Why Oriental Wool Rugs Are So Expensive in 2019
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In June of 2013, an anonymous bidder phoned in to Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. Up for sale was a 17th century rug known as the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet. According to Arthur Upham Pope’s 1939 survey of Persian art, he called this rug “one of the outstanding examples of Persian carpet weaving”.
The winning bid?
That's an incomprehensibly large sum of money. In fact, if every US citizen were to chip in a dime, we still couldn’t have out-bid the anonymous new owner of the Clark Carpet. So with this in mind, you may be wondering why in the world are wool rugs so expensive? The question has many answers: some are cultural, some art-historical, some purely pragmatic. Let’s flip over the carpet and take a quick peek behind the scenes of oriental wool rug prices.
The Culture of Oriental Wool Rugs
In today’s interconnected, networked world, we often take the forces of globalization for granted. Culture is no longer bound by geography; ideas, art, and commodities circumnavigate the globe freely, unfettered by physical distance. The roots of globalization reach as far back as history but are often traced to the Renaissance, when communication and trade between disparate parts of the world began to accelerate. This rich cultural exchange gave birth to a European fascination with all things Eastern, a phenomenon known to historians as Orientalism.
As early as the 14th century, oriental wool rugs began appearing in European religious paintings. Portraits of royalty and biblical figures alike often featured oriental rugs under the feet of the painting’s subjects. These carpets, much like the gilded thrones and crowns found above them, were presumably symbols of luxury and prestige. Artists appreciate art, and Renaissance paintings of oriental wool rugs were finely detailed and remarkably true to the nuanced designs of the carpets themselves. The beauty of these textiles, as transmitted through European painting, fostered a worldwide fascination with oriental rugs that lives on to this day.
Wool Rugs: Form and Function
Although the origins of oriental carpet weaving are lost in the mists of prehistory, it’s easy to imagine the practical necessity of rugs in the nomadic lifestyle of ancient Middle Eastern peoples. As they traversed arid desert environments along with herds of goats, the first carpet weavers simply used the materials at hand to solve life’s little problems. These nomads likely had plenty of wool lying around, so it was a natural solution to begin weaving it into comfortable, portable floor coverings.
Over time, certain techniques and patterns were passed down, mutating and evolving into the diverse canon of rug designs that now please the eyes and feet of homeowners worldwide. Much like furniture or pottery, oriental rugs are a seamless blend of form and function, representative of the uniquely human ability to solve problems gracefully and beautifully.
The price of an oriental wool rug, therefore, is tied not only to its practical purpose--to provide a soft, yet durable indoor flooring--but also to its artistry and aesthetic appeal. These carpets satisfy two fundamental human desires at the same time: comfort and beauty, interwoven.
Factors of Rug Pricing
Now that we’ve glossed over the cultural, historical, and artistic value of wool rugs, let’s get down to the particulars of price.
The basic factors that determine a wool rug’s price are as follows:
- Knot Count
We will now delve into these topics a bit further so you can fully understand exactly why wool rugs are so expensive!
Rug Size Matters
A rug’s size corresponds directly to the amount of material, time, and effort necessary to produce it. The larger the rug, the more expensive it will be. Rug prices are often estimated by how many knot counts are in a square inch, so it’s fairly simple to estimate the price of a rug. To do this, you can look at the back of a rug and use a tape measure to count how many knots you see within 1 inch. For quality oriental wool rugs, this can be anywhere between 9 knots to 16 knots or higher.
Rug Knots - It's Our Name For a Reason
Knot count refers to the number of hand-tied wool knots per square inch of the rug surface. Lower knot counts correspond to a coarser texture; a higher knot count results in soft, luxurious texture and a noticeably steeper price. The knot count of a rug may not seem very important, but to us, it's everything. It's how we determine the price of our rugs, the quality of our rugs, and the environment in which the rug was made. Consider knot count to be like the building blocks a skyscraper; if even just one block is misaligned or unlike the others, then the entire building will be offset. It is the same concept with a high-quality rug. Every single knot plays an important role in the finished product of the rug. Only very skilled weavers are able to consistently create tight knots from start to finish.
Unfortunately, this is becoming a dying art, which is also a factor in why oriental rugs are so expensive. It can take years, if not decades, for a skilled weaver to master a 16-knot count rug. So if you're searching for a 16-knot count rug, such as the one below, you will know that the rug was made by one of the most skilled weavers in the rug industry! Now that's something to boast about.
The Cost of Materials Used to Make a Wool Rug
Wool: The quality of wool used in a rug’s production also has a bearing on its final price. The fineness (or coarseness) of wool is measured by its diameter in microns, ranging from 15-micron ultra-fine merino to the more common 35 to 45-micron wool generally used for carpeting. All of our oriental rugs feature wool that is imported to Pakistan from New Zealand. We do this for various reasons: the quality of wool in Pakistan is not up to our standards, New Zealand has cleaner air, and New Zealand is known to be the best country for ethically sourced wool. We consider wool to be one of the most important factors of our rugs because it is what you can actually feel. There's nothing quite like feeling the softness of a high-quality wool rug!
Dyes: The variety and quality of dyes used to color a wool oriental rug are equally important; a rug featuring more than 10 colors created with natural vegetable dyes will command the highest prices. Less nuanced synthetic dyes are cheaper than their natural counterparts. We believe in only using the most natural vegetable dyes on our rugs. Every single color is hand mixed and hand dyed by our professional dyers. We also use an old-world dying technique where we heat a large pot over an open fire to boil the water in which we mix the dyes. We are unique in this way and we value the fact that we make rugs the same way they were made centuries ago.
Supplies: There are several different tools that our weavers use to help them during the weaving process. These tools are important factors that we also consider into our rug making process. Even small things, such as the brooms that we use to wash our oriental rugs are not left unnoticed when it comes to supplying materials for our rugs.
Workspace: Although a workspace isn't really a material used to make a rug, we believe your workspace is important. We want our weavers to understand and know that they are artists. We are at their expense. That is why we continuously strive to create a peaceful and creative atmosphere for our weavers.
Unlike many of our competitors who submit to child labor and harsh working conditions, we are working against these factors and aim to put an end to these horrible situations. We are a proud partner of the Care and Fair Organization, which aims to help families of rug weavers get the compensation they deserve but aren't receiving from their workplace, which is often times, our competitors. We also work very closely with The Citizens Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that works to educate children in rural areas in Pakistan. For every rug purchase, 15% of the total is automatically donated from us to The Citizens Foundation. You can help our cause by purchasing a rug now!
How Rug Origin Impacts Price
There are certain regions of the world that are known for rug making. Areas like Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Turkey, China, and Nepal are all common areas where the rug industry is present. Certain areas are known for producing better quality rugs. The reason for this is because of the teachings of generational weavers. Rug making began in Egypt and spread across the closest nations. Some of the wisest and expert weavers are going to be located near these regions. Their skills have been passed on to younger generations that have stayed in the same location, which has caused certain countries to excel in rug weaving. Therefore, the origin of where a rug was made is an important factor in price due to the expertise of the weaver.
Rug Age: It's Like Fine Wine
Unlike most things, oriental wool rugs can gain value as they grow older. It's sort of like fine wine or a collectