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How to spot a genuine Hermes Birkin bag

An Hermes Birkin shiny porosus crocodile handbag in Jade Green achieved $105,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

The top 10 list of most expensive handbags offered at auction is perennially dominated by the Birkin bag. Introduced in 1984 by the famed French luxury goods company Hermes and since produced in an endless array of colors and patterns, the Birkin is an unparalleled status symbol. Collected by celebrities, political leaders, internet influencers and corporate executives as well as those who cherish craftsmanship, rare Birkin bags routinely sell for six figures on the secondary market. Yet its creation came about by chance, arising from an encounter on an airplane.

According to Jane Birkin, the acclaimed British-French actor and award-winning recording artist for whom the bag is named, she had attempted to load a large straw tote bag into the overhead compartment before a flight from Paris to London in 1984, only to watch its contents spill onto the deck of the aircraft. She complained to her seatmate that she couldn’t find a leather tote bag that worked well. Birkin picked the right person to hear her grievance – he happened to be Jean-Louis Dumas, then-CEO of Hermes. Embracing the challenge, Dumas created a supple black leather bag based on an earlier company design. Christened the “Birkin” in honor of its inspiration, it became a runaway hit. In 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Hermes Birkin and the Hermes Kelly handbags together accounted for between 25% and 30% of the company’s sales.

This Himalayan Niloticus crocodile leather Hermes Birkin earned $130,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

What makes a Birkin bag exclusive is the quality of its manufacture. Each bag is made by hand, requiring between 18 to 40 hours of labor by artisans who apprentice for a minimum of five years. They work with the finest cowhides as well as exotic leathers such as ostrich, crocodile and alligator, and accent them with hardware fashioned from silver, gold, platinum or palladium. Before Hermes reportedly abolished the waiting list around 2010, would-be buyers sometimes had to wait patiently for up to six years before taking possession of a Birkin.

A Blaze Red Hermes Birkin in shiny polosus crocodile leather and with diamond-festooned hardware sold for $160,000 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Unfortunately, the Birkin bag’s cachet and exclusivity makes it an easy target for counterfeiters. Indeed, the market for knockoffs is shockingly robust. In 2012 Patrick Thomas, who was Hermes’ CEO at the time, estimated that 80 percent of all products sold on the Internet bearing the French firm’s name were counterfeit, and called the state of affairs “an absolute disgrace.” Few doubt that percentage has changed much since.

So, you want to acquire a new Birkin bag? Well, you can go to the Hermes website or visit a brick-and-mortar Hermes boutique. Unlike in the past, an already-estblished relationship is no longer needed to secure a Birkin and, as noted above, the waiting list is long gone. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will find the precise Birkin you want,

A limited-edition Hermes Birkin Faubourg Sellier bag realized HK$1,350,000 (about $172,000) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Poly Auction Hong Kong and LiveAuctioneers

To ensure you get the bag of your dreams in the color, leather and hardware you want, it might be advisable to turn to the secondary market. Dedicated Hermes resellers will affirm the authenticity of their goods with a written guarantee, something Hermes does not provide with its brand-new ones. Be aware that resellers who don’t guarantee their Birkins may not be stocking original product. Just be prepared to pay a premium above the point-of-sale retail value, even if the bag is in well-circulated condition, as most Birkins increase in value.

Let’s say you’ve found a lovely Hermes Birkin that isn’t new or advertised at a legitimate reseller. How do you know if it’s authentic? According to experts, genuine Birkins share at least seven distinct features that have never been compromised by Hermes during its corporate lifetime.

An Hermes Birkin shiny porosus crocodile leather handbag in a Rose Mexico hue attained $75,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Mynt Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

First, understand that each new Birkin has a distinctive smell. A freshly unboxed example has what can be described as a “new bag smell” emanating from its smooth and supple leather. Bogus renditions have a mass-produced, chemical, “plasticky” odor.

Next, measure it. Each Hermes leather item is advertised by its length in centimeters, from 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) for a small leather change purse to the 55-centimeter (21.6 inches) large travel bag, and those measurements are exact. If the numbers you record are anything less than precise, the bag might be fake.

A shiny-finish Electric Blue Hermes Birkin in porosus crocodile leather, sporting 18K white gold hardware decorated with white diamonds, achieved $150,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Look closely at the stitching. If the stitches appear straight and evenly separated from each other, that signals the use of a sewing machine, and suggests the bag might be a counterfeit. Every Birkin, regardless of size, is hand-stitched using two needles. Each stitch is finished at an angle and, while perfectly symmetrical, any given stitch might show some minor imperfections. It’s supposed to be that way, and it’s part of what makes each Birkin one of a kind. There should be no frayed edges, and no glue is used to secure any leather piece.

