Birkin bags, giant emeralds sold in $20-million auction
Toronto Star, 2014 11 25
Among the so-called bargains were $600,000 worth of emeralds, bought over the phone, and women’s handbags, including the famous Birkin, going for $10,000.
A bargain? you might ask, in a choking fashion.
“It’s what every Hollywood girl wears,” said Ritchies Auction House director Kashif Khan at the Royal Ontario Museum, as the bidding in Sunday’s auction on the first of three Birkin bags started at about $8,000. “They sell every day on eBay used for $18,000.”
They are commodious, very conventional-looking bags, handmade by Hermes, leather lined, to carry a wallet, house keys, glasses, even lunch and a book. Yet Birkins are not easy to lay hands on.
You can’t just walk into a Hermes store and expect a bag to be available, their owners say. “If they don’t recognize you in the shop, you won’t be able to buy one,” said a mink-clad interior designer, at the auction with her diamond-merchant husband, also wearing fur.
“You have to shop there regularly. They are very, very rare.”
She has five Birkin bags, valued at about $200,000. She motions — with a French-manicured hand — to another woman at the auction who has an alligator Birkin worth about $50,000 she estimates. “That is a treasured bag,” she says.
Still, it is a handbag and I’m clearly not getting this.
But I’m beginning to understand, at least according to this woman who would not give her name, owning a Birkin is somewhat like a secret code among the very rich. And that the rich really are different.
What’s happened to my husband, when men see me with a Birkin bag, the way he is treated man to man, there’s a tiny nod, a recognition.”
So, what’s like for the woman holding the bag? “You walk in with one . . . it’s ridiculous, but you never know until you own one.”
Kind of like climbing Everest, I guess.
Now, there is also the investment side to these bags, which owners say hold their value.
“If you take care of a Birkin bag and you need to sell it, you can make money on it,” says another woman, who declined to give her name, as she walked out with her $8,200 purchase, “an elegant rouge colour leather” bag, as described in the auction catalogue. “It’s an investment piece to be enjoyed.”
Another woman, also in the diamond business, was blunt about the appeal of a Birkin: “It has a lot of status.” She wanted a bag, but said she’d have to wait about two years to buy one from Hermes store. Among her purchases, a bag for $10,000 and an Art Deco emerald-and-diamond bracelet for $45,000.
About $20 million worth of stones, jewelry and art was auctioned in the ROM’s Bronfman room.
Some who were there, including cancer researcher Monika Wizemann, came out of curiosity. “It wasn’t like the movies,” she said. Very few numbered paddles were raised, as most of the bidding was on the phone.
Brampton dentist Priya Rabheru, who came “for fun” left empty-handed. She’d expected that some of the watches or jewelry would go for less than the estimated bids, though that generally didn’t happen.
The highest price on several sets of emeralds was $265,000. They were 123- and 126-carat stones, described as “cushion shaped” and were about the size of little Christmas shortbreads. In an otherwise understated sale, there was a frisson in the air only when the emerald bidding opened at $200,000.
And the New York dealer who bought the emeralds didn’t set eyes on them
“We told him what quality they were on the phone,” said Khan. “He knows he’s got a deal.”
Khan added it’s likely the dealer will keep the stones until he gets a call from a luxury jewelry maker such as Cartier, with a special client in mind.
“This is stuff you usually do not see in this city.”