Bring home the Birkin

An auction of 125 rare handbags will have tai-tais turning out in droves to secure a slice of haute couture history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 November, 2014, 5:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 November, 2014, 5:34pm

Luxury handbags are serious collectibles that retain their value over time. And getting your hands on one has just become easier with Christie's first physical auction dedicated to the accessory.

The auction at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai will showcase 125 rare and highly sought after pre-owned bags. Previews for the auction will be held from November 21 to 23, with the auction on November 24.

The house's senior vice-president of handbags and accessories in Hong Kong, Matthew Rubinger, admits the catalogue is more focused on Hermès, but brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Bottega Veneta also feature.

"Most buyers will be collectors looking for a particular piece, something better than what they have now, or something they've never had before," says 26-year-old Rubinger. "They don't need the cash, but they want to curate their collections. They are looking for items that are rare, limited edition or in colours that are new or discontinued."

Rubinger had just a month to procure the handbags - no easy feat. But the Chappaqua, New York native has been dealing in handbags for more than 12 years and has sourced some gems.

Most of the bags for the upcoming sale, procured from Asia and Europe, are in immaculate condition. Standouts include a 25cm wide Birkin in a bright green bamboo hue (a new colour this year), while a 30cm Birkin in brilliant fuchsia called Braise is a rare Hermès shade.

While the market here is mainly focused on small handbags, Rubinger says there is also demand for large ones.

"Some people want to stand out and have something no one else has, so they want a large bag, particularly if it's crocodile," he says. "Hermès uses only one skin per bag, so it can be hard to find one large enough to make bigger sizes. A 40cm Birkin in crocodile would be extremely rare.

"They know the values of the bags and they also know what they want, which, in a way, makes it easier," Rubinger says of the impressive knowledge level of clients in the city.

The top-performing brand is arguably still Hermès, especially its classic pieces. Exact numbers of specific bag styles and colours released each year still remains a mystery to those outside of the French luxury house.

Rubinger points out a Kelly bag in blue sapphire, one of the highlights of the sale. "Hermès still has a colour called blue sapphire, but it's not the same as this one which is darker and now discontinued. Sometimes they 'rest' a colour, making it inactive in production and then active a few years later. This one is very rare."

Another is a metallic Louis Vuitton Petite-Malle mini trunk from autumn-winter 2014, designed by Nicolas Ghesquière, that has already sold out.

The handbag expert's career kick-started in an unlikely fashion in the early 2000s thanks to the beginning of e-commerce.

"My brother and I went around the house looking for things to sell, knick-knacks and such," he says. "It was like a garage sale, but online."

When his mother asked him to find her a particular handbag made of candy wrappers, he found it online and quickly discovered that he could make a profit by reselling. "It was the most ingenious thing that ever happened," he says.

By high school, Rubinger had graduated to luxury brands, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton. This continued throughout his time at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, selling from his dorm room through online retailer DropShop (now Portero), before landing a role launching the luxury accessories division of Heritage Auctions in 2010 upon graduation.

Christie's has been auctioning handbags since 2004, first partnering them with gowns, and then with jewellery and timepieces. Last year, the handbags and accessories category was created, but only for online sales. The upcoming event heralds a new chapter, as the first live sale of handbags for the 248-year-old auction house.



Hermès shiny blue sapphire porosus crocodile Sellier Kelly 28 bag (1993) with gold hardware (estimate HK$150,000 to HK$200,000). Although this Kelly is over 20 years old, Rubinger says its condition is immaculate. The colour of this bag is key - it was "rested" for almost 20 years before being re-released, but the new shade isn't the same as the original, making this one highly sought after.

Hermès matte graphite nilo crocodile Birkin 35 bag (2010) with gold hardware (estimate HK$350,000 to HK$450,000). Crocodile Birkins are the most sought-after bags in the world, while the colour graphite is rarely seen with a matte finish, and even more rare with gold hardware.

Bottega Veneta ombre matte crocodile convertible duo bag (2012) with gunmetal hardware (estimate HK$20,000 to HK$30,000). Designed to look like two separate bags put together, giving it three compartments, and the crocodile has a glossy finish.

Chanel matte pink crocodile medium Mademoiselle bag (2011) with burnished silver hardware (estimate HK$40,000 to HK$60,000). Rubinger says this brightly coloured bag is one of the most important pieces created by the Paris fashion house in 2011.