With handbags evolving from being a useful accessory to a coveted collectable in recent years, the independent New York-based Luxury Institute polled 783 wealthy U.S. consumers to find the "It" bag – and American luxury brand Leiber won.

Hand-made crystal evenings bags by Leiber, a company founded by Hungary-born Judith Leiber in 1963, have earned the company international fame and are now part of collections in various museums in the United States and Britain.

"The Leiber bags are really a work of art rather than just an accessory," Luxury Institute Chief Executive Milton Pedraza told Reuters.

"These days women buy many, many more bags than they used to for special occasions and there is no question that it is perceived to be different – much more unique and exclusive."

He said Leiber's handcrafted creations were praised as perfect show-stopping accessories by the online survey's respondents who had an average income of $305 000 and average net worth of $2.2 million.

... and it doesn't come sheap
On Leiber's website its day bag is priced at $5 595 while its evening bags range from $1 955 for a clutch bag to $4 955 for a bag shaped like a rattlesnake.

Handbags by Hermes – which makes the Kelly and the Birkin bags – and Prada were ranked second and third, respectively.

"The Hermes is gorgeous but more of an everyday bag," said Pedraza.

A status accessory
Handbags have taken on a new life in recent years as a status accessory.

According to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, the number of consumers buying luxury handbags priced at $400 or more has doubled in the last five years.

Demand for a status bag has become so hot that several websites have emerged where people can borrow luxury handbags.

One such site, www.bagborrowsteal.com, founded in 2004, rents out bags from over 100 designers from $40 a week.

"We are giving women easy access to a whole new level of luxury," said spokeswoman Patricia Hambrick in a statement.

Pedraza did not expect the demand for luxury bags to fade.

"If anything accessories will become more important. There is a growing number of millionaires and even in the middle class income levels people want to become more connoisseurs with regards to their accessories," he said.

The other 23 handbag brands to make the elite ranks, listed alphabetically, were Bottega Veneta, Brighton, Burberry, Chanel, Chloe, Coach, Cole Haan, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Dooney & Bourke, Fendi, Ferragamo, Furla, Gucci, Kate Spade, L.A.M.B., Longchamp, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Miu Miu, Ralph Lauren, and Yves Saint Laurent.