The Pinnacle of Handbag Collecting
For decades, the Hermès Birkin bag has been considered the pinnacle of handbag collecting; the ultimate iconic design to last a lifetime. Did you know that throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Kelly bag was universally considered less popular than the Birkin? It’s true, for decades, Kelly bags were readily available in Hermes boutiques, but the popularity they’ve experienced in recent years has brought this style on par with the Birkin. Style isn’t the only aspect that goes into a bag’s value, though. Here, we’ve broken down the top five aspects that determine a Hermès bag’s value. To keep things simple, we’ve assembled auction results for regular leather Birkin and Kelly bags (that means no HSS or limited editions) over the past nine years. The chart below shows the change in Birkin and Kelly bag’s average auction value year by year. It’s worth noting that a bag’s condition will affect its value the most, but condition can be subjective and is not easily quantified and ranked for this purpose. The average auction prices we’re using here are meant to reflect a midway point between pristine and gently used examples.
1. Retourne versus Sellier
As noted above, Birkin and Kelly bags have not always been considered equal, and their average auction values continue to change each year. While Birkins were undoubtedly more valuable than Kellys prior to 2015, the two-handled bag has since slipped below the Sellier Kelly model. The biggest factor is the record-breaking prices set each season for the new mini Kelly 20 (a bag exclusively produced in Sellier construction). The Sellier Birkin, on the other hand, which has had a presence on the auction market only since 2018, overtakes all other styles, with average prices that continued to climb throughout the 2021 auction season. While Sellier Birkins are produced in all sizes, they are most commonly found as 25s or 30s. Since the Sellier Birkin was first introduced in 2010 as a limited edition and then reintroduced in 2020, there are far fewer available at auction versus the traditional Birkin and Kelly styles. Over the next 5-10 years, the price premium for Birkin Selliers could settle in closer to the other models based on increased availability in the market.
2. Smaller is Better
The size of a bag has a major effect on its value. As we saw in the style section, the popularity of the 20cm mini-Kelly II has effectively buoyed the value of Sellier Kellys. And when parsed out, the 20cm size ranks above all others in terms of average auction value. Currently, 25cm bags hold second place with 28cm and 30cm bags dancing around each other for third. 32cm and 35cm bags have also traded places for the last few years, yet show a slower increase in value than smaller sizes. Unexpectedly, 40cm bags are making a comeback, with average values topping those for 32cm and 35cm styles in 2021.
3. Leather Matters
Hermès is known for using the highest quality leather in the world, though the popularity of their different leather types varies widely. Back in 2016, the type of leather could only affect a bag’s value by around $2,000. But, in 2021, the difference in average auction value between Chevre and Clemence leather was nearly $12,000. This owes mainly to the fact that 20cm Kellys are not produced in Swift, Togo or Clemence leather, and are mainly found in Epsom or Chevre. Additionally, Sellier Birkins are produced almost exclusively in Epsom, Madame or Monsieur leathers. These last two have not come to auction enough to draw conclusions about their value, as with other newer leathers such as Novillo and Jonathan.
4. Cult-Followed Colors
How color affects a bag’s value is complicated. Some specific shades like 5P Pink have cult followings, which, in the right size, can command top dollar at auction. There are some colors that, overall, sell for less than others on the secondary market. Brown shades have averaged consistently below all others. But, this past year, the average auction prices jumped considerably, placing browns on par with grays, blues and yellows, just below green, black and white. In 2021, pink bags averaged 20% higher than the next most valuable category: white. Purple, red and orange bags currently hold the bottom three spots, with orange coming in last (10% below reds). Orange is one of the least varied categories for Hermès, with most of the orange Birkins and Kellys being produced in the house classic Orange H, a shade that matches their iconic packaging.
5. Final Factor: Hardware
Finally we’ll be looking into hardware. Most regular leather Birkins and Kellys are produced with either Gold or Palladium plated hardware, though rare examples can be found with discontinued Ruthenium hardware, Champagne Gold or Permabrass hardware. And, sometimes, Brushed Gold or Brushed Palladium, though this finish is mainly found on HSS Special Order bags. The rarest hardware is Guilloche, which features an etched diamond pattern, and has been made with either Gold or Palladium plating. For this article, we’re focusing on the two most common hardwares: Gold and Palladium. We’ve included the new Rose Gold hardware as well, as this finish is found on more and more regular leather Birkins and Kellys. Prior to 2016, Gold and Palladium hardware danced around each other, with Palladium taking the lead in the early half of the 2010’s. Since 2016, though, Gold has cemented itself as the more valuable of the two, maintaining a consistent lead that grows nearly every year. In 2021, bags with Gold hardware averaged $2,495 more than bags with Palladium, a 42% increase from 2020’s $1,750 lead. Rose Gold, on the other hand, which first emerged on the auction market in 2019, has blown all other hardware finishes out of the water. This could mainly be due to Rose Gold’s prominence on smaller sized bags, though it is not found on the new Mini Kelly 20. Averaging $28,400 it’s debut year, Rose Gold has started to come down in value, and in 2021 averaged just over $23,100 (still 26% above Gold’s $18,250 average that year). In future auction seasons, it’s likely Gold and Rose Gold will continue to grow closer in value.