‘It’s not a bag, it’s a Birkin.’ So quips the withering salesman in one eponymous episode of ‘Sex and the City’ when Samantha tries to jump the queue, name drop and blag her way to the oh-so-buttery-soft clutches of her very own Birkin. The price quoted ($4,000? Those were the days) and wait-list do well to date the early-noughties sitcom, but there is no mistaking the iconic silhouette of the exquisite Hermès Birkin taunting Ms. Jones on the boutique’s polished countertop. Birkin, Kelly, Constance-- one need not be an accessories aficionado to be on a first name basis with these luxury handbags. As we highlighted in our New Year piece, The January Effect Hermès stands for unrivalled commitment to quality, craftsmanship, style and sophistication. The timeless design of these and other Hermès pieces have endured the decades to represent distinct symbols of class, status and affluence—transcending mere ‘It’ bag status to become the stuff of legend lusted over by celebrities and VIPs alike.
Of course, not dissimilar to Ms. Jones, many have tried and failed in their attempt to possess a box-fresh Birkin or Kelly; the right to purchase these beauties seemingly gifted to a chosen few. Clever marketing, in-store drop-dates veiled in secrecy and sheer scarcity only add to the marque’s mystique, not to mention material investment value. The hit rate of rocking up to an Hermès boutique, flashing the black AmEx and walking out with the covetable arm candy by way of a Birkin or Kelly is near nil. Naturally, all this combined renders the pre-loved market the more realistic and accessible means of obtaining one. As demand and prices continue to rise (many argue Birkins and Kellys are a better investment than gold), so too does the counterfeit market. Indeed, some studies suggest over 90% of purported Hermès bags sold online are not authentic. As a purveyor of authentic pre-loved Hermès handbags, we have pulled together our top tips to ensure you will be filled with confidence and conviction when purchasing your second hand Birkin online.
Know your seller
This may go without saying, but with more and more convincing forgeries floating around the market and second-hand auction sites popping up hither and thither it makes knowing your seller all the more relevant. Like all good investments, seeking a reputable seller that knows its product is paramount. Make sure the seller has in-house experts who know their market and thoroughly inspect every product put on sale. A reasonable returns policy is also advised. Beware of final sales or a strict returns policy as only sellers confident of customer satisfaction will offer a no-quibble means for returning any goods with which a purchaser is not 100% satisfied.
Using similar logic, price is perhaps the best indicator of authenticity. As the old adage goes, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. A realistically priced ‘entry level’ Birkin or Kelly, i.e. not fabricated in exotic skins, in good condition will rarely go for less than £6,000-£7,000 and up to the tens, even hundreds of thousands of pounds, from there. Indeed, the more discreet, but no less lauded Constance bag commands similar prices. To the uninitiated, a couple of thousand pounds for a bag is an enormous amount of money, but a modest sum for Hermès, and thus sadly, likely not one.
Hermès sources only the finest leathers from around the world and in a variety of finishes, colours and exotic skins ranging from the robust, hard wearing, scratch-resistant Epsom finish leather to the exquisitely rare and tactile crocodile, alligator, lizard and ostrich. No matter the finish, the quality of Hermès leathers is unmistakable. Any Birkin or Kelly, no matter the hyde, stands at attention, and should not slouch, pucker, buckle, sag or bulge. From start to finish, each bag takes around 20-25 man-hours to create for a Kelly, and around 48 hours for a Birkin, as they are all hand crafted by a single artisan. The lining is made first of goatskin, from which each leather layer or other exotic exterior is precision cut and added accordingly. Each section is stitched with waxed linen thread and pieced together with painstaking attention to detail. All stitching is done by hand using Hermès’ trademark double saddle stitch, and so should display an ever so slightly diagonal slant. The edges are then buffed and polished to an impeccable finish, without impediment or imperfection. Many fakes will have bulky, clumsy and/or tacky textured edging and are tell-tale signs of a forgery. The leather handles are also perfectly rounded standing upright and should not be too long, misshapen or warped. The clochette, or leather key cover is always produced using a single piece of leather that lies neat and flat, never stiff and pushed open. Overall, the structure, heft, texture and even smell of the leather as well depth of colour (some colours are only produced by Hermès) should look and feel robust, rich and luxurious.
Hardware includes the zipper, lock, keys, toggle and metal plate on a Birkin or Kelly, which can be either gold plated or palladium finished. Other finishes include brushed gold, silver and ruthenium. In any case, the metal should not corrode, flake or tarnish. The lock, zipper and metal plate are engraved with the HERMÈS label in a clean, crisp, legible and evenly spaced font. There are also corresponding serial numbers on both the lock and keys. The zipper is also a key indicator of authenticity, where the zipper-pull and leather tag attached should lie parallel to the zipper, never fall or ‘flop’ lazily at a 90-degree angle. Every zipper should glide and not stick and begin with a distinct ‘H’ at the far right end. The toggle should also turn smoothly, not stick or pull. Like the leather, the hardware should feel weighty and solid, not light or cheap.
Hermès brand stamps are found in two separate places on a Birkin. The first is the logo stamp embossed on the upper center exterior, just beneath the stitching. The location is key, and should never be too large, or far below the top of the bag. Again, the logo should be crisp, legible and unimpeded by the grain of leather. It should never be stamped-on or pressed in, crooked, blocky or chipped. The second stamp is inside the flap and indicates both the year it was made and artisan’s ID. The letters A-Z indicate the year of manufacture and are either standing alone, inside a circle or a square. A letter with no shape indicates the bag was made between 1945 (A) and 1970 (Z). A letter inside a circle indicates the bag was made between 1971 (A) and 1996 (Z). A letter inside a square indicates the bag was made between 1997 (A) and 2022 (Z).
If any seller boasts any sort of Hermès ‘authenticity card’ accompanying a bag, alarm bells should ring. The only official documentation that may come with Hermès is a receipt, or if made of exotic skins, a CITES card for import and export purposes.
Depending on the year, dust bags are tan velour, orange cotton flannel or beige and light brown herringbone toile emblazoned with Hermès logo inside a single or double ringed circle. Be sure to inspect the dust bag’s logo for any discrepancies. Further, beware bags with any part wrapped in plastic. This suffocates and cracks the leather and so will not be used by sellers who know this.
For most of us, purchasing a Hermès, no matter the item, is a big decision; one that deserves proper care and consideration. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what to look for, but should provide a good guide to anyone who is serious about making the investment. Do your research and if something does not feel or look right, trust your instinct.