Now examine the heat-stamped words “Hermes, Paris, Made in Paris,” located above the locking mechanism. The legend should be rendered in sans-serif block lettering and should be perfectly centered and crisp and clean, with no flaking. In addition, those words should be stamped in the same color as the bag’s hardware, which is usually gold or silver. A symbol next to the lettering represents a code indicating which type of leather was used and if it was custom made.

Another mark of an authentic Birkin bag is its internal zipper. When not in use, the leather pull strap should remain horizontal, as seen on this custom-made Hermes Birkin gray Togo leather handbag that realized $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019. Image courtesy of Diamond N Jewelry Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Check inside the bag and try the zipper. It should glide, without any stops or stutters. A metal “H” should appear at the end of the zipper signifying it is an official Hermes product (although beware; fraudsters have reproduced this detail). The zipper should be free of tarnish, with the company name stamped on the zipper handle. Also, the handle should have a one-piece attached leather strap that lies completely flat horizontally when not in use. If it rests vertically, it could be a counterfeit.

One way to identify a genuine Birkin is through its clochette, a single sewn leather piece that holds the keys to the bag’s lock, pictured here on a Hermes Birkin Rose Pourpre handbag that sold for $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2020. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

All Birkins are fitted with a lock that is specially constructed to be heavier; counterfeit locks usually lack heft and come with standard commercial keys. Authentic locks sport either one or two numbers under the stamped Hermes company name, depending on when it was made. Turning the key in the lock should feel smooth, not difficult to open or close. In addition, a true Birkin key is secured with leather straps and is not on a ring. When the bag’s keys are enclosed within its one-piece, sewn leather clochette, they lie evenly flat. If the clochette is sewn from two pieces of leather, that’s a sign your bag is fake.

Also, know that Hermes Birkins come with their own dust bags. Initially orange, the dust bag was changed to a beige herringbone-patterned heavy cotton material sometime in 2007. Vintage dust bags feature an image of a well-defined 19th-century Le Duc carriage and horse enclosed in a circle, plus an “H’ for Hermes. If the dust bag is newer, there should be two circles surrounding the logo and two lines under the carriage, and it should be crisp and unbroken, never blurred. Also, Birkin dust bags are woven from a heavier cloth; counterfeits have bags composed of less-substantial material. Another telling detail is the stitching for the drawstring sleeve, which should be folded over by exactly two centimeters, or about three-quarters of an inch. If you spot any deviation, your Birkin may be bogus.

Still another characteristic of a true Birkin handbag is its blind embossed date code, which appeared on the reverse of the front locking strap until 2015, when it was moved inside. This orange Veau Grain Lisse Birkin, which earned $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2019, shows an ‘X’ at the beginning of its date code, identifying it as having been made in 2016. Image courtesy of Diamond N Jewelry Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Using these seven key identifiers can help you identify a legitimate Hermes Birkin, but it is always advisable to have an expert verify it, just to be sure. Those schooled in the ways of Hermes can tell you when a Birkin was made, and by whom, from the die-stamped number emblazoned either on the reverse of the closing strap or, for those bags made in 2016 and later, on the right side of the interior – but keep in mind that skilled counterfeiters are aware of this fact. Consulting a reference guide to all Hermes symbols and stamps – there are many such resources online – can aid in attempts to assess and authenticate your Birkin.

Owning a genuine Birkin bag is more than just owning a functional status symbol; many have come to view it as an investment. According to a 2021 Art Market Research study, the value of a Hermes Birkin increased 42% at auction during the previous year within the luxury goods market. That represents a much better return than even stock market gains for the same period. To reap the full value of a Birkin, though, be sure to keep everything that was issued with the bag when it was new. That includes the orange store shopping bag, dust bags, the wrappings, its box, the care instructions and any stuffing that might have been tucked inside. The more complete it is, the higher its price will be when offered on the secondary market at auction.

This Potiron orange-colored Hermes Birkin in shiny niloticus crocodile leather with palladium hardware sold for $57,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of GWS Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Although it is fundamentally an item of fashion, the Hermes Birkin has survived nearly 40 years of fads, a truly staggering onslaught of counterfeiting, and Jane Birkin’s own mixed signals about her namesake.

