Jan David Winitz, eminent rug expert and president/founder of Claremont Rug Company, has developed the Oriental Rug Market Pyramid™, a guide to support those interested in purchasing Oriental rugs. Rankings in the six-level rug Pyramid are based on artistry, craftsmanship, quality of materials, condition, age and provenance.
As the tiers descend, the number of available pieces increases significantly, while the artistry and originality generally decreases. Rugs in Level 1 are held primarily by museums. Art-level pieces are found in Levels 2 through 4. Rugs in Levels 5 and 6 would be considered durable floor coverings of no intrinsic art or investment value.
Level 1 | Museum-Quality
Primarily 13th to 18th centuries — The Persian Safavid dynasty that ruled from 1501–1736 (“The Golden Age of Persian Weaving”) sponsored workshops that produced many of the finest carpets the world has ever seen. In 2013, a stunning 17th century Persian Kirman rug sold at Sotheby’s auction for $33.8 million.
Level 2 | High-Collectible
Primarily from early 19th century to circa 1875 — Artistic achievement and great originality flourished during this period. These best-of-the-best caliber rugs exhibit fluid, subtly varied designs, a highly exotic use of nuanced colors, and achieve superb aesthetic balance and harmony in the process. This period, “The Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving” (circa 1800-1910), includes rugs primarily from Persia and the Caucasus Mountains, as well as from Turkey and the Central Asian plateau.
High-Collectible geometric rugs include Caucasian, Bakshaish, Camelhair, and South Persian tribal rugs, notably Qashqai. The best of floral weaving styles such as Motasham Kashan and Laver Kirman offer specimens of unparalleled detail work and refinement. While historical rugs from Level 1 are typically too fragile, many High-Collectible pieces have sufficient durability for floor use.
Level 3 | Connoisseur-Caliber
Primarily from circa 1850 to late 19th century — This category encompasses outstanding rugs from all of the major Persian and tribal groups.
The period starting around 1875 is often termed “The Revival Period” of Persian carpet weaving, as a greater number of rugs were commissioned in styles such as Hadji Jallili Tabriz, Kirman, Ferahan Sarouk, the extremely popular Serapi, and from a plethora of small village and tribal groups.
Highly talented artisans used an excellent quality of materials and original, captivating designs and color combinations.
In today’s market, a selection of superb quality examples in quite good condition can only be found through a handful of specialty dealers worldwide and the finest offerings of major auction houses.
Level 4 | High-Decorative
Primarily 1875 to 1910 — With rapidly growing domestic and international demand increasing the number of working looms, more rugs were woven for export, and designs became less complex and color palettes changed to satisfy Western decorative taste. Yet aesthetic appeal and originality still played a large role in the finest of these carpet workshops, where alluring designs combined with the color shifting technique known as “abrash” was still adroitly employed. Synonymous with sophistication and grace, and capable of “mixing” with a broad range of furniture and art styles, both these and Level 3 rugs are widely sought after today.
Level 5 | Decorative
Primarily 1920 to 1970— As the decorative rug market exploded in the mid-20th century, most of the resultant weavings fall into this category. The level of materials, craftsmanship and innovative artistry decreased notably, with modern chemical dyes supplanting more subtle natural pigments.
Some Persian rugs woven prior to 1910 also fall into this category, as they are damaged, chemically washed, irregular in shape, of garish or fugitive dyes, or are simply uninspired.
Level 6 | Reproductions
Typically 1970 to present — The newest contributions to the hand-woven market are adaptations of traditional Persian designs created in a broad range of qualities. These are by far the most widely available Oriental rugs today. Although the pieces may be labeled with famous Persian regional names, the majority are woven in India, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Romania. Some recent reproductions are expertly crafted using high quality, natural dyes, although the artistic spark and individuality that give earlier rugs enduring value are not present.