Passion Fueled by Expertise: Market for Art-Caliber Antique Oriental Rugs Maturing
The enigmatic nature of antique Oriental rugs is one of their most alluring attributes – a facet spurring enough interest to bring the very best into diminished supply. When compared to traditional art genres like paintings or sculpture, rare rugs reflect an esoteric collectible whose desirability has not been impeded by the mystery surrounding them. If the period of 1800 through 1910 is called by some the “Second Golden Age of Persian Rug Weaving,” the last several decades may be considered “The Era of Rug Revolution,” given the continually increasing interest in the finest of these artworks.
“Recently, there has been a quantum change in how our business works,” explains antique Oriental rug expert, Jan David Winitz. A lifelong passion for rare rugs combined with his role as the founder and president of Claremont Rug Company (in 1980) has given Winitz a particularly unique insight into the art form, creating an expertise that is uncompromisingly selective in both the rugs and level of insight he offers to his global clientele of rug aficionados.
It’s taken time for the world to have its attention tuned to the finest antique Oriental rugs. While an entire generation of buyers beginning in the 1980s and 1990s started by having their heads turned by Decorative and High-Decorative level Oriental rugs, over time a goodly number have become collectors who’ve progressively honed their eyes and widened their exposure to a point where their expertise has now heightened and their passion has greatly escalated. As a result, these collectors are acquiring primarily the very finest examples of the High-Collectible and Connoisseur-Caliber rugs (as illustrated on Claremont Rug Company’s Rug Market Pyramid(™).
During the same period, the supply of rugs of this magnitude has narrowed significantly. What this means for rug lovers who’ve set their sights on acquiring a quintessential Caucasian or Mohtasham Kashan area rug or a spectacular Bakshaish or Ferahan Sarouk room-size carpet is that timing is imperative.
Even with extraordinary long-reaching buying resources, world-renown galleries such as Claremont Rug Company find it to be a constant challenge to unearth a sufficient number to meet the ever-increasing demand for the very finest pieces.
Realizing that the great rugs they covet are no longer necessarily available “on demand,” the savviest collectors immediately respond to the opportunity to acquire significant pieces when they arise. This is especially so when High-Collectible, 19th-century rugs within any particular genre are offered. Mature connoisseurs are now stockpiling rugs for later use, acquiring them to use in rotation with pieces they already own or homes they plan to build. Others opt to store their exquisite finds long-term as family treasures.
While many Oriental rug firms still offer a wide range of rugs at levels 5 and 6 on Winitz’s Market Pyramid, only a handful of elite galleries worldwide have the networks to consistently offer the top four levels. Yet, even with the global buying network that Winitz has cultivated, the best-of-the-best of these rugs are rarely found on the gallery floor. Rather, they are offered individually to collectors who have established a close relationship with his gallery.
Another way for connoisseurs to access major pieces are rare events such as Claremont’s periodic sales of long-held private collections. Winitz said, “One example is a special event we just completed. We acquired the nearly 150-piece collection of High-Collectible and the pinnacle of Connoisseur-Caliber rugs amassed by major Canadian connoisseurs over a half-century period. We offered the rugs by invitation only to our established clientele, and virtually every rug was placed in just over a three-month period.”
What is it that entices these ardent collectors to have this insatiable appetite for the most prodigious pieces when they become available? According to Winitz, it’s the intangible qualities these rugs possess, with magnificent hues leading the list of attributes. “As a natural fiber, the wools used to weave the rugs absorb color in a way that no paint on canvas could replicate. The dyes used by weavers were developed over open fires where the inconsistencies of heat created magnificent, tonal variations in the dyes themselves. The colors dance, the myriad shifts in color are very subtle- yet they draw out undeniably emotional reactions.”
Winitz goes on to explain how he will present to a client several rugs from the same region and of similar age. While the commonalities shared by each rug are visible, rugs that may appear similar to the newcomer may be leagues apart in their artistic impact and rarity, attributes that the current generation of seasoned aficionados have cultivated the ability to recognize and relish.