Who Would Pay $300,000 for a Handbag?
In a packed bidding room last Monday, Christie’s Hong Kong hosted its 30th-anniversary auction. The tightly curated catalog featured 30 lots, each chosen for its desirability and origin in categories such as fine art, ancient ceramics, jewelry, watches and rare wines.
上周一，佳士得香港(Christie’s Hong Kong)在一个挤满人的拍卖厅里举办30周年拍卖会。拍卖目录排得满满当当，包括30件拍品，每一件都令人向往；门类包括美术、古代瓷器、珠宝、手表和珍稀葡萄酒。
One of the auction’s stars was a 12-inch Hermès Birkin matte Himalayan crocodile handbag, with white-gold hardware set with 245 F-color diamonds weighing close to 10 carats. With a presale estimate of $190,000 to $260,000, it was billed as “the most valuable handbag in the world.”
A Himalayan Birkin handbag by Hermès created a buyer’s frenzy at a Christie’s Hong Kong auction. It was billed as “the most valuable handbag in the world.”
The standing-room-only crowd, mostly from mainland China, with a smattering of collectors from Taiwan and Japan, watched with barely bated anticipation as Jussi Pylkkanen, the global president for Christie’s, presided from the podium over bidders who drove prices for the Birkin quickly past $128,679 (or about 1 million Hong Kong dollars). In a mere four minutes, the bag was sold (to a private collector), and a record set, at $244,490, before a buyer’s premium (for a total of $300,168, just over the standard retail price of $280,000).
That an Hermès Birkin fetched more money than a hanging scroll belonging to the Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing dynasty (1 million Hong Kong dollars), or a rare solar-powered dome clock by Patek Philippe (also 1 million Hong Kong dollars), is testament to the mythical status the bag commands.
“Our London office began auctioning off fashion items as part of estate sales in the 1990s, and in 2000 began including contemporary handbags as collectors’ pieces,” said Matthew Rubinger, the Hong Kong-based international director of handbags and accessories for Asia. After a successful stint selling bags in online auctions, Christie’s opened its handbags and accessories departments in Hong Kong and Paris in 2014. Christie’s now holds twice-yearly handbag and accessory auctions in Hong Kong, alongside its more traditional sales.
“从20世纪90年代，我们在伦敦的分部开始把拍卖时尚品当做遗产拍卖的一部分，2000年，我们开始把当代手袋列入收藏竞拍品的范畴，”现居香港的亚洲手袋与配饰国际总监林博明(Matthew Rubinger)说。在一次成功的网上包袋限量拍卖之后，2014年，佳士得在香港与巴黎开设了手袋与配饰部门。 如今，出了传统的拍卖，它每年还在香港举办两次手包与配饰的拍卖活动。
As to the frenzy over the Himalayan Birkin (aside from the diamonds), “White is the hardest color to achieve with crocodile skin, as you have to remove all of its natural pigment,” Mr. Rubinger said of the graduated tone from gray to white, inspired by majestic mountains. “To find a bag in its unused condition is even more rare.”
The seller was a private collector who had owned the unused Birkin since 2008. It is believed that only one or two of these bags are produced each year by the Hermès atelier.
Mr. Rubinger’s job is now focused on sourcing the bags for his growing clientele and assessing the quality of the consigned products on a four-grade scale (from a score of one for a brand-new bag to a four for a used one). Many of his customers are clients of Christie’s and collectors of jewelry and art, but Asia’s affluent customers are quickly fueling demand.
“Chanel has always done well in the secondary market, and we also sell Gucci and Balenciaga, but Hermès clearly is the leader,” he said, adding that the client base “is split between Asia and Europe,” with many repeat customers.
“Our previous record-holder was a 35-centimeter fuchsia crocodile Birkin with diamond hardware, which sold for 1.4 million, without the premium,” he said, referring to the sale in Hong Kong dollars. “Custom orders and exotic skins are always popular. Lizard skin is having a moment right now.”
