Hermes crocodile skin Kelly handbag fetches record US$510,000 in Hong Kong sale

Christie's Hong Kong's autumn auctions started this week, and delivered favourable results.

In their Handbags and Accessories Sale, a Hermes crocodile leather Kelly handbag was sold at HK$4 million (around US$510,000) dollars, with buyer’s premium. It broke the world auction record for handbags.

The previous record was also set by Christie's last year – its protagonist was a Kelly handbag as well. It was fabricated in a different dimension and with no diamonds.

Lot 3844 | Hermes 2021 | Matte White Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Diamond Retourne Kelly 28 with 18K white gold and diamond hardware

Year: 2021
28 x 20 x 10 cm
Grade: 1
Set with 229 diamonds, total 9.2 carats 

Estimate: HK$1,800,000 – 3,000,000

Sold: HK$4,000,000 (around US$510,000)

The previous and new records of the most expensive handbag are both Kelly's

Their condition ratings are of the highest levels  in terms of year, size and presence/absence of diamonds.

  • New record|November 2021 at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28 cm version, released in 2021, with diamonds. Sold for HK$4 million (around US$510,000) dollars
  • Previous record|November 2020 at Christie's Hong Kong, 25 cm version, released in 2019, no diamonds. Sold for HK$3.3 million (around US$420,000) dollars

The two hand-made crocodile leather handbags also vary in colour. 

Left: This year's record-breaking 28 cm Kelly handbag | Right: The previous record 25 cm Kelly handbag

The Kelly is Hermes’ most classic handbag – its origins can be traced back to the early 20th century with the release of the Haut a Courroies (HAC) bag. Originally used to hold saddles for equestrians, it had a trapezoidal design which included two triangular gussets, a cutout flap, a handle and two side straps.

It was eventually reinterpreted into the Sac a Depeches in the 1930s, and gained popularity with Grace Kelly.

For those unfamiliar, Kelly was one of the most prominent American actresses. Throughout the mid-1950s, she starred in movies such as Rear Window, The Country Girl and The Swan. She garnered many acting awards – most notably the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Country Girl in 1954. 

In 1956, she married Prince Rainier III, and became the Princess Consort of Monaco – a principality bordered by France and Italy.

Grace Kelly starred in the movie, Rear Window (1954)

The Princess used the Kelly handbag to hide her pregnancy 

Newlywed, she did not want to make her pregnancy known right away; so the Princess' beloved Hermes bag helped her conceal it.

This image became popular across the globe and was on the front cover of numerous magazines. Kelly helped the bag become a status symbol amongst celebrities, and was even more sought after by fashionable women throughout the United States and parts of Europe.

In the 1970s, Hermes officially changed the name of this handbag to Kelly to commemorate this story.

Kelly with her husband, Prince Rainier III of Monaco 

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong

Sale: Handbags & Accessories 

Date: 26 November 2021

Sale Total: HK$24,250,000 (around US$3.1 million)