Billionaire pockets over $3 million after auctioning off 76 Hermes handbags—and his family still owns more than 1,000 of them

Joseph Lau during a news conference in Hong Kong, China.
Joseph Lau, former chairman of Chinese Estates Holdings.
Paul Yeung—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau has sold dozens of mostly Hermes bags for HK$25.2 million ($3.2 million) in an auction by Sotheby’s.

Named the first part of a “visionary collection of Joseph Lau,” the event was the largest single-owner handbag sale in Asia’s auction market. A proportion of the proceeds will be donated to charity, the auction house said, without disclosing the percentage figure.

The sale included 76 Hermes bags and one from Chanel. Among the items sold were six diamond Birkins and an extremely rare bronze metallic Kelly. The most expensive was a 2006 Bleu Jean Shiny Porosus Crocodile Birkin 25 with 18-karat white gold and diamond hardware, which garnered HK$1.52 million, according to results posted on Sotheby’s website. 

Lau has bought more than 1,500 Hermes bags as gifts and his family still owns more than 1,000, a representative for the tycoon said in a statement via WhatsApp, citing people close to the family. 

The former chairman of Hong Kong developer Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. is a well-known collector and seller in the auction world. The 71-year-old fugitive tycoon bought his daughter a 12-carat blue diamond for 48.6 million Swiss francs ($52.9 million) in 2015, a record at the time. Lau also owns well-known paintings including “Mao” by Andy Warhol and “Everything Must Go” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which he plans to display in his upcoming art gallery in London.

Lau has offloaded at least $177 million in various collections since early 2020, including a David Hockney painting, Chinese antiques and wine, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Lau has a net worth of about $6 billion, down $2 billion since the second half of 2021, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Lau’s fortune is mainly derived from his and his family’s ownership of commercial properties, and a stake in Chinese Estates. The plunge in net worth is driven by the prolonged property crisis in the mainland and lower property valuations in Hong Kong. 

Lau was convicted of bribery and money laundering in Macau in 2014, but has never served jail time with no extradition pact between the territory and Hong Kong. 

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