Matt Rubinger, International Director of Handbags and Accessories, salutes the ultimate expression of the luxury house’s artistry and tradition — and the most expensive handbag in auction history
Fabled as the rarest handbag in the world, this Hermès Himalaya Birkin bag became the most expensive handbag in auction history when it sold for $300,168 / £208,175 on 30 May at the Convention Hall in Hong Kong. It was one of the outstanding results of our 30 Years: The Sale auction, which brought together 30 exceptional lots across all categories and marked the landmark anniversary of Christie’s presence in Asia.
‘This is a new market for Christie’s,’ says Matt Rubinger, International Director of Handbags and Accessories, ‘so milestones such as this one are truly meaningful.’ The auction was particularly special, he says, because it was the 30th anniversary of Christie’s in Hong Kong, the 250th anniversary of the company, and because Global President Jussi Pylkännen was the auctioneer. ‘This was a clear signal to the marketplace that this area has emerged,’ Rubinger states. ‘Our sales continue to grow and bring in existing and new clients from around the world.’
The classic shape of the Himalaya Birkin first emerged in the mid-1980s following a chance encounter between the actress Jane Birkin and the chief executive of Hermès, Jean-Louis Dumas. After Birkin had complained about not being able to find a bag suitable for her needs, Dumas, who had found himself sitting next to the actress on an aeroplane, offered to create one for her — larger than the Kelly bag, and with pockets. The resulting accessory quickly became the most sought-after of status symbols. There is currently a six-year waiting list to acquire a new one.
It takes at least 48 hours to create a Birkin by hand. The Himalaya Birkin is made from the skin of the rare Nilo crocodile, and is so-called because of its delicate gradation of colour — the smokey grey fading into a pearly white, resembling the snow-capped Himalayas. The craftsmen’s techniques employed in its manufacture were developed by Hermès more than a century ago.
‘The most valuable bags are the diamond pieces, and the top collector pieces are the ones from the Himalaya family,’ Rubinger explains. ‘This example, with white gold detailing and 245 diamonds, combines the two. It is a Himalaya with diamond hardware, and thus the apex of the market.’