Published: Feb 20, 2020
Founded in 1837 as a harness shop, Hermes was born to fit the needs of the equestrian world. It was from these roots in making saddles, bridles and other leather horse riding gear that Hermes honed its incredible craftsmanship. Over time, Hermes widened its selection of products, expanding into leather bags (“Haut à Courroies”) for saddles in 1900 and then accessories and clothing in the 1920’s.
The now staple luxury handbags were also born out of the success of Hermes’ travel bags, which were introduced in 1925. The famous “Kelly” bag, as we know it today, was first introduced in 1935 as the “Sac à dépêches”, and the gorgeous Hermes silk scarves, or “carrés” entered production in 1937.
Hermes debuted its ultimate luxury statement, in the form of the Birkin handbag in 1982, after a famous encounter between then Hermes CEO Jean-Louis Dumas and ultra-famous Hollywood star Jane Birkin, on a flight from Paris to London. Birkin handbags range in price from the basic models, which start around $7,000-8,000, all the way to the premium, exotic crocodile skins which can command up to $300,000.
Due to the fact that they are so coveted and expensive, Hermes handbags have become a prime target for counterfeiters selling fakes for too-good-to-be-true prices. Hermes does not authenticate bags on request if you were to walk into a boutique.
However, armed with solid authentication know-how, you will be able to tell the real deal from even the most detailed fakes out there. So how do you authenticate an Hermes Birkin or Kelly bag? There are many ways professionals authenticate Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags, but every one checks the following areas. Here is the breakdown.
7-step Authenticity Check on an Hermes Birkin or Kelly Bag
1. Examine the bag's shape and proportions
2. Check the size and measurements
3. Inspect material choice and quality
4. Analyze the stitching pattern
5. Look at the hardware
6. Confirm the date stamp
7. Check the brand stamp
1. Examine the Bag's Shape and Proportions
Let’s start with the first glance. Both the Kelly and Birkin handbags look exquisite, with elegant, crisp lines and luxurious, unmistakable silhouettes. The Kelly comes in two forms: the Retourne and the Sellier. These differ in the type of stitching giving each bag its distinct stance.
The Retourne has its stitches on the inside of the bag, which provides a seamless look and softer qualities. Interior stitching also means a lack of rigidity, which is why the Retourne can slouch once placed upright.
The Sellier, on the other hand, has all of its stitches on the exterior of the bag. As a result, the stitches are closer together, and the craftsman has to be extra meticulous since they are visible. The Sellier bag has sharper edges and is far more rigid than its counterpart, with the ability to stand upright without slouching. If your Sellier slouches, this is an instant red flag.
Pictured: (left) an Hermes 35 Kelly Sellier finished in red box calf leather and gold-plated hardware. Next to it (right) is an Hermes 35 Kelly Retourne. Note how the Retourne looks softer and more plush, whereas the Sellier is sharp and composed - two distinct luxury statements but both come down to personal preference.
The Birkin shares structural characteristics with the Kelly, but with heftier proportions. Initially intended as a durable, secure carry-on traveling bag (as per Jane Birkin’s specifications) the Birkin is extra rigid and has a luxurious weight to it. Adding to its weight are the metal feet, or “clou” on which the Birkin sits - it should always be able to sit upright.
The Birkin’s handles should be rigid and have no problem staying upright on their own. When inspecting the handles, be sure to measure the distance between the top of the bag, and the top of the handles: this measurement should be 5 inches, or 12.7 centimeters.
Pictured: the top of the Hermes handbag food chain - the 35 Birkin finsihed in Matte Graphite Porosus Crocodile and Palladium Hardware. Make no mistake, this is one of the sturdiest handbags ever made, with a luxurious hefty weight. The matte Porosus scales shine just enough to make a statement but it stays classy and reserved - a true luxury icon. Depending on condition, scale symmetry and color (among many other things) these Porosus Birkins can sell upwards of $50,000.
2. Check the Size and Measurements
When it comes to authenticating Hermes' top-of-the-line handbags, knowing their measurements and proportions is crucial.
- The Birkin comes in four main sizes: 25cm, 30cm, 35cm and 40cm.
- The Kelly comes in 8 sizes: 15cm, 20cm, 25cm, 28cm, 32cm, 35cm, 40cm and 50cm.
**Note there are also special edition versions, like the Birkin HAC which are custom made to different proportions, and the travel Kelly bags which come in 40cm and 50cm sizes.
Use the below size charts to help you confirm whether the bag is authentic or fake. A 30 Birkin should measure 30 centimeters across the base of the bag; a 40 Birkin should measure 40 centimeters, and so on. Hermes always stays 100% true to size, so always make the correct measurements when authenticating!
3. Inspect Material Choice and Quality
Very important! Real Hermes leather has a distinct scent to it. The scent remains with the bag no matter how old it is. Counterfeiters cannot replicate the Hermes’ proprietary leather treatment, and typically are finished with a more chemical scent. This is an instant giveaway that professional authenticators rarely miss.
When determining the authenticity of an Hermes handbag, closely examining the materials used in the bag’s construction is key. Hermes only uses the best leather in the world and its professional leather artisans spend no less than 2 years training with Hermes-specific leatherworks before they can make a handbag.
If you are ever doubting the bag’s quality, you are likely dealing with a replica. Real Hermes leather should be soft and supple to the touch, and visual qualities really depend on the type of leather used. To learn more about the anatomy of each individual leather type, be sure to read our Hermes Leather Guide.
4. Analyze the Stitching Pattern
Hermes uses a special type of stitching called saddle stitching in their leather products, derived from their heritage of handmade equestrian leather accessories. Using two separate needles, saddle stitching creates two rows of stitches in a single row of holes, providing a clean yet durable look.
Because authentic Hermes bags are handmade, the stitches should actually have some imperfections. Fakes are generally machine-stitched, so they are perfectly in line with one another. This is another giveaway that the bag is a replica.
Take a closer look at Hermes stitching. As you can see, each individual stitch is not in a perfectly straight line - rather, they are slightly angled from one another.
On an authentic Hermes bag, if you were to look at the reverse side of the leather, the stitches would be angled in the opposite direction as they are on the front. This is because genuine Hermes handbags are hand-stitched with two needles.
5. Look at the Hardware
The hardware is the next crucial place to examine. Birkins and Kelly bags have two types of hardware: gold and palladium.
On the hardware there should be a laser-etched “HERMES PARIS”, in nice, even font. You should also note that on the gold hardware Hermes bags, there should be a hallmark after the “PARIS” whereas the palladium finish does not have a hallmark (see picture above for reference).
Now, take a look inside the bag, specifically on the back pocket that has a zipper. This is a common place for counterfeiters to make mistakes. Knowing what authentic Hermes zippers look like will help you determine whether it’s real or not.
The starting point of the zipper (opposite side of where the zipper pull tab is) should have a metal “H”, which should be neatly in line with the metal slider. Not all Hermes zippers feature the ‘H’, specifically older bags, which have a standard, square block that you would find in other types of zippers.
When you open and close the zipper, it should be a luxury experience: smooth, easy and satisfying. It is a zipper that a trained artisan has tested and is fully satisfied with. Finally, the authentic Hermes zippers have a clean matte finish; they should not have a luster or shine to them. Fakes tend to use cheap, shiny metal.
Pictured: When looking inside a Birkin or Kelly, this is what you should see. On the left is the spacious interior of an orange shiny Porosus 30 Birkin. On the right is what an authentic Hermes zipper looks like. Note the 'H' at the zipper base and the matte finish of the zipper metal.
6. Confirm the Hermes Date Stamp
Hermes date stamps can be found in two places: behind the strap on the front of the bag, or on the inside of right-hand-side wall of the bag.
From 2016 Hermes started stamping the code on the inside of Birkin bags instead of the back of the front strap. Unlike Chanel, which uses a numbered code to denote the production year, Hermes uses an alphabetical code to denote the year.
The letter will either be found stamped by itself, stamped inside of a circle, or stamped inside of a square. The A-Z range represents a range of 26 years. For example, the letter ‘P’ stamped in a square means the bag was made in 2012.
See the below table for reference, as the date code is a crucial step in Hermes handbag authentication. The most recent, 2020 Hermes date stamp, is a letter 'Y' stamped by itself.
Pictured: Two examples of date stamps from a red Sellier Kelly (left) and the shiny orange Porosus Birkin (right). The Z in the circle stamp denotes 1996, and the C in the square stamp denotes 1999
Be extra careful if a bag is stamped with a letter 'L' in a square. An 'L' in a square alone does not mean a bag is fake, but a lot of replica bags use this stamp.
7. Check the Hermes Brand Stamp
To an untrained eye, a counterfeit Hermes brand stamp can be incredibly deceiving. However, when authenticating an Hermes bag, especially a Birkin or Kelly, it is crucial to inspect the brand stamp.
The HERMES logo is heat-pressed on authentic bags. Many counterfeiters also heat-press their copy logos and often times on fakes you will find that the press is too deep, leaving a messy indent into the leather.
Very important! Running your finger along the logo, you should be able to feel the logo on top of the leather, not pressed into it. The Hermes font should be consistent, perfectly centered and evenly spaced - not a single visual flaw should be present.
Pictured: two examples of authentic Hermes brand stamping on varying leather types. As you can see, the stamps are clearly heat-pressed onto the leather and the font is perfect. Brand stamping may not be as contrasting on lighter and brighter colors, such as the bright orange shiny Porosus (right); by comparison, heat stamping on more common black box grain leather is far more contrasting.
Quick Reference Authentication Summary for Hermes and Kelly Bags:
- Does the bag come with an Hermes authenticity card? This is a FAKE. Hermes never sells bags with authentication paperwork. The only paperwork that will ever come with an authentic Hermes bag is CITES documents for exotic skins (i.e. alligator, crocodile). If you are buying from a reputable reseller, they can and should provide proprietary authentication papers, but these will never be Hermes-originated.
- Is the bag slouching? Does it have bulges or inconsistencies in the leather? This is a FAKE. Authentic Birkin and Kelly bags (besides Retourne Kelly bags, which feature softer leather) should stand perfectly upright.
- Are the handles floppy or off-center? This is likely a FAKE. Sturdy handles are a top selling-point of Hermes bags, and they should never slouch even with moderate use.
- Is the clochette (leather case for the keys) made of two pieces of leather stitched together? If yes, this is 100% FAKE. Real Hermes clochettes are made from a single piece of leather folded over and stitched on two sides.
- Does the dust bag logo not match the real Hermes logo? FAKE.
- Does the font on the HERMES stamps look awkward, off center or otherwise irregular? If yes, definitely FAKE.
- Do you see any glue, fraying stitches, too-good-to-be-true machine stitching? This is definitely a sign of FAKE.