Style & Fashion

A Christie’s Expert on Collecting Hermès Handbags

Caitlin Donovan, Head of Sale for Handbags & Accessories at Christie’s New York, says there’s a Hermès bag for every budget at auction

Whether you’ve got a few hundred dollars to spend or are ready to go to $50,000-plus, you will find just what you’re looking for at a Christie’s Handbags sale. Hoping to procure your first vintage collectible treasure, or add the most sought-after unicorn on the secondary handbags market to your extensive collection? Christie’s can help. Head of Sale for Handbags & Accessories at Christie’s New York, Caitlin Donovan, introduces her favorite Hermès bags from 2019’s Handbags & Accessories spring auction season, many of which exceeded their initial estimates, proving the ongoing desirability of the brand.

Hermès Bags For $500–$3,000

Hermès Apres Le Surf tote bag
A multicolor canvas Après Le Surf tote (Hermès, 2018) sold for $1,000 in Christie’s May/June Online sale against a presale estimate of $500–$700. Banner image: Hermès Kelly bag. Getty Images.

A design house whose foundation is deeply rooted in sport, Hermès introduces a playful spin to a variety of summertime activities, from bike riding to playing paddle ball or simply hitting the beach. Its multicolor canvas Après Le Surf tote bag is both fun and functional—large enough to carry all beach essentials, and made of sturdy canvas to withstand the surf and sand. More importantly, one such tote is available in an upcoming Online sale, in November, with a low estimate of just $500—making it something for both the seasoned and novice Hermès collector and connoisseur.

Hermès Osier Picnic Garden Party bag
This limited-edition Naturel Barénia and Osier Picnic Garden Party (Hermès, 2016) sold for HK$106,250/US$13,594 in May against a presale estimate of HK$20,000–$30,000/US$2,559–$3,839.

Among the most collectible of Hermès limited-edition bags are the Osier pieces, often fetching record-breaking prices on the secondary auction market. Perfect for a summer’s day and evoking the bohemian spirit of Jane Birkin, this Osier Picnic Garden Party is a very special collector’s item, at an entry-level price.

Hermès Bags For $3,000–$10,000

Hermès Kelly Pochette bag
This Rose Azalée Epsom leather Kelly Pochette with palladium hardware (Hermès, 2017) sold for $27,500 against a presale estimate of $4,000-$6,000 in Christie’s May/June Online sale.

Petite handbags have, in recent years, been crowned the most coveted of collectible handbags on the secondary market. The Kelly Pochette, a favorite of collectors since the model’s creation, is beautifully executed in a bright and cheerful Rose Azalée hue and structured Epsom leather. A standout piece from the May/June Online sale, and perfectly sized to hold one’s evening belongings, the lightweight Pochette is the ideal accompaniment for a summer night out on the town.

Hermès Passe Guide bag
A shiny black Porosus crocodile Passe-Guide with gold hardware (Hermès, 1982) sold in June for £9,375/$11,878 against a presale estimate of £5,000–£7,000/$6,350–$8,890.

Originally introduced in 1975, the Passe-Guide was re-released in 2012 after a 30-year hiatus from the market. Named for its clasp, inspired by the ring on the front of a Roman chariot, the Passe-Guide was the most expensive bag to be released at its inception due to its construction, a mastery of craftsmanship and design. This model from the early 1980s is crafted of the finest exotic skin Hermès uses, in a beautiful classic black and gold combination.

Hermès Constance bag
A limited-edition black Sombrero leather Constance 18, with On a Summer Night print by Nigel Peake and enamel and palladium hardware (Hermès, 2017), realized $13,750 in Christie’s May/June Online sale. It’s presale estimate was $8,000–$10,000.

Said to have left the factory on the same day that designer Catherine Chaillet’s fifth child was born, the Constance bag entered the market in 1959, named after the designer’s newborn infant. Youthful and meant to be worn cross-body or over the shoulder, the Constance was a creation for the modern woman, always on the go. This limited-edition piece is laden with a subtle black-on-black print created by Irish architect Nigel Peake, who’s celebrated for his geometric designs.

Hermès Bags For $10,000–$25,000

Hermès Sellier Kelly bag
A custom Bleu Tempête and Prune Epsom leather Sellier Kelly 32 with brushed palladium hardware (Hermès, 2017) realized $17,500 in Christie’s May/June Online sale, against a presale estimate of $10,000–£15,000.

Few bags are more coveted at auction than the custom horseshoe-stamped iteration of a classic style. For a one-of-a-kind creation, auction is often the only opportunity for even the most dedicated Hermès collector to procure one of these special pieces. This horseshoe-stamped Sellier Kelly is as custom as they come, with a bicolor exterior in beautifully complementary Bleu Tempête and Prune. With brushed palladium hardware, this bag has a unique identity while staying true to the brand’s commitment to elegant design.

Hermès Au Bout du Monde Constance bag
This limited-edition Bleu Encre, Bleu Zellige, Vert Cyprès, and Bleu Nuit “Au Bout du Monde” Constance 24 (Hermès, 2018) realized $35,000 in Christie’s May/June Online sale. Crafted from shiny alligator and Niloticus lizard, with palladium hardware, the bag had a presale estimate of $20,000–$30,000.

Hermès’ playful aesthetic is often best exemplified in its limited-edition versions of classic styles released each season. One of the newest of these is the “Au Bout du Monde” Constance, which uses a combination of exotic skins, leather types, and colors to create a landscape—and one of the most collectible of Hermès handbag styles on the market. The prominent “H” clasp is formed from six individual pieces of hardware, and in this limited-edition iteration, crafted from both metal and enamel. The bag’s streamlined shape and its marriage of colors and materials make it worthy of the fashion-focused collector of the brand.

Hermès Bags For $25,000–$50,000

Hermès Birkin 30 bag
This limited-edition patchwork Birkin 30 with Rose Azalée interior is made from shiny Vert Émeraude and matte Vert Titien Porosus crocodile, Malachite Epsom leather, Vert Foncé Clémence, Evercolor, Calf Box, and Chèvre leathers, and palladium hardware (Hermès, 2017). The bag realized HK$400,000/US$51,178 in May, against a presale estimate of HK$260,000–$300,000/US$33,278–$38,397.

This extraordinary Birkin 30 bag features five coveted colors and six different skins. The exterior, a combination of four shades of green—Vert Foncé, Vert Émeraude, Vert Titien, and Malachite—contrasts beautifully with the Rose Azalée pink interior. The compliementary combination of skins with diverse characteristics is proof of Hermès’ exquisite craftsmanship, eye for detail, and high level of quality. The flap closure is crafted from the finest exotic skin, shiny Porosus crocodile, while the remainder of the bag combines classic Hermès materials such as Epsom, Clémence, Evercolor, Calf Box, and Chèvre leathers. Accentuated by the palladium hardware, this piece exemplifies the brand’s attention to detail and design.

Hermès Bags For $50,000-plus

Hermès Birkin 40 bag
An exceptional, shiny Bleu Marine Porosus crocodile Birkin 40 with 18-karat white gold and diamond hardware (Hermès, 2012) realized £87,500/$110,863 in June, against a presale estimate of £80,000–£100,00/$101,600–$127,000.

There is something exceedingly dramatic about an exotic-skin bag, and even more so about a bag laden with 18-karat white gold and diamonds. The combination of the two results in a piece that even the most dedicated of Hermès collector would be privileged to include in their vast collection, the Birkin 40. Crafted from shiny Bleu Marine and Porosus crocodile, this 15.5-inch (40 cm) bag with diamond and white-gold hardware is the ultimate wearable work of art.