It might seem ridiculous to some to treat a handbag as an investment, but for a Birkin collector like Emily Chan, a Hong Kong-based investment banker, it is one worth making. She owns more than 50 of the bags, purchased as a V.I.P. customer from the Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo boutiques, as well as on secondary markets, via auctions. “Birkins are both an investment and a fashion accessory to me,” she said. “Birkins are like currency: You can cash out any time.”
有些人可能觉得把手袋当做投资非常荒唐，但是对于香港投资银行家艾米丽·陈(Emily Chan)这样的柏金包收藏者们来说，这种投资是值得的。她拥有50多个柏金包，部分是以V.I.P.客户身份在巴黎、香港和东京的专卖店里购得， 此外她也会通过拍卖行在二级市场上购买。“对于我来说，柏金包既是投资，也是时装配饰，”她说。“柏金包就像通货：任何时候都可以变现。”
Of all the ways to access the bags, “I like auctions, as you are not shopping alone,” she added.
Her favorite Birkin is “unreservedly” the Himalayan. “For the past 35 years, the Birkin’s price trend has been all the way up, performing even better than gold,” said Ms. Chan, who began collecting in 1993. “Art and jewelry are also good investments, but their barrier to entry is much higher, and those markets, too, have volatility. And they are not as liquid as the Birkin.”
Birkins have climbed in value by 500 percent in the last 35 years, an increase expected to double in the next 10 years, according to baghunter.com, an online platform for buying and selling luxury handbags.
This may be why — even beyond auction houses — a secondary Birkin market run by a handful of resellers has sprung up in settings from Japan to Florida. Brand Off’s flagship store in Tokyo’s Ginza district is just a short walk from Hermès’s own flagship boutique, while the pre-eminent reseller in Paris, Loïc Bocher, the founder of Collector Square, has created the LuxPrice Index, a referencing chart for Hermès, as well as for watches and jewelry, with results from about 200,000 auction transactions. He acquires his bags from a network of shoppers in Europe with ties to Hermès boutiques, and resells them to customers in the Middle East and Asia. His showroom, elegantly decorated like a home rather than a vintage boutique, displays an array of Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags, as well as Chanel’s classic 2.55 handbag.
或许正因为如此，除了拍卖行，从日本到佛罗里达，由若干中间商建立起的柏金包二级市场迅速兴起。柏欧福(Brand Off)二手名牌店在日本银座的旗舰店距离爱马仕在东京的旗舰店只有几步之遥，巴黎著名中间商、Collector Square的创始人罗伊克·波谢(Loïc Bocher)为爱马仕以及其他品牌的钟表和珠宝建立了奢侈品价格指数(LuxPrice Index)，这个参考图标建立在20万次拍卖结果的统计数据之上。他从欧洲与爱马仕专卖店有联系的顾客网络中收购手包，并将它们转卖给中东和亚洲的客户。他的展示厅里陈列着一排爱马仕柏金包和凯莉包，以及香奈儿的2.55经典款手袋，其装潢简单优雅，与其说是一个古着精品店，倒不如说更像一个家。
“From our research, we know that the Asian customer prefers the smaller 30-centimeter,” Mr. Bocher said, “while the European customer likes the 35-centimeter. And the most popular colors are beige, black and brown. For new, unused Birkins, we would have a markup of 10 percent to 20 percent above retail. Our customers are always looking for something unique.
“We had a Birkin So Black,” he continued, referring to a limited-edition style with black hardware released during Jean Paul Gaultier’s tenure, “which we sold within a few hours of acquisition.”
“我们曾经有过一个限量版纯黑柏金包(Birkin So Black)，”他继续说道，这款限量版柏金包有纯黑色配件，是在让·保罗·高缇耶(Jean Paul Gaultier)担任爱马仕首席设计师期间推出的。“拿到没几个小时后就卖出去了。”
Collector Square also works with Artcurial, an auction house to which it sends pieces of exceptional quality and rarity.
In the United States, Privé Porter, a dealer based in Boca Raton, Fla., sold a red crocodile Birkin with diamond hardware last year for $298,000. Jeff Berk, Privé Porter’s founder, who had previously sold liquidated luxury watches, started selling Birkins on eBay in 2012. “We received an overwhelming amount of interest on the bags,” he said of the two he sold, “and my wife and I pulled together $250,000 to invest in our first inventory. It’s been a process of consolidation, as we started to work with a V.I.P. clientele, stylists and those who have relatives working at Hermès to receive a steady supply of bags.”
在美国，佛罗里达州博卡拉顿市的交易商Privé Porter去年以29.8万美元卖出了一个带钻石配件的红色鳄鱼皮柏金包。公司创始人杰夫·伯克(Jeff Berk)此前专门销售二手奢侈腕表，2012年开始在eBay网站上出售柏金包。“有很多人对我们的手袋感兴趣，”他谈起自己卖出的两款包，“我和妻子投资25万美元，建立了我们的第一批库存。我们开始和 V.I.P. 客户群、造型师和那些有亲戚在爱马仕工作的人合作，建立了稳定的手袋货源，逐渐巩固发展起来。”
Sixty percent of Mr. Berk’s clients are from the United States and 30 percent from the Middle East and Asia, with the remainder from South America, he said. He has a staff of five, and a warehouse of about $1.5 million in handbags. “There is just something about a Birkin,” he said. “It’s like owning a Mercedes-Benz: When you close the door of a Mercedes, it sounds different than a Toyota. And that’s what Hermès customers know and buy into. To many of our customers, to own this bag is to achieve a sense of competence like nothing else.”
博克说，他的客户中有 60% 来自美国，30% 来自中东和亚洲，其余的则来自南美。他有5名员工，拥有价值约 150 万美元的手包库存。“柏金包就是有某些特别之处，”他说，“就像是梅赛德斯奔驰，你会发现，奔驰车的关门声听起来和丰田就是不一样。同样，购买爱马仕的顾客也知道柏金包的特质，他们花钱买的就是这个。我们的许多客户认为，拥有这款包是为了获取一种无可比拟的满足感。”
In 2014, Robert Smith, a Texas hedge fund titan, and his wife, Hope Dworaczyk, a Playboy Playmate who appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice,” requested that Mr. Berk find them 30 Birkins to give away at a staff Christmas party. (Their budget was $500,000.) “It took us 30 days, but we did it,” Mr. Berk said.
2014 年，得克萨斯州对冲基金巨头罗伯特·史密斯(Robert Smith)和他的妻子、曾参加真人秀节目《名人学徒》(Celebrity Apprentice)的《花花公子》(Playboy)插页女郎霍普·多拉齐克(Hope Dworaczyk)请博克为他们搜寻 30只柏金包，作为员工圣诞派对的礼物送出（他们的预算是 50 万美元）。博克说：“这花了我们30天的时间，但最后我们还是做到了。”
Ms. Dworaczyk, who is an Hermès V.I.P., said: “I wasn’t expecting them to succeed on the Christmas party. But when I saw the Brink’s truck pull up, I lost my mind.”
爱马仕 V.I.P. 客户多拉齐克说：“我原本也没指望他们能在圣诞舞会前弄到这些包，看到Brinks公司的卡车停在门口的时候，我差点疯掉。”
All of which makes the fact that Wednesday’s follow-up auction at Christie’s included 200 handbag lots — more than half of which were Birkins — and that handbag sales for the two days totaled $5,044,890 a little more understandable.
佳士得周三的后续拍卖会包括200个手袋 ，其中超过半数是柏金包。两天的手袋拍卖最终交易总额达到 5044890美元，鉴于上述种种原因，这笔巨款显得不是那么不可理喻。
“As handbags become more easily traceable, and values continue to increase, more collectors are seeing their handbags as assets,” Mr. Rubinger said. “Even those with no intention to sell want to better understand the lasting value of these pieces.”