the average for any of these three sizes at auction is over $200,000, with 28cm Kellys leading the pack at just over $300,000. The Himalayan Birkin 30 is by far the most common Himalaya bag, but it is also one of the most popular. Simultaneously big enough for regular use, yet petite enough for evening. It is the perfect fit for many collectors, and the perfect start to a Himalayan collection. Nearly 40% of all Hermès Himalayans bags at auction are Birkin 30s. The average value of the Himalaya Birkin 30 tops those of the more elusive 32cm Kelly and 35cm Birkin, clocking in at nearly $155,000 in 2021. A record $226,180 was achieved by Sotheby’s on July 9th of 2021 for the Himalaya Birkin 30.
While Diamond Birkins have long been the exception to the rule that all Birkins increase in value on the secondary market, Diamond Himalaya Birkins are selling above retail. The Diamond Himalaya Birkin was been averaging around $315,000 at auction, but retail in the range of $250,000 at Hermes today. In 2022, a 28cm Diamond Himalaya Kelly sold for just over $500,000.
What to Look for When Buying the Hermès Himalaya Handbag
While the overall ombré of a Himalayan bag goes from light down the center to dark along the sides, each bag sports a unique pattern that can be compared against other Himalayas. The first aspect to consider is the contrast from center to edge. Some Himalaya bags have incredibly white centers and stark, almost black sides, creating a more dramatic two-tone effect to the ombre, while others have a more even, often lighter tone across the whole bag. Some examples will have lines of gray creeping into the center, while others will have more prominent frisson ‘rings’ in the dark areas. All of these aspects are personally subjective to taste and preference.
Another aspect of coloration to consider is the symmetry of Ombré on the sangles and handles. Himalya handbag handles are rarely symmetrical in their coloration, but some have more even tone than others. Sangles, on the other hand, can vary dramatically, with some having noticeable ombré on one and pure white on the other, some having symmetrical coloring on both sangles, and some with no color at all. There is some debate as to the differences between ‘white’ and ‘brown’ himalayas. Both, to be clear, are considered the same by Hermes, but collectors like to differentiate between Himalayas with a truly white center, and those with an off-white center. The true ‘brown’ himalayas are the ultra-rare Gris Cendre Himalayans, which ombre from gray in the center to brown on the sides. The Gris Cendre is about 20 times more rare than a classic Himalaya, with only five examples selling at auction in the last seven years. Gris Cendre Himalaya Kellys are even more rare and none have ever sold at auction. These dusky bags have a Fauve brown interior, which makes the whole coloration warm and earthy. The final aspect to consider is the bag’s base. The vast majority of Himalayas (and all crocodile Birkins, for that matter) have rectangular scales along the base, but exceptional examples have symmetrical belly scales just like on the front and back. A centered base is the rarest aspect a Himalaya bag can have.