They're beautiful. They're durable. They’re two of the most coveted accessories on earth: Hermès’ iconic Birkin and Kelly handbags.

Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and Victoria Beckham (among many others) have all been spotted carrying a Birkin, which even played a starring role in Sex and the City when Samantha lied her way to the top of Hermès’ waitlist for the bag (clients can wait up to six years to actually get a Birkin, which is handcrafted and released in limited quantities each year). Inspired by British model and actress Jane Birkin, the Birkin bag has become the ultimate status symbol since its 1984 debut, and few accessories have appreciated as much in value.

The Kelly was created way back in 1936. However, it didn’t take off until 1956 when Grace Kelly was photographed carrying one, reportedly to conceal her pregnancy. After years of being colloquially called the Kelly, it was officially named after her in 1977. 

Stylistically, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the two trapezoidal bags. The Kelly has one handle (versus the Birkin’s two), a shoulder strap, and is slightly smaller in depth. The Birkin also is a bit more relaxed, more supple and slouchy. 

So, are they merely status symbols for the mega rich who can afford them? Or is a Hermès bag a genuinely savvy investment? In a word, yes. If you can get your hands on one.

Why so expensive?

Birkin and Kelly prices frequently change at Hermès' discretion, and typical increases range anywhere from 6% to 10% annually. When that Sex and the City episode aired in 2001, you could snag a Birkin for $4K. Today, the same bag retails for around $12K, and that’s before you add exotic leathers and fancy hardware into the mix, at which point you could be looking at upwards of $100K.

Back in the 1950s, a Kelly would set you back around $900. These days, a popular entry-level Kelly commands nearly $10K (a healthy increase from what $900 in 1956 dollars would be worth in today's currency: $7,885.47, according to one calculator we consulted.)

Why are Hermès bags so expensive? For starters, each bag is assigned one artisan who is responsible for its creation, from start to finish. Constructing a single bag takes around 15 to 20 hours. On top of that, significant cost escalation comes from the type of leather and type of hardware used. Would you like diamonds on that lock? They'll do it, but be prepared to pay.

Hermès evolved into a fashion house from a high grade heritage of harnesses, bridles and saddlery, so its leather accessories are engineered for workhorse longevity. These babies are built to defy everything life throws at them, including the test of time. And to deal with time's ravages, the French firm even offers a “spa treatment,” or reconditioning for heavily used Birkin bags. 

Investment Factor

As the most sought-after bag in the world (with a seemingly eternal lifespan), the Birkin can indeed hold its value as a collectible (for a primer, see Contemplating Collectible Investments). Topping the lists of couture with the highest resale value, Birkin bags always come in at number one. Thanks to the slow manufacturing time and difficult-to-source materials, only a limited number are made per year. And with such superb, lasting quality, comes attractive heirloom appeal. In fact, any carefully used Birkin typically fetches between 80% and 120% of what the previous owner paid for it. Even auction houses are in on the action. A Barbie-pink, crocodile-skin model, with diamond-encrusted hardware, became the most expensive purse ever sold at auction, going for $222,912 at Christie's Hong Kong in June 2015. 

Bags are made from calf, crocodile, ostrich and lizard leathers, and are available in a rainbow of colors. The rarer the skin and color, the more valuable the bag. Crocodile, for instance, is one of the most desired, yet costliest leathers as the skin takes decades to reach maturity and is subject to strict ethical standards. If you’re planning to hold onto your accessory long-term, neutral colors (black, gold and a taupe shade the firm calls etoupe)  are recommended. New colors (they're introduced every season) are more popular in the immediate resale market for collectors. 

How to Buy One

A handful of lucky ladies receive their bag directly from Hermès each year. Assuming you’re not one of these select few, you can try your luck at a Hermès boutique, but expect to be told you're going on a years-long wait list (that is, assuming they don't tell you it’s closed). Developing brand loyalty by investing in other of the brand's pieces over time may help your cause and always make sure you look the part – they don’t sell these bags to just anyone!

The Birkin and the Kelly are both permanent fixtures on the secondary market. Online luxury sellers such as Portero (which claims to have more than 100 available) and The RealReal guarantee authenticity on bags you can buy immediately. High-end brick-and-mortar consignment stores that specialize in designer goods, such as New York's Fisch for the Hip, are often a source as well.

Fraud Alert

As a glance at reseller sites will tell you, second-hand bags don't go for second-rate prices. Often, they cost as much as new purses, if not more. A well-used Kelly may depreciate to a more affordable price, but it'd be rare to find an authentic Birkin for under $10K.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Most likely the bag isn't an authentic Hermès. The company's goods bear distinct hallmarks of craftsmanship (for example, saddle-stitched seams) and branding. There are signature embossed markings (not a metal name plate), and a lock-and-key set engraved with matching numbers on each. It's worth your while to brush up on the characteristics of a genuine bag. Do your homework not only on the bag’s authenticity, but also on the seller, if possible. One warning, for internet browsers: Many disreputable resellers advertise with photos of authentic Kellys and Birkins, but send you a fraudulent item.   

The Bottom Line

High demand, low supply, premium quality and nonstop hype have elevated both the Kelly and the Birkin to cult fashion status, putting them in the category of 3 Odd Investments Worth Considering. Hermès officially reigns as king of the resale chain with bona fide collector’s items that could be any fashionista’s safest (and most elegant) investment bet. But to ensure you invest well, either purchase one directly from the company (if you can) or through legitimate resellers. Keep up to date on the latest pricing for both models via online reference guides, and if you’re really serious about splurging on one, don’t dither if you find a model you like. Based on past experience, its price is likely only going one way from here – up.


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