Why Are Birkin Handbags So Expensive?

The Hermès Birkin bag rests on a pedestal built on rarity, exclusivity, and fine craftsmanship, which is helped by the company's belief that every piece is a work of art. The legendary French leather goods manufacturer is so fussy about the Birkin that Baghunter says the company only works with elite craftsmen who are experienced in working with high-grade leather.

One of the world's most iconic (and expensive) handbags was born on a flight from Paris to London, when a young English actress named Jane Birkin told Hermès Chief Executive Jean-Louis Dumas that she was struggling to find a bag big enough to fit her daughter's bottles. Town and Country says Dumas then sketched out (on the back of an airplane sick bag, no less) a design for a roomy bag complete with a polished plaque and a swivel clasp. The resulting bags are executed with Hermès' signature stitching (via Hermès), and the "It" bag was born.

How a Birkin handbag is made

Just one person is responsible for taking the bag from its conception to its birth across six main stages, which explains why it takes 48 working hours for a Birkin to transform from a piece of high-grade leather to a bag the wealthy and powerful are proud to call their own.

The same artisan is responsible for first identifying the right piece of leather, and to inspect the skin properly for any defects. Once this is done, the artisan removes all defects and cuts the material into the size needed for the bag he is making. The material is then placed on a wooden clamp and stitched in the shape of the Birkin bag.

After the stitching is done, the artisan smooths and hides the seams with a hammer, and by sanding, shaving, and waxing the unfinished bag. Baghunter says this part of the process takes up the most time. At some point in the process, the artisan signs the work with a sequence of numbers, letters, and symbols which can be found on the blind stamp on the clasp.

Putting the finishing touches on a Birkin

The handle of a Birkin is crafted with the same material as the rest of the bag. To make the handle, Baghunter says the artisan layers up to five sections of the leather and when this is done, the handle is stitched onto the bag's main body.

The leatherwork is just one part of the Birkin's story. Its iconic metalwork including lock, studs, and clasps are then added — without using any screws in a process called "pearling." The bag is then subjected to a second, thorough inspection before the Birkin is sent to a Hermès boutique to wait for its new home.

But a Birkin's presence is never announced. And because Hermès isn't exactly the type to announce a restock of its iconic handbag, clients never know exactly when a new Birkin is available to purchase. The exclusivity and mystery surrounding the handbag have turned the Birkin into the mythical fashion creature that it is. Baghunter says the fashion house is even considering scaling back Birkin production, making the purchase and acquisition of a new Birkin an even more challenging process.

The Birkin is rated a 'buy'

The Birkin's story doesn't stop there. If you're looking for a long-term, worthwhile investment, Quartz says you're better off bypassing a stockbroker, and forgetting about a gold trader — instead, head straight for a Hermès store to put your name down for the next available Birkin (the next one will probably be available around the time you retire — which is also when we can probably afford its eye-watering price tag), but it may be worth the wait. 

Since the Birkin made its debut, Baghunter says the price of a Birkin has gone up by an average of 14.2 percent a year... outperforming both the S&P 500 stock index and the gold market. And if Hermès makes good on its promise to scale back on production, the Birkin's pricetag can only go from just plain unaffordable to, well, stratospheric.

What Jane Birkin thinks of her handbag today

While Jane Birkin was flattered when her namesake went from the perfect leather holdall to fashion icon, she confesses that she doesn't use her bags anymore for a very simple reason: that, if you are like her, and you fill the bag with "junk... and half the furniture from your house, it's a very, very heavy bag. Now I fill my pockets like a man, because then you don't actually have to carry anything," she says (via BBC). 

Fun fact: Town and Country says an empty Birkin can weigh a hefty two pounds, so no wonder Birkin's bags weigh a ton. But her bags remained "useful" to the end because when Birkin sold her stash, she was able to donate the money to her favorite charities, which included Amnesty International.

The Birkin is not without controversy, in 2015, the actress asked Hermès to take her name off the crocodile version of her namesake. PETA had accused the fashion house of using crocodile skins from farms who did not treat the reptiles humanely. Hermès denied the allegation, the issue was quietly laid to rest, and the exotic-skin handbag continues to be known as a Birkin today (via Vogue).