After relying on Hermes Birkins for years, Birkin told the BBC in 2017, “Now I fill my pockets like a man, because then you don’t actually have to carry anything.” Two years earlier, she had asked Hermes to remove her name from Birkins made from crocodile leather until the harvesting process could be made more humane. The brand subsequently investigated the matter and addressed her concerns. But Birkin bags endure because Hermes backs, and places its full faith in, its artisans. Birkins are heirloom-quality and regarded far and wide as being of investment quality. There can be no greater status symbol than that.

Exclusive designer handbags and clutches on offer, Aug. 31

A Gucci strawberry-print handbag, a Louis Vuitton Keepall Bandouliere 50B silver glitter Damier pattern duffle bag, and a vintage Hermes Depeches unisex work bag will likely earn top lot status at Jasper52’s Exclusive Designer Handbags and Clutches auction, which will take place on Wednesday, August 31 at 8 pm Eastern time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

Many of the great brands are present, including Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Christian Dior, Chanel, Goyard, Burberry, Balenciaga and Christian Louboutin. Perhaps surprisingly, the lineup contains a generous selection of backpacks that includes a multi-color Chanel CC Foulard quilted printed backpack; a unisex leather backpack by Coach; a Louis Vuitton men’s backpack in navy blue monogram leather; a gunmetal gray Christian Louboutin leather backpack with a shoulder strap and fringes on each side; a Hermes Cityback 27 backpack in Taurillon Colvert leather; and a Loewe navy blue calfskin leather drawstring rucksack that can be worn as a backpack.

Circa-1998 Hermes Depeches unisex work bag, est. $6,400-$6,600

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 hosts Luxury Fashion auction, Aug. 24

An Hermes Birkin 35 in fuchsia hammered leather, a vintage Emilio Pucci mini-dress, and a gold quilted Chanel handbag will likely earn top lot status at Jasper52’s Luxury Fashion Auction, which will be presented on Wednesday, August 24 at 6 pm Eastern time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

The auction features almost 600 lots, including numerous other pieces by Hermes, among them a Kelly 28 black leather handbag; a Kelly 25 in red togo leather; a double sens Clemence 45 blue and gray leather tote shopping bag; a Sac Mallette handbag in tan leather, with gold metal studs; a yellow cashmere and wool scarf with leather fringes; and a vintage blue suede jacket, size small.

Hermes Birkin 35 Epsom Rose Tyrien handbag, est. $21,000-$22,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Louis Vuitton Handbags: Real or Fake?

As far back as 5,000 years ago, a “purse” was a small, stitched fabric bag which men used to keep their coins safe. Such a bag was either attached to a man’s coat or worn at the waist. It was not until several millennia later that this type of purse was replaced by pockets in clothing, and in the 19th century, wallets.

Women also needed a way to carry their “indispensables,” giving rise to various versions of the handbag, which was introduced in France and, later, embraced in other parts of Europe. At first it was a reticule, a very slender, handmade drawstring bag which women used from the late 18th- to early 19th century. It looked similar to a modern-day evening bag.

With railway travel becoming more common later on in the 19th century, something more durable was needed for the transport of necessities. The small, mostly decorative ladies’ handbag just couldn’t withstand such conditions. That changed in 1841 when Samuel Parkinson, famous for his butterscotch confection, commissioned trunk maker H. J. Cave to create a completely matched set of variously-sized traveling trunks, boxes and handbags. Each was made from the same sturdy material, in a matching pattern. This is considered the very first order that launched a luxury market that was estimated at nearly $60 billion dollars in 2019.

An advertisement for Louis Vuitton that appeared on the inside front cover of the French publication ‘Le Theatre’ in July 1898. Source: Villanova University Digital Library, image in the public domain in the United States where copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years.

Louis Vuitton, a trunk maker in Paris, took notice. One of the notable features of a traveling trunk created by H. J. Cave was its innovative flat top, making the luggage easier to stack. The more commonly seen round-top trunk was designed to repel water, but it was difficult to load and stack onto railcars, coaches or ocean liners. In 1854 Vuitton incorporated treated canvas on the flat tops of his trunks to better repel water while also making them easier to stack and stow. His style was so distinctive that imitators started copying it almost from the very beginning. In 1898, Louis Vuitton added a handbag to the company’s product range.

Today, 122 years after its initial entry into the marketplace, the Louis Vuitton handbag is still considered the ultimate accessory, but it is also the most counterfeited of all luxury bags. How can you make sure you’re buying an authentic LV bag as opposed to a fake? It’s all in the details.

Brand-Specific Styling

In order for a handbag or other luxury item to be recognizable, the brand must be consistent with its identification.

