Thirty seems to be a lucky number for Christie’s Hong Kong recently. For its 30th Anniversary Sale on May 30, a Hermès Birkin 30 in matt white Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile, topped with diamond-embellished 18k white gold hardware, rewrote history when it became the world's most expensive handbag to be sold at US$300,168.
This successful sale breaks the record previously set by another Birkin. The former, in fuchsia Porosus Crocodile with 18k white gold and diamond hardware, sold for $222,000 in June last year.
The Diamond Himalaya was initially estimated to go under the hammer for $190,000 to $260,000. But it went on to surpass expectations because of its exceptional rarity — only one or two are produced each year worldwide. In particular, this Grade 1 bag was part of the first round of production in 2008, evident from the distinctive light colour gradient from grey to white evocative of the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas.
Which brings us to another significant detail: White is the hardest colour to achieve with crocodile skin because all of its natural pigmentation has to be removed.
If that's not enough to unhinge jaws, the hardware on this tote comprises 174.4g of hand-crafted solid 18k white gold. It is decorated with 245 VVS, F-colour diamonds, no less.
How did such a precious purse landed in Christie’s hands? “Unlike retail, we can't ‘order’ the products that we want. As specialists, we travel around meeting clients to curate an auction based on the items they are considering to sell. The record-breaking sale of Diamond Himalaya is just perfect for Christie’s Hong Kong 30th Anniversary Sale,” answers Winsy Tsang, head of sales of handbags and accessories at Christie’s in Hong Kong, who lets on that it took a while to convince the owner, an Asian private collector, to let go of his prized possession.
Tsang has 15 years of retail experience working with brands such as Fendi, Max Mara, Anteprima and more recently, Louis Vuitton where she was senior merchandising manager in leather goods and accessories for nine years. “Now, I am tasked with liaising with clients and identifying trends within the handbag and accessories market,” she explains. “For instance, mini bags are now back in trend. We have seen a high demand for these small sizes in the auction market, which translates to an appreciation in value.”
Besides reputable brand, premium quality, and excellent craftsmanship, Tsang pinpoints four other crucial factors that elevate a bag’s collectibility: Limited editions, discontinued models, museum-worthy icons and one-of-a-kind pieces.
“For Hermès, only top-tier clients get the opportunity to customise their bags. Each piece is stamped to show that it is bespoke — this means that it is likely to be a unique piece. Certain colour combinations are more valuable; the rarest of them all are those in exotic skins,” she adds.
While Hermès is the undisputed leader of the handbag collector market, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada were strong performers last season. Tsang also observed cultural differences in the buying behaviours of new collectors. “Asians look for new models in pristine conditions. Europeans focus more on untagged and archived pieces. They see scratches as part of the bag’s history.”
Whether you subscribe to the former or the latter, Tsang has a secret tip to extend the lifespan of your favourite bags. “Keep pens out of the bag, or put them in a separate pouch. Oily substances from writing instruments can damage bags.”
Click on the gallery to find more of Hermès rarities.