Complete Guide to Buying a Birkin Bag (2024)

History of the Birkin Bag

The Hermès Birkin bag is an icon in the fashion world, highly sought-after by celebrities and the handbag-obsessed. The Hermès bag’s design is a collaboration between Jane Birkin and Hermès CEO Jean-Louis Dumas. The two met on a flight from Paris to London in 1984. Birkin confided in Dumas that she lacked a purse with appropriate functionality for her fast-paced lifestyle. Out of this conversation, the Birkin 40 in chic calfbox leather was born. The Birkin’s practical design featuring two rolled handles, a flap top, clou “feet,” and a lock closure continues to resonate today. The very first Birkin bag also had a strap but all Birkin bags after this initial bag did not have a strap.

The Birkin remains a coveted Hermès bag thanks to its signature Hermès craftsmanship and exclusivity. A Birkin bag takes an expert artisan a minimum of 18 hours to create and is marked with a code that identifies its year of creation, the workshop it was crafted in, and the artisan who made it. To buy a Birkin directly from Hermès, customers must have a purchase history with the brand. Hermès only allows boutiques to purchase a select number of Birkins on a bi-annual basis and the style of Birkin bag delivered to boutiques is rarely known ahead of time. As a result, customers must either make do with the available Birkin bag offered by the sales associate or patiently wait for the style they want to become available. The Birkin is the most searched for Hermès bag.

Birkin Bag Price

How much is a Birkin bag depends on many things including material, size, age and condition. While the Birkin bag comes in different hardware options, it is more of a personal preference and has less impact on the price of a Birkin bag. The Birkin comes in several standard sizes, Birkin 25, Birkin 30, Birkin 35 and Birkin 40. The smallest Birkin purse are limited editions including the Faubourg Birkin 20 and micro Birkin 15 or Baby Birkin. The most popular Birkin bag sizes are Birkin 25 and Birkin 30. A Birkin directly from Hermès ranges in price from about $10,000 for a leather bag to over $200,000 for a crocodile and diamond Birkin. Birkin bag price at Sotheby's generally ranges from $15,000 for an older leather Birkin 35 to over $400,000 for a store fresh diamond Himalayan Birkin bag. Most birkin bags sold at Sotheby's are leather and sell for between $20,000 to $30,000 and are a Birkin 25 or Birkin 30. An exotic Birkin bag is generally around $25,000-$35,000 for ostrich and generally over $40,000 for a crocodile or alligator Birkin bag.

Birkin Bag Popular Leathers

The Birkin has been reinvented many times since its introduction in 1984 with the help of leathers, exotic skins, and limited edition releases. The bag first appeared in calfbox leather, a heritage leather and the oldest leather used by Hermès. This leather has an extremely smooth finish that gives Birkins an extra glamorous look. The material is susceptible to scratches and watermarks, but over time these imperfections blend into the bag, adding a mirror-like texture. To ensure that your calfbox Birkin remains in good shape, keep it away from rain and lightly buff any imperfections to blend them into the leather. Togo leather is the most durable leather from Hermès and is generally the most popular with buyers. Introduced in 1997, Togo calfskin leather was named after the Togolese Republic in Africa. This leather is the result of an intensive drumming process that brings out the material’s natural features. Togo is a supple, matte material, but becomes shinier and softer over time. It has a round and irregular grain with pronounced veins and wrinkles. This material is also scratch resistant -- a major perk for both collectors and those searching for a durable Hermès bag.

