A shattering the world auction record in Hong Kong – again – this past week, the Birkin Himalaya bag is being touted as the “Most Important Handbag in the World” by industry experts. The specific bag at issue, a matte white Himalaya crocodile skin Birkin Paris-based brand Hermès, sold for $380,000 to an unnamed buyer, according to British auction house Christie's.
Produced in 2014 with 18 karat gold buckles and strap loops encrusted with 205 diamonds, the sale of this particular bag – for 2.94 million Hong Kong dollars ($380,000) – is a record for any handbag sold at auction, per Christie’s. The price flew past the presale estimate of HK 1.5 million-2 million ($193,000-$258,000) during 10 to 15 minutes of intense bidding in the auction room and from phone and online buyers, Christie's spokeswoman Gigi Ho said.
The price surpasses the record set in May 2016 when Christie's auctioned a similar Himalaya Birkin bag – one that boasted identical specifications but was produced in 2008 – for $300,168.
Both sales took place in Hong Kong, which “is a new market for Christie’s,” says Matt Rubinger, International Director of Handbags and Accessories, “so milestones such as this one are truly meaningful.” Of the 2016 Himalaya sale, Rubinger said: “That was a clear signal to the marketplace that this area has emerged. Our sales continue to grow and bring in existing and new clients from around the world.”
The classic shape of the Himalaya Birkin first emerged in the mid-1980s following a chance encounter between the actress Jane Birkin and the chief executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. After Birkin had complained about not being able to find a bag suitable for her needs, Dumas, who had found himself sitting next to the actress on an airplane, offered to create one for her — larger than the brand’s other most popular bag – the Kelly bag – and with inner-pockets. The resulting accessory quickly became the most sought-after of status symbols in the world.
According to Christie’s, there is currently a six-year waiting list to acquire a new Himalaya Birkin bag, which takes at least 48 hours to create. As for whether a regular-model Birkin is subject to a waiting list, it is unclear. Various reports over the years suggest that the waiting list for a base-line Birkin is more a myth than routine practice.
The auction house has come to refer to the Hermès Himalaya Birkin Bag as the Holy Grail in a handbag collection, while the Himalaya Kelly is fabled as "The Rarest Handbag in the World." Crafted from Nilo crocodile hide, the bags' designation "Himalaya’"does not apply to the origin of the bag, but rather, to the delicate gradation of the colour. The smoky grey fades into a pearly white, resembling the snow-capped Himalayas.
"The most valuable bags are the diamond pieces, and the top collector pieces are the ones from the Himalaya family," Rubinger explains. "This example, with white gold detailing and 245 diamonds, combines the two. It is a Himalaya with diamond hardware, and thus, the apex of the market."