image: Christie's

image: Christie’s

Industry experts agree: Himalaya Birkin bags are some of the “most important handbags in the world.” These wildly rare and eye-poppingly pricey bags – which are manufactured and initially sold exclusively by Paris-based luxury stalwart Hermès (which only relies on direct retail, as opposed to utilizing any wholesale accounts) – are certainly known for their matte white Himalaya crocodile skin. But maybe even more so, they are well-known for their marked tendency to break auction records as the “most valuable” and most expensive handbags in the world.

It is not uncommon for auction houses, such as Christie’s – which is owned by Groupe Artémis, the holding company of Gucci and Saint Laurent owner Kering’s chairman François-Henri Pinault – to boast record-breaking auctions. Usually, this means hundred million dollar Picassos and $50 million dollar Jean-Michel Basquiat works, but as some of the world’s most renowned auction houses come to recognize the appeal of hard-to-get luxury accessories, these results have also come to include handbags. 

This time last year, one such bag broke the record for the most expensive handbag sold in Asia. Yes, in June 2017, a 3-year old Himalaya Birkin sold for $380,000 to an unnamed buyer in Hong Kong, according to Christie’s. The take-home-price of that Himalaya, which boasted 18 karat gold buckles and strap loops encrusted with 205 diamonds, swiftly flew past Christie’s presale estimate of HK 1.5 to 2 million ($193,000 to $258,000) 15 minutes of intense bidding in the auction room in Hong Kong, as well as from phone and online bidders, Christie’s spokeswoman Gigi Ho said at the time. 

Th price surpassed the previous record of $300,168, which set in May 2016 when Christie’s auctioned a similar Himalaya Birkin bag, one that boasted identical specifications but was produced in 2008. Both sales took place in Hong Kong, which “is a new market for Christie’s,” says Matthew Rubinger, Christie’s International Director of Handbags and Accessories. “So, milestones such as this one are truly meaningful.” 

These sales have been followed by an even more recent one in London. On Tuesday, Christie’s broke yet another record with a 2008 Himalaya Niloticus with 18k white gold and diamond-encrusted hardware. Selling for $287,145, the bag is now the most expensive ever sold at auction in Europe.

Christie’s has “set the European record for the most valuable bag sold at auction two years in a row,” Rachel Koffsky, a handbag and accessories specialist at Christie’s, told The Telegraph, saying that demand for these “wearable works of art” has resulted in sales skyrocketing.

Koffsky says the market for these very expensive bags is booming in large part because “it’s becoming well known how valuable these handbags are, [and] people are taking it much more seriously; they want to spend their money in a more thoughtful way. They want to invest in handbags which will maintain their value and go up in value.”

With recent handbags auctions in mind, this means Hermés bags, with Himalaya bags being the ultimate get. 

The History of the Himalaya

The classic shape of the Himalaya Birkin first emerged in the mid-1980s following a chance encounter between actress Jane Birkin and the chief executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas, on a flight between Paris and London. As the story goes, Birkin was rummaging through her basket-weave purse, lamenting her inability to find the perfect bag, when it fell apart. Dumas assisted her in collecting the dropped items, they struck up a conversation, and shortly thereafter Dumas got to work in ensuring the crafting of the “Birkin bag.” 

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 any 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 color; 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,” Christie’s 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.”