Another standard Birkin leather is Clemence, which is made from cowhide. This leather is softer, heavier, and less durable than Togo. Clemence Birkins will often lose their shape over time. Clemence has a shallow grainy texture, which creates a matte effect. Birkin bags made from Clemence leather have a casual feel and make no effort to hide their age. Epsom leather is Clemence’s opposite: Epsom is very rigid and will hold the Birkin’s shape through years of wear. Epsom is an embossed leather, meaning it has no natural grain, and is completely scratch and water resistant, which makes it easy to clean. Epsom leather is a very practical material. Like Epsom, Fjord leather is highly durable and also waterproof, soft, matte and heavy. Evercolor leather provides a Birkin with suppleness and it comes in a wide palette of “forever” colors. First appearing in 2012, this material is satiny with a small, regular grain obtained by printing. An all-new heritage leather option is the Barenia Faubourg calfskin that Hermès began using in 2016. It has a minuscule printed grain and feels waxy to the touch. This leather will darken where it is handled. You can find Hermès leather Birkin in every color of the rainbow on the secondary market. Hermès itself only releases Birkins in select colors every year. Thanks to the variety of Hermès leathers, Birkins can cater to each individual wearers’ personality.

Sellier Birkin Bag

Hermés Birkin Bag Sellier was first introduced in 2010 as a limited edition option and was reintroduced in 2020. The classic Hermés Birkin bags have stitching on the interior of the bag while the Birkin Sellier has stitching on the outside. The Birkin Sellier is also more structured than the classic style, also known as Retourne. The stitching on the inside gives the bag a more relaxed look versus the exterior stitching. The Birkin Sellier is also potentially a better style for humid Aison countries since it is less likely to lose its shape versus the traditional non-exotic Birkin bags. The capacity inside the bag is very similar to the traditional Birkin bag. The only potential downside to the more structured style is that the corners could be more prone to getting scratched in crowded cities. While the retail price of the Sellier Birkin is only slightly higher than the classic Birkin, the bag generally sells for a premium in the secondary market due to much more limited availability.

Exotic Birkin Bag

Birkin bags also come in exotic materials such as ostrich, lizard, crocodile, and alligator skins, available in glossy or matte finishes. Birkin bags made from exotics are considered more exclusive and rarer than leather Birkin bags and fetch a higher price point. Crocodile is the most expensive exotic material and comes in two styles: Niloticus crocodile and Porosus crocodile. Niloticus crocodile handbags will have the symbol “••” next to the Hermés logo stamp while Porosus crocodile handbags are indicated by the symbol “^”. The most expensive Hermès Birkin, the Himalayan Birkin, is constructed out of Niloticus crocodile skin dyed in a white and grey gradient. The coloring is intended to evoke the white snow of the Himalaya Mountains. Alligator skins are the next most expensive exotic and differ from crocodile in that the plates are larger and less uniform, softer to the touch, and poreless. Alligator skin is indicated by a small square adjacent to the Hermès logo stamp. Lizard skin is generally only used in smaller bags and small leather goods. As a result, Hermès typically uses the material for the smallest Birkin bag -- a Birkin 25. Thanks to the skin’s ability to absorb pigments easily, lizard Birkins are available in a vivid array of colors. Like crocodile, this luxurious skin has two styles. Niloticus lizard is identified by the “-” next to the Hermès logo stamp and Varanus Salvator lizard is indicated with a “=” symbol. Out of all the exotic materials, ostrich has the most entry-level price point and is the most durable. This material has been used by Hermès since the 1920s. Identifiable by its follicles, the points from which the feathers grow, this skin has a very pronounced dual tone. In order to prevent follicle damage, Hermès flattens the follicles and triples the skin. This material absorbs oils and will darken over time where it is frequently touched. Like lizard, this material is available in an assortment of vivid colorways. Ostrich skin bags do not have a special symbol stamped on the bag.

Sotheby's Birkin Bags for Sale

Sotheby's has a curated selection of store fresh and excellent condition Birkin bags in leather and exotic materials. The exact color, material and size of the Birkin available changes but new bags are listed weekly. Sotheby's Specialists are also able to source a specific Birkin for a client within a few weeks depending on the bag and budget. When reviewing the price of the bag, the age and or condition often has the most impact on price. The older bags that have some marks on the hardware and exterior are priced lower than store fresh bags with plastic on the hardware and no visible signs of wear on the bag.

About the Author

  • Lucy Bishop

    Lucy is a Handbags and Fashion Specialist at Sotheby's.

Complete Guide to Buying a Birkin Bag (2024)


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