LV’s initial pattern for its flat-top trunk was a gray Trianon Canvas (all patterns are identified as a “Canvas”), in 1872 the design was changed to beige and red vertical stripes. Since it was too easily counterfeited, another version called the Rayee Canvas with beige and brown vertical strips was introduced in 1876, but it, too, was counterfeited. The Damier Canvas design, a checkerboard of contrasting light and dark colors, replaced Rayee Canvas in 1888, with the words “marque L. Vuitton déposée” imprinted within a few squares as a logo to identify it as a Louis Vuitton registered product.

Introduced in 1888, the perennially popular Damier Canvas displays an alternating dark and light checkerboard pattern, with leather handles and perfect stitching. This Salema PM Damier Canvas bag example sold at auction for $1,300 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

Regardless, the counterfeits persisted. By the time George Vuitton succeeded his father, Louis, who died in 1892, it had become abundantly clear that a different logo needed to be adopted. In 1898, the motif changed once again, to its now-familiar quatrefoils, floral symbols and the “Louis Vuitton” logo called the Monogram Canvas. The design was based on the Japanese mon of a simple, stylistic representation of an object important to a family, similar to a European heraldic coat-of-arms.

Each part of the Monogram Canvas is trademarked, and any counterfeit that shows even the slightest variant is challenged vigorously with lawsuits, no matter how small the changes. Protecting its brand from counterfeiters is of utmost importance to Louis Vuitton and to those who purchase LV handbags, who want to make sure their accessories are authentic. How can a buyer be sure that their handbag is the real deal? You just have to look closely.

Details Matter

There are many distinctive aspects to note in an authentic Louis Vuitton handbag. Each and every component is perfectly matched and assembled, stitched or riveted by hand. On average, it takes about four hours to create the work of art that ultimately becomes an iconic LV handbag. Each part of the finished handbag matters.

Black Suhali Leather Lockit MM Bag handmade in Paris in December of 2006 (letters DU is code for France; first and third numbers indicate month; second and fourth number indicate year). Image courtesy Japan Treasure Auction and LiveAuctioneers

 

A clear example of an internal leather tag in the same color as the leather trim features two letters and four numbers for this Black Suhali Leather Lockit MM Bag that translates as being handmade in Paris in December of 2006 (letters DU is code for France; first and third numbers indicate month; second and fourth number indicate year). Image courtesy Japan Treasure Auction and LiveAuctioneers

A clear example of an internal leather tag in the same color as the leather trim of a genuine Black Suhali Leather Lockit MM Bag features two letters and four numbers, meaning it was made in Paris in December of 2006 (letters DU is code for France; first and third numbers indicate month; second and fourth number indicate year). Image courtesy Japan Treasure Auction and LiveAuctioneers

There is no better way to know a Louis Vuitton handbag is authentic than by going directly to the source: Louis Vuitton authorized stores and boutiques. Their products are never “discounted,” they are not wholesaled to the public, and they never go “on sale.” In fact, the only way to buy a new Louis Vuitton product is to be invited to do so.

If you are presented with the opportunity to purchase a Louis Vuitton handbag, either from a reputable auction or boutique that is not operated by Louis Vuitton, here are points to note:

  • Material: All Louis Vuitton handbags are made from a high-quality, coated-canvas-type material with real leather handles and trim that are soft, never hard or rough, with absolutely no seams that break up the design.
  • Stitching: Each handbag is handmade, and the stitching for each and every piece of trim is evenly placed within a certain number of stitches (a trade secret), where none are ever missing, skipped or frayed.
  • Patterns: Each of the Canvas patterns is uninterrupted by stitches or the placement of fasteners, straps or zippers, unless it matches exactly on either side.
  • Inside: A Louis Vuitton handbag features lining specifically designed only for that handbag. There will never be a substitution of color, style or fabric.
  • Tags and Codes: Tags are never attached to the bag itself. Instead, date codes (not serial numbers) consistin of letters and numbers beginning in 1980 are either foil-embossed on the inside lining or printed on a rectangular leather tab stitched to an inner seam that is the same color as the trim.
  • Hardware: All rivets, mechanisms, locks or metal fasteners are sturdy and solid, and fitted evenly throughout, without gaps. Certain pieces are stamped with the Louis Vuitton logo.
  • Imperfections: There is no bleeding of color, missing edges, sloppy logos, frayed threads, ill-fitting zippers, shorter handles, painted metals, plastic parts, incorrect stamps or misspelled words (except for words intentionally spelled in an unusual manner by LV). These sorts of things suggest a bag may have come off an assembly line and therefore is a counterfeit.
  • Releases: There may be a particular product that was never released that is being offered for sale as a prototype, an unauthorized limited edition, or special opportunity not offered to others. This should be regarded as a red flag, as Louis Vuitton never does such things.

