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The Oriental rug market viewed as a pyramid

Rug Type Pyramid

Jan David Winitz, eminent rug expert and president/founder of Claremont Rug Company, has developed the Oriental Rug Market Pyramid (™) as an educational tool to support those interested in purchasing Oriental rugs to determine the value and importance of any handwoven Near Eastern rug.

The Pyramid is a graphic tool and a guide to the intricacies of determining the level of artistry and originality of older Oriental rugs. It evaluates which carpets demonstrate collectible artistic qualities and would be considered in the investment category of precious tangible assets as well as which pieces are considered “decorative” or “high decorative” home furnishings, but not coveted by collectors and connoisseurs.

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 narrows. Highly collectible to art level pieces are most often found in levels 2 thru 4. Rugs in level 1 are held almost entirely by museums and royal families and are generally not appropriate for use on the floor. Rugs in levels 5 and 6 would be considered durable floor coverings of no intrinsic art or investment value.

The Rug Pyramid also helps define and refine rug nomenclature and overcome confusion about such terms as “Oriental carpet” or “Persian rug.” In common usage, the definition of the term “antique” has often been misapplied to rugs made in 20th century factories which use chemical dyes and lack ties to the craftspeople and tribes that created the masterpieces of the 19th century. The Rug Pyramid recognizes that the best examples of the antique Persian and tribal rugs at the “High Collectible” level rarely come up for sale and most buyers have virtually no opportunity to see, let alone, acquire them.

The Claremont Rug Pyramid “level” system:
• Level 1. Museum-Quality Historical (Rugs and Fragments)—from the 13th-18th centuries and early 19th century rugs.

The Persian Safavid dynasty that ruled from 1501–1736, a period now referred to as “The Golden Age of Persian Weaving,” thanks to royal sponsored workshops that produced many of the finest carpets the world has ever seen.

Well-preserved, consummately crafted examples continue to grow in importance. In June 2013, a stunning 17th century Kirman rug sold at Sotheby’s auction for $33.7 million.

The most precious rugs in this category, when they surface, are usually acquired by museums, while specialized private collectors usually acquire fragments of these quintessential rugs, as well as occasionally intact 200-300-year-old pieces.

• Level 2. High-Collectible — primarily from early 19th century to circa 1875
Artistic achievement and great originality reign paramount in this, the Pyramid’s touchstone. These best-of-the-best caliber rugs exhibit fluid, subtly varied design and a highly exotic use of nuanced color and achieve superb aesthetic balance and harmony in the process. Created 140 to over 200 years ago, they were usually woven on commission or for personal use. This period stands at the height of what is now designated as “the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving” (circa 1800 to circa 1910.)

This category includes rugs primarily from Persia and the Caucasus Mountains (woven by 85 subgroups), with some were woven in Turkey and the Central Asian plateau.

There are also Level 2 rugs woven in the villages of Northwest Persian Azerbaijan–notably Camel Hair rugs and Bakshaish and some rugs from the tribes of South Persia as well as town and city-based weaving particularly detailed floral rugs including Ferahan, Kashan and Laver Kirmans.

While historical rugs are typically too fragile, many high collectible pieces have sufficient durability for floor use, although many collectors also hang them as wall art or hold them in storage.

• Level 3. Connoisseur-caliber rugs primarily from circa 1875 to late 19th century
This category encompasses outstanding rugs from all of the major Persian and tribal groups. While not reaching the heights of originality and design fluidity and color nuance displayed in Level 2 collectibles, these are also one-of-a kind art rugs that combine time-seasoned natural dyes with innovative renditions of traditional patterns.

The period starting around 1875 is often termed “The Revival Period” of Persian rug weaving, as a significantly greater number of rugs were commissioned in room size and oversize formats in Persian locales such as Tabriz, Kirman, Sultanabad and Heriz, where the extremely popular Serapis were woven. In these locales, highly talented artisans often 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 – 1910)
A significantly greater number than in the previous three categories are still available as weaving gained considerable steam during this era, with rapidly growing domestic and international demand increased the number of working looms.

More rugs were woven for export, and designs became less complex and color palettes limited in an effort to satisfy Western decorative taste. Yet aesthetic appeal and originality still play a role in these carpets, as alluring designs combine with hue-shifting color palettes.

• Level 5. Decorative (1910-1970) Oriental Carpets
As the decorative rug market exploded in the mid-20th century, most of the resultant weavings fall into this category. The level of materials and craftsmanship decreased notably, innovative artistry was typically replaced by strict adherence to traditional regional patterns and harsh modern chemical dyes supplanted more subtle natural dyes.

Some rugs woven prior to 1925 also fall into this category, as they are either damaged, chemically washed, quite irregular in shape, made with garish or fugitive dyes, or are simply uninspired. While they are authentic, they have minimal collectible value.

• 6. Reproduction (typically 1970-present)
The newest contributions to the hand-woven market are Persian reproductions and created in a wide 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. It is noteworthy to mention that some recent reproductions are expertly crafted using high quality, natural dyes and are thus actually superior to the Persian rugs of the later part of the Decorative Period (Level 5).

Claremont Rug Company’s entire 3500-plus carpet collection is comprised entirely of Second Golden Age rugs, with nearly 1000 available for viewing on the Gallery’s website