The custom made Hermès Birkin handbag complete with diamond and white gold clasp and lock sold for $54,000 (£29,700) at Doyle New York.

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With its long tenure in the deluxe leather goods market, Hermès is perhaps the ultimate name in handbags. The company was established in 1837 by Thierry Hermès, first producing saddles and harnesses with a prestigious international following. With the advent of the automobile in 1918, Emile Hermès (the founder's grandson) launched a line of luggage and leather car accessories and the distinctive 'no expense spared' Hermès style was soon extended to ready-to-wear, jewellery, scarves and silverware.

However it was Princess Grace Kelly whose love of the brand turned the Hermès bag into an easily recognised society status symbol in the USA. During the 1950s she appeared on the cover of Life Magazine carrying a small Hermès handbag - the now classic black square purse that hitherto became known simply as the Kelly bag. It is still in production today.

However the object of so much attention at the Couture, Textiles and Accessories sale conducted by Doyle New York on April 20 was not a '50s Kelly bag but a deluxe version of the Hermès Birkin bag. The Birkin was designed in the 1980s following a conversation between Jane Birkin and the marketing director of Hermès, during which the singer had complained her Kelly bag was too difficult to open.

This very special version of the Birkin made in 2002 was fashioned in typical black crocodile but customised with a clasp and lock featuring over 14 carats of pavé diamonds set in white gold. It was one of 11 Hermès bags consigned to sale by a collector in the Great Lakes region.

Intense competition among telephone bidders sent the bag soaring over its pre-sale estimate of $25,000-35,000. It was bought by a private collector from New York City at an exceptional $54,000 (£29,700). A 20 per cent buyer's premium was charged.

Hermès remains a family run business to this day, and Hermès products are always of interest at auction. While this remarkable handbag proved the most popular of the collection, the other Hermès bags also sold well.

In particular, a royal blue ostrich Birkin bag reached $13,000 (£7250); an Etrusque crocodile Kelly bag sold for $11,000 (£6050), while a black crocodile Kelly bag was bought for $10,000 (£5500).

Gemma Cross Brown