Handbags for big bucks: the latest global auction craze

Posted at 04/26/2014 10:37 AM | Updated as of 04/26/2014 10:37 AM

NEW YORK - The bargains start below $150 and the most expensive go for more than $100,000: designer handbags are the latest craze taking global auction houses by storm and fetching record prices.

Texas-based Heritage Auctions, which calls itself the market leader in luxury accessories, holds its New York spring sale on Monday -- and is more than upbeat about how well it's going to go.

"I expect to break into the top 10, but I don't believe any will break the world record," its 26-year-old director of luxury accessories, Matthew Rubinger, told AFP.

Of the 800 lots going under the hammer, the most expensive is an Hermes "Birkin" in shiny black crocodile, complete with a padlock and diamond and white gold clasp, valued between $80,000 and $100,000.

The second costliest is another "Birkin" in crocodile red with violet trim, gold clasp and special horseshoe ornament prominently placed in the $70,000 to $90,000 price tag range.

In the luxury auction market, Hermes bags are by far the most prized, especially those named after British actress Jane Birkin and the "Kelly" line that channels the late Princess Grace of Monaco.

In the luxury accessories category, which Heritage created in 2010, Hermes is followed by Chanel and Louis Vuitton, ahead of Gucci, Prada and Celine, says Rubinger.

- World record is $203,150 -

In 2010, Heritage sold 200 lots for $708,200, with gross sales reaching a staggering $14.5 million in 2013, he said.

The auction house has sold eight of the 10 world records, including the reigning record of $203,150 for a red crocodile "Birkin" measuring a mere 30 centimeters (12 inches) sold in Dallas, Texas, on December 6, 2011.

"This is such a new market," said Rubinger. "That's why it is so much fun."

Buyers and sellers are often the same, with top clients concentrated in the United States, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Asia.

"What is interesting, for the most part -- there is not that much variance in what people are looking for," he said.

Heritage is not the only auction house to take advantage of the new boom. Bonhams in Los Angeles, Christie's of London and Artcurial based in Paris all offer luxury accessories.

The competition does not worry Rubinger, who bought and sold his first handbag on the Internet for his mother when he was just 12 years old.

"As these players grow, it helps us," he said. "The more and more people are in this industry, it's expanding our market."

The day after Heritage's New York sale, Artcurial, which holds two of the 10 record sales, follows suit with a "Vintage Hermes" auction offering hundreds of handbags from the famous Parisian brand.

Among the most expensive is a 35 centimeter (14 inch) Birkin in matte brown crocodile valued at 30,000 to 35,000 euros ($41,520 to $48,440) and a 30 centimeter (12 inch) Birkin in black matte crocodile estimated at 14,000 to 16,000 euros.

"Every sale rose on the last," Rubinger said.

The market for the big bucks designer handbag is on the rise -- so much so that even men are becoming keen.

"Husbands of clients I had for years are more interested now that the dollar figures have gotten higher, we are talking real money here," he said.

"That's a reason why men got more interested. You can make a really dumb purchase at $50 and you can make a smart purchase at $50,000," he added.

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