On occasion, LV will choose to produce authorized limited-edition handbags such as this striking red and black Speedy 30 handbag designed by Stephen Sprouse with Marc Jacobs in 2001 with the words ‘Louis Vuitton Paris’ written as graffiti. The limited edition also came with a charm bracelet, the only piece of jewelry ever released by LV. It sold for $2,800 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

  • Packaging & Miscellaneous: Packaging, including the addition of an authorized dust bag, is also a critical point. Louis Vuitton does not include a certificate of authenticity but can provide a cream-colored, heavy stock card identifying the style with a unique barcode placed inside. If the seller adds anything additional such as extra straps that weren’t part of the original release, it is a sign that the handbag may be a counterfeit.

Even the font on the logo should be researched beforehand to determine if it is correct in size, shape, color and material. With all the different styles and features seen in Louis Vuitton handbags, research matters. The watchword at Louis Vuitton is “perfection.” Each handbag created by LV is a very limited work of handmade art whose materials, fasteners, and workmanship are of uncompromising quality.

Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 monogrammed leather handbag with LV’s iconic quatrefoils, floral design, and leather trim and handles. This bag sold at auction for $950 (plus buyer’s premium). 
Image courtesy Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

According to Forbes, the counterfeiting of top-tier luxury goods such as those produced by Louis Vuitton is around a $600 billion industry. While this staggering number shows that there are many who will knowingly purchase a cheaply-made fake bag, the bottom line is, it’s illegal. If you can’t afford a genuine handbag made by the French company whose history and workmanship are second to none, the best advice is, save up for it. Some things are so special, they just can’t be duplicated.

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Jasper52 sale carrying dozens of designer bags April 1

“The joy of dressing is an art.” – said British fashion designer John Galliano. A Jasper52 online auction on Wednesday, April 1, will bring some joy into your closet with timeless designer fashion and accessories. Four out of five lots in the auction constitute bags, purses and totes by the likes of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Cannel, Gucci and Fendi.

Hermès Birkin 35, blue leather, includes storage bags, Cadena and Clochette with key, in good condition. Estimate: $13,000-$16,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Designer accessories to sell in online auction March 11

More than 200 handbags, totes and wallets will be sold on Wednesday, March 11, in a Jasper52 online auction titled Timeless Designer Fashion & Accessories. Approximately 50 lots of jewelry made by the likes of Tiffany & Co., Bulgari, Cartier and Mikimoto will also be offered.

Hermès Kelly 32 Outside Sewing handbag, 23cm x 32cm x 12cm. Estimate: $11,000-$13,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Scores of Hermes bags offered in Jasper52 auction Oct. 30

Jasper52 will host a Rare and Coveted Designer Accessories auction on Wednesday, Oct. 30. This online auction offers some of the world’s rarest and most coveted designer accessories. From one-of-a-kind Birkin bags to limited edition jewelry designs, these lots cannot be found anywhere else.

Gold Hermes 40cm Bolide Monster Shark bag, comes with lock, key, clochette, sleeper and signature Hermes box. Estimate: $30,000-$36,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Luxury fashions & accessories on Jasper52 runway Sept. 16

Jasper52 will present 100 lots of luxury fashions and accessories by such esteemed houses as Christian Dior, Manolo Blahnik and Hermes in an online auction on Monday, Sept. 16. Most of these coveted designer finds – handbags, clothing and shoes – are in never-worn or like-new condition.

Hermes Birkin 35 in chartreuse, Togo leather lush with gold hardware, clean with light wear noted, 14in. long x 11in. high x 7in. deep with 5in. handles. Estimate: $14,000-$17,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

All things Hermès starring in Jasper52 auction July 31

“It’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin!” And Jasper52 will offer nearly 90 of these coveted items in an exclusive Hermès auction July 31. These iconic bags, rare accessories and home furnishings embody the rich history, expert craftsmanship and attention to detail the house of Hermès is celebrated for.

Hermès Birkin 35 Himalaya Blanc crocodile Palladium bag, new or never worn
Estimate $294,000-$353,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Designer Fashion Auction Jan. 9 is in the bags

More than 200 fashion designer bags are complemented by several dozen lots of couture in a Jasper52 online auction set for Wednesday, Jan. 9. Chanel, Prada, Valentino, Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton are a few of the famous names offered in this large auction.

Valentino Rockstud large clutch wrist bag, mint condition, 9 x 13.5 inches. Estimate: $800-$1,000. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.