Gallery Founder Jan David Winitz Cites Movement Toward “Top Level Down” Acquisitions
Claremont Rug Company founder/president Jan David Winitz, in his annual letter to clients, today reported sales increases ranging from 68 percent to over 250 percent of high-end antique Oriental rugs from the “Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving,” ca. 1800 to ca. 1910.
Defining “high-end” carpets as High-Collectible and Connoisseur-Caliber pieces on the Gallery’s proprietary “Oriental Rug Market Pyramid” ™, Winitz said, “What transpired exceeded our most optimistic expectations! Sales of High Collectible rugs, which are the finest available, increased by a whopping 68%. During 2019, 65 percent of our clients included at least one Level 2 or Level 3 rug among their purchases.”
At Claremont, Level 2 pieces are designated “High-Collectible” and Level 3 are “Connoisseur-Caliber.” Level 1 rugs, woven during the First Golden Age (ca. 1300 to ca. 1800), are primarily held in museums and by royal families and rarely available. Rugs at Claremont are valued in the $15,000 to more than $500,000 per piece range.
He reported “phenomenal increases in the number of High-Collectible Bakshaishs, Mohtasham Kashans, Serapis and Caucasian rugs sold.” Those weaving groups saw gains from 125 percent to over 150 percent above 2018, while the number of High-Collectible Ferahan Sarouks sold increased by more than 250 percent.
Of particular note were the results from High-Collectible sales from the “Potomac Collection,” a 130-piece offering of a stellar, three-generation family compilation of 19th century carpets. “We placed 90 percent of these extremely rare pieces in the first two months of this event. Private sales of first-rate rugs from smaller caches we acquired met with a similar, rapid response,” said Winitz, who founded Claremont in 1980.
The Movement in Antique Rugs is “From the Top Down”
As additional evidence of the “top down trend” in sales of art-level antique Oriental rugs, Winitz cited two Museum-level 17th century Isfahan carpets (from the First Golden Age) woven in a Safavid atelier that sold for $5.14 million and $4.92 million respectively at Christie’s London in May 2019, each more than five times its high estimates.
“There are virtually no important rugs from the First Golden Age available except in the auction setting…And the number of High-Collectible rugs from the Second Golden is rapidly diminishing as they are being purchased by enthusiasts and placed into private collections,” he said. “Collectors want the best-of-the-best and are attracted to the top-end of the market.”
Winitz said 2019 reinforced his observation that the market for antique Oriental rugs had made a “decided move to rare pieces, seldom available.” Many Claremont clients are gravitating toward extremely artistic, circa 1850-1890 Connoisseur-Caliber rugs because they anticipate that just as High-Collectible rugs have filled the void left by the inaccessibility of Museum-Level rugs, these Level 3 carpets will, at some point, be the rarest Oriental rugs available. “Connoisseur-Caliber rugs had a steady following last year,” said Winitz, “as 65 percent of our clients included at least one piece from this level, with collector purchasing 25.”
The letter also noted that the number of clients assembling Whole Home Collections that include the major rooms of the residence as well as many secondary spaces continued to be robust in 2019. This was reflected in another major development: the burgeoning interest in acquiring rugs for storage and future use by clients for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.
“Our most savvy clients classify their rug collections as ‘precious tangible assets,’” he wrote. “They are storing rugs either with us (we currently store 765 client rugs in our art storage unit) or by placing them in rug vaults that they had assembled in their own residences. For one client, we have 280 in storage, primarily High-Collectible pieces. Two other clients have 325 and 255 cellared in their own rug vaults in their homes. We now have 18 clients who have built rug vaults, 16 in the U.S., and one each in Italy and Australia.”
Predictions for 2020
He added, “This year, I envision our clients’ longtime love affairs with Caucasian rugs extending to superb folkloric pieces from other tribal groups: the finely woven Qashqais and the charming Afshar rugs of South Persia, as well as the spirited Kurdish rugs of Northwest Persian Azerbaijan. The finest antique pieces from these illustrious weaving traditions reveal an original character that celebrate the rhythms, colors and energy of the natural environment in which the weavers lived.
“As we prepare to celebrate our 40th Anniversary this Fall, I expect to see the number of multi-rug suites and Home Collections to increase once again as our clients’ tastes continue to become more refined and experimental. Our access to long-held private collections is stronger than ever, promising to provide us with an ample number of rugs of a caliber that can seldom be seen elsewhere.”