The Timeless Value of Hermès Leather
Quality is the name of the game with Hermès, and that all starts with materials. Using exclusively ‘full grain’ leather with an ‘intact and unaltered’ top layer, Hermès prides itself on the ‘transparency’ and durability of their leathers. Over the decades, this has amounted to dozens of different grains and finishes, many of which have been discontinued and are considered incredibly rare. Today, leather Birkins, Kellys and Constances (BKC) make up the majority of the handbag auction and resale market. In this list, we delve into the top five most common materials sold at auction over the last ten years.
Togo: The Durable Classic
The most popular Hermès leather, comprising nearly 15% of all Birkins and Kellys sold at auction, is Togo leather. This supple, irregularly grained calfskin was first introduced in 1996 – a big year for Hermès that also saw the introduction of the 30cm Birkin and a new design for strap clasps that is still in use today. Beloved by Hermès collectors for its scratch and water resistance, Togo leather is also relatively lightweight when compared to other grained leathers, like Clemence or Fjord. With use, Togo develops a slight sheen and becomes more supple. Though Togo leather is the most common among all BKC (Birkin, Kelly, Constance) styles, it is never produced as either Kelly Cuts or Pochettes, nor as Constances of any size. It is most commonly found as Birkins or Retourne Kellys, though Togo Sellier Kellys do exist and are given the special moniker ‘Mou,’ denoting their use of a supple leather in a structured construction.
Epsom: The Vibrant Favorite
Making up nearly 10% of all BKC sold at auction, Epsom leather takes second place on our list. This heat-pressed leather features a small cross-hatched grain that gives the leather a unique stiffness and durability. Replacing Courchevel leather in 2004, Epsom quickly became a favorite among Hermès collectors for its exceptional ability to display vibrant colors. This was showcased to great effect when Epsom leather was selected as the exclusive material for the 2010 Candy Collection, which paired new neon colors with contrasting interiors. At auction, Epsom leather BKC average more than any other material on this list. Produced in nearly every style and size, this material has proven its ability to hold up with heavy use, resisting water and most scratches. Epsom bags tend to hold their shape better than most others, except for stiff leathers like Box and Tadelakt.
Clemence: The Togo's Counterpart
The third leather on our list has been around for decades. Claiming more than 9% of all BKC sold at auction, Veau Taurillon Clemence, or TC for short, is often mistaken for Togo. They both come from male bull calves, though Togo’s grain is slightly tighter than that on Clemence, which tends not to show veining as Togo sometimes can. Slightly heavier, Clemence is quicker to slouch with use, and at auction averages about 20% less than its more popular counterpart. Similarly scratch resistant, Clemence is notably less water resistant than Togo, sometimes showing water spots if not wiped dry promptly.
Box: The Leather With A Legacy
The oldest leather on this list by far, Box Calf, has been used by Hermès since the 1890’s. Cemented in history, it was named to honor Joseph Box: famed cobbler to London’s petit bourgeoisie. Rigid and smooth with a semi-gloss finish, Box leather is renowned for its unique ability to patina over decades of use. While scratches are easily had and easily buffed out, over time this leather will develop a particular sheen that is enhanced with regular care. Holding 8% of the auction market, Box leather bags are mostly vintage Kellys and Constances, though Birkins have been produced in the leather as long as the style has existed. A Black Box BKC with Gold hardware has become a standard among collectors, representing the enduring history of Hermès' iconic designs. While still produced today, ‘store-fresh’ Box Birkins and Kellys are extremely rare and difficult to find on the second-hand market.
Swift: The Newest and Smoothest
Last (but newest) on our list, making up just over 6% of all BKC sold at auction, is Swift leather. Replacing the discontinued Gulliver leather in 2006, Swift is set apart by its smooth, pillowy material and very fine grain. This unique grain absorbs color exceptionally well and reflects light to showcase Hermès’ prized hues to great effect. More easily scratched than the other materials on this list, Swift is most popular in small sizes, as large bags in this leather tend to be extra floppy. In 2018, Hermès introduced Jonathan leather, the next iteration in this line of soft smooth calfskins. Namely, we can only assume the next version will be called Travel leather, as Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels.
Chévre: The (Incredibly Rare) Honorable Mention
An honorable mention goes to Chévre leather, which accounts for fewer BKC sold at auction than any exotic (except for Matte Porosus Crocodile), making up just 3% of the market. Hermès has produced bags in multiple types of Chévre leather: a goatskin known for its unique grain and texture. Typically shinier than other leathers, most Chévre skins have a distinct spine running down the center, which is noticeable in the lining of almost all Birkins and Kellys. Today, Chévre bags are almost exclusively produced via the special order process, making them particularly valuable to collectors. At auction, these bags average more than any other leather on this list, partly due to the material’s use in the super-popular mini-Kelly 20 II.