Everyone loves a good origin story. Here’s one I bet you’ve never heard…
By the early ’80s, Jane Birkin was already a style icon. The British actress was one half of a power duo with French musician Serge Gainsbourg, with whom she released risqué songs and starred in multiple movies.
Despite the no doubt countless options available to her, Birkin found herself without a suitable weekend bag on her flight from Paris to London.
As she settled into first class, all the contents spilled out of her busting straw tote bag…
… right in front of Jean-Louis Dumas, CEO of Hermès.
This sparked a conversation about how a quality handbag capable of carrying all the modern necessities was nearly impossible to find.
By the time the plane touched down at Heathrow, the Hermès Birkin handbag was born.
Today, the Birkin is the most sought-after bag in the world.
Each bag is crafted by hand. No one knows how many are made each year — that’s a trade secret. Judging by the years-long waiting list, it’s not a lot.
Birkin bags are made from a range of animal hides, from calf to ostrich to saltwater crocodile. (Fun fact: The smaller the scale, the more expensive the bag.) The interior is lined in supple goatskin dyed to match the exterior.
Each bag has a lock and key. The hardware — including all fasteners, buckles and studs — is plated with precious metals like gold or palladium. Certain bags even feature diamond-encrusted hardware.
Even if a brand-new Birkin is within your price range, you can’t just walk into a Hermès store (even in Paris) and ask for one.
There won’t be any for sale.
And that’s part of its mystique. It’s one of the reasons the Birkin bag has never gone out of style or lost value. Instead, it’s turned into a status symbol, the ultimate arm candy… and an investment that beats the stock market handily.
As you can see, the Birkin bag has averaged 14.2% gains annually since it debuted. The “worst” performance a Birkin bag has ever had is a 2.1% gain in one year. By comparison, the worst the S&P did over the same span was minus 36.55%.
During especially down years — when the economy stagnates and stocks take a dive — Birkins do even better than usual. In fact, prices usually advance at least twice, often three times, when the markets are tanking…
Making this simple handbag one of the best investments in the world.
Even though this is one bag you definitely want to be caught holding, it’s nigh impossible to get your hands on a Birkin. As I mentioned, they’re never on sale. The Birkin has also never been advertised — and it likely never will be.
But the secondary market is teeming with opportunity…
As with all collectibles, the condition of your bag will be one of the defining measures of its value.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid any bag that’s in “pristine” condition. This usually means it’s like brand-new — complete with plastic wrap protecting the metal parts. Birkins sold at auction in “pristine” condition are sold at a premium. So they will immediately lose a bit of value.
Get a bag that’s in “excellent” or “very good” condition. Any bag in simply “good” condition is fairly worn already and will have trouble keeping its value.
Now let’s discuss the elephant in the room. Birkins are a pricey investment. Retail, they start at around $12,000. Of course, at auction, Birkins go for up to $300,000, so this is still a fabulous investment.
The most expensive Birkin — in fact, the most expensive handbag — ever sold at auction is a matte white Himalaya Niloticus crocodile Birkin with 18-karat white gold and diamond-studded hardware, shown below. It went for a whopping $379,000 at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
But if Birkins are your bag, baby (as Austin Powers would say), here’s how you can find an investment-grade piece without breaking the bank…
You can buy an older Birkin (in excellent or very good condition) that was a little more risqué and is currently out of fashion. The classic black leather with gold clasps, for example, will likely never go out of style.
But a bag like this one could be available at a discount:
Buy that color combo when it’s out and sell when it’s in. It’s the equivalent of buying low and selling high. Some currently less-popular color schemes — still in great condition — can be had for as little as $3,500.
That’s still not exactly cheap. But it’s much more affordable than a brand-new Birkin… And it holds even greater potential for fast appreciation.
Of course, another option is to skip the Birkin and go with a slightly cheaper — but still premium — bag choice. I’ll cover a few such examples in future issues.
But Birkins are holy grail here. Go big or go home, I say.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Have you ever invested in wearables — purses, watches, collectable sneakers and the like? Show us! Send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...