In 1984, the Executive Chairman of the legendary French luxury brand Hermès overheard actress Jane Birkin lamenting the inadequacies of her handbag on a flight. Jean-Louis Dumas proceeded to sit down with her to brainstorm and sketch the features of an ideal bag, which was created and released by Hermès shortly after.
Though it took a few years for the Birkin bag to gain popularity, it eventually became one of the most sought-after luxury collectibles of its era, with prices to match. Over the decades, it has cemented its place not only as a functional statement accessory but as a collector’s item and a sound investment.
Bejeweled Bags Worth Millions
In recent years, Hermès has expertly walked the line between bags and (haute) bijouterie, collaborating with jewelry designers to offer dazzling limited edition pieces. Some of these are valued at over a million dollars and take years to create.
Sac Bijou Birkin by Pierre Hardy, 2012, value: approximately $2 million
These miniature rose gold and diamond accessories from the Haute Bijouterie Collection are small enough to be worn as a bracelet but are functional. Designed by Pierre Hardy, creative director of fine jewelry at Hermès, each piece features 2,712 diamonds. In 2019, another version of the Sac Bijou Birkin was released, comprising black garnets and spinels instead of diamonds.
Haute Bijouterie Collection, 2012, value: approximately $1.5 – 2 million
The collection in total included three pieces each of four types of iconic Hermès bags – the Birkin (above), the Kelly, the Nausicaa, and the Chaîne d’Ancre.
The rose gold rendition of the Kelly imitates the texture of crocodile skin, set with 1,160 diamonds. The Chaîne d’Ancre bag is a unique sculptural interpretation of the Hermès maritime motif comprising white gold chain links set with a whopping 11,000 diamonds.
Platinum Birkin by Ginza Tanaka, 2008, value: approximately $1.9 million
A graceful diamond-encrusted platinum Birkin produced by the renowned Japanese company, featuring over 2,000 diamonds. This versatile bag includes two detachable elements – the diamond strap can be worn as a necklace, while the diamond clasp doubles up as a brooch – making it the epitome of wearable art.
Birkin Bestsellers At Auction
Outside the bejeweled bags mentioned above, the value of a Birkin bag typically depends on the type of leather used, the hardware, craftsmanship, size, and rarity. Certain skins are more expensive, as are limited editions or customized handbags. Birkins tend to retain (and gain) value, and resale prices for “pre-loved” pieces in good condition are often far higher than the retail price due to their rarity, quality, and exclusivity.
We take a look at eight styles of Birkin bags that have achieved the highest prices at auction.
1. The Himalaya Birkin
Sold in November 2020 for HKD 3 million ($388,738) by Christie’s, Hong Kong
The Himalaya is one of the most coveted designs of the Birkin, named for its unique gray and white gradient reminiscent of the majestic snowy mountain range. Made of Niloticus crocodile hide – which is expensive, and challenging to dye – it may comprise hardware of white gold, palladium and even diamonds. The rarity of the Himalaya Birkin ensures that it is in constant demand and sells at high prices.
In 2020, a Himalaya Birkin 25 with hardware made of palladium achieved the highest auction price for a Birkin to date, breaking a 2017 record for a white gold and diamond Himalaya Birkin 30. In 2019, sports betting consultant and gambler David Oancea – a collector of Birkins – allegedly purchased a Himalaya Birkin for $500,000 via social media.
2. The Faubourg Birkin
Sold in November 2021 for GBP 225,000 ($305,100) by Christie’s, London
First introduced in 2019, the Faubourg Birkin is a limited edition design inspired by the origins of the brand, specifically the flagship Hermès shop that has stood at 24 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris since 1880. The exterior of the bag imitates the storefront, with a clochette shaped like a shopping bag. Smaller than other Birkins with a 20-centimeter base – the first Birkin of this size – it was fashioned using five types of leather, including alligator skin, with options of brown or deep blue. A limited release white Béton Faubourg Sellier was introduced in 2021 and sold at auction for more than twice its higher estimate later the same year.
3. The Diamond Birkin
Sold in November 2021 for HKD 2.25 million ($289,948) by Christie’s, Hong Kong
Made of Porosus (saltwater) crocodile hide with white gold and diamond hardware, these Birkins come in a diverse range of colors. A vibrant geranium Diamond Birkin 35 sold last year was the highest price for this design, while a black Diamond Birkin 25 sold for approximately $240,187 in 2017. Other hues that performed well at auction in recent years include fuschia (which smashed the world record in 2015) and Bleu Marine Diamond Birkin 35 bags.
4. Limited Edition and Custom Niloticus Crocodile Birkins
Sold in May 2019 for HKD 1.63 million (~$207,025) by Christie’s, Hong Kong
Like the Himalaya Birkin, these are fashioned with the skin of Nile crocodiles, but dyed in assorted – often customized – colors with a range of hardware including gold, ruthenium, and palladium. Hermès offers a choice of (usually two) colors to VIP clients, creating unique Special Order Birkins that feature a horseshoe-shaped stamp next to the brand’s logo. Crocodile hide Special Orders are rare, making them much sought-after in the resale market, compounded by their exclusivity and provenance. A limited edition So Black Birkin 30 sold for over $200,000 in 2019, quadrupling its lower estimate, while a distinctive Special Order Tri-Color Birkin 30 sold for approximately $144,480 in 2015.
5. The Alligator Birkin
Sold in November 2020 for HKD 1.13 million (~$145,125) by Christie’s, Hong Kong
Second in value only to crocodile skins, bags made from the hide of alligators feature a softer, more supple texture and distinct pattern favored by many collectors. In 2020, a limited edition matte So Black 35 and a matte vert d’eau 25 Birkin did exceptionally well at auction.
6. The Ombré Birkin
Sold in March 2020 for $137,500 by Sotheby’s, New York
A rare bag crafted from the carefully selected hide of Varanus Salvator lizards, the Ombré Birkin is created by highly skilled artisans. It is striking because the exterior retains the natural color with a distinctive symmetrical pattern and textured sheen, accented with gold or palladium hardware.
7. The Metallic Birkin
Sold in December 2021 for $126,000 by Sotheby’s, New York
Another design paying tribute to the Faubourg store, the limited edition Metallic Birkin is based on 35 years of window displays created by Leïla Menchari for Hermès. Fashioned from Chèvre leather, these shimmering bags are either silver (with palladium hardware) or bronze (with gold hardware), dyed such that the texture of the leather is transformed. In 2021, a silver Metallic Birkin broke the record for leather Birkins, while a bronze version sold for approximately $117,000 in 2017 – ten times its estimate.
8. The Grand Marriage Birkin
Sold in December 2015 for HKD 812,500 (~$104,812) by Christie’s, Hong Kong
This limited edition series derives its name from combining three different types of leather – alligator, lizard and ostrich – for an elegant effect, finished with a less commonly seen champagne-colored permabrass hardware. A matte Béton Grand Marriage Birkin 30 sold for over $100,000 in 2015.