It's never too early to start thinking about your holiday wish list.
Sure to top it this year? Chanel's "Diamond Forever" tote (pictured left). In December, the company will debut 13 of these diamond and alligator handbags just in time for the holiday shopping crunch. Each is a stepped-up version of the classic Chanel shoulder bag, with the iconic Chanel "Cs" encrusted in a staggering 334 diamonds (a total of 3.56 carats) set in 18-carat white gold. The alligator skin is farmed and treated with a matte finish.
The total cost: $260,150.
In Pictures: World's Most Extravagant Handbags
While few may actually end up owning this bag, the demand for other high-end handbags has skyrocketed. Online retailer eluxury.com saw sales of luxury handbags (those over $500) increase 11% last year.
"People want to spend their money on frivolous things," says Pamela Danziger, author of Why People Buy Things They Don't Need and founder of luxury goods research company Unity Marketing. "[And] handbags definitely fall into that category."
Scarcity is also driving desire for these totes. Something that is hard to obtain or impossible to find will be more valuable, says Meaghan Mahoney, editor of the daily news and handbag review online site purseblog.com.
"A handbag [such as] the Chanel Diamond Forever bag is more of a collector's item than something you use on a daily basis," she says. "Like an exquisite car or a rare painting, it's the limited availability and high demand that make this handbag more valuable."
Though Chanel's treasure may be the costliest handbag on the market, there are others that are just as costly, some dripping with diamonds, others crafted from animal skin.
A Purse Is Worth A Thousand Words
Take the Birkin by Hermes, a brand synonymous with luxury. This bag, inspired by French actress Jane Birkin, can fetch between $6,000 and $15,000, depending on what grade of leather or exotic skin it is made of.
But it is as nothing compared to its more exotic sister, the Crocodile Birkin. Price: $120,000. What makes this bag so expensive is not just the leather used but also the 10 carats of diamonds set in white gold and placed on its clasp. There are only two such bags available for purchase in the world
Accessorizing handbags with precious stones is not uncommon. The Leiber "Precious Rose bag incorporates 1,016 diamonds, 1,169 pink sapphires and 800 pink tourmalines, all set in 18-carat white gold. Cost: $92,000.
The Lana Marks Cleopatra Clutch in alligator ($100,000) comes accessorized with 1,500 fully cut and faceted black-and-white round diamonds that line the top of the handbag. Only five such clutches are made each year. In Hollywood during awards season the designer makes a limited-edition Cleopatra for only one actress. Two have won Academy Awards while in possession: Charlize Theron in 2004 and this year Helen Mirren, who carried hers right up to the podium.
When it comes to alligator, ostrich or snakeskin, handbag designers go to extreme lengths to find the rarest. Santiago Gonzalez, chief executive of Nancy Gonzalez handbags, has traveled from the Australian Outback to Hong Kong to find skins that seldom come to market.
"What people don’t understand," he says, "is that it takes a certain amount of area on the skin to make a bag. If the lizard is too small, then you have to use more of it."
Quality also determines price. The Nancy Gonzalez Porousus Bag, made with rare lizard skin, costs $30,000. Designer Devi Kroell uses alligator skins whose scales are similar in size--a rare phenomenon--to create a bag priced at $29,000. Judith Leiber's canary yellow handbag in alligator ($17,000) likewise uses skin with similar-sized scales.
Try saying that three times.
What with animal rights activists up in arms over fashionistas in fur, might we not soon see the day when lizard lovers will be pressured to not buy bags that once swam or slithered?
“As much you would think there would be a huge backlash, there won't be,” says Danziger. “It goes back to the basic rule of supply and demand. The more rare and scarce something is, the more people want it. In the case of overly expensive handbags, people will still covet them because it's an uncommon find.”