Hermés handbags top list of world's most coveted items again

·4 min read
A Hermes diamond Himalaya Birkin handbag – the world’s most expensive limited-edition handbag – at Heritage Auctions offices in Beverly Hills, California, US. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
A Hermes diamond Himalaya Birkin handbag – the world’s most expensive limited-edition handbag – at Heritage Auctions offices in Beverly Hills, California, US. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Hermés (RMS.PA) handbags have, for the second year in a row, topped the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), followed by fine wine and luxury cars.

While it's hard to pin an average price on these items, Hermes bags can start at about $2,000 (£1,418), and the price of its elusive Birkin bag likely starts at about $9,000.

The index tracks the performance of a theoretical basket of selected collectable asset classes using existing third-party indices. Each asset class is weighted to reflect its relative importance and value within the basket.

The estate agent’s Wealth Report 2021 said Hermés handbags’ prices were up 17% in 2020. It put this down to “an established online auction presence and the appetite for relatively affordable luxury pick-me-ups during the pandemic, particularly in Asia where many bag collectors are based.”

At the end of 2019, Knight Frank introduced Hermès handbags into its index, and with 13% annual growth they were the year’s top performing asset class.

The company said in a report in summer 2020 that in the last three years, the most celebrated Hermès handbags have regularly been breaking price records at auction.

Bags such as Hermès ‘So Black’ Birkin and the Hermès Lizard Ombre are two examples of bags whose prices are driven by influencers drawing attention to them.

At the time, Knight Frank also said that since around 90% of collectable handbags can be bought online, the lockdown didn't prevent buyers continuing to shop in this way.

Chart: Knight Frank
Chart: Knight Frank

"However, there’s been a definite shift in favour of the buyer who is now increasingly expecting what some in the auction industry are calling a ‘COVID-19 price’," it noted.

An Hermès Himalaya Birkin – the world’s most expensive limited-edition handbag with examples regularly fetching over $200,000 at auction – was consigned to a Sotheby’s timed auction on 1 June this year with an estimate of $85,000 to $100,000, but failed to find a buyer.

Meanwhile, wine came in second place on the KFLII. The report said that following a year of consolidation, wine markets experienced strong growth in 2020, up 13% compared to a year earlier.

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"Unlike the global financial crisis, the wine market has held its nerve throughout the pandemic, merchants did not mark down prices and the market has been stable,” it noted.

After a sluggish 2019 where the value of the HAGI Top Index – which Knight Frank uses to track the value of classic cars – fell by 7%, 2020 saw cars race back up to third place in KFLII with growth of 6%. Ferraris performed particularly strongly.

Unlike fine wine, the Knight Frank Whisky Index, compiled by Rare Whisky 101, lost some momentum in 2020, dropping by 3.5%.

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The report said that against many other investments that doesn’t seem too much of a decline.

However, in 2018 the value of whisky rose by 40%, making it the best performing luxury asset class in the KFLII. This points to the volatility of ultra-rare-top-end whisky as an investment.

The art market also didn’t fair too well, with the auction tracking Art Market Research (AMR) All-Art Index dropping 11% in 2020. 

“For obvious reasons one of the biggest changes was a shift towards private sales at the major auction houses last year,” said Sebastian Duthy of AMR.

“The volume of all sales that were publicly auctioned at Sotheby’s and Christie’s were down 26% and 46% on 2019, respectively. The problem was compounded by the slowing the supply of quality works as consigners who could afford to wait, preferred to sit it out at home," he noted.

But he added "there was still plenty of enthusiasm from buyers. With a new emphasis on home working, there was a surge in demand from collectors sprucing up their homes.”

Andrew Shirley, editor of the Wealth Report at Knight Frank said that "the market for luxury collectables, which relies on the auction market for much of its profile, is clearly badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But some sectors like handbags are weathering the storm better than higher-value assets like the top end of the art market where no painting sold for over $100m for the first time in number of years.”

Meanwhile, the Wealth Report 2021 also said the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals around the world is predicted to grow by 27% in the next five years to 2025, led by Asia, taking the total population to 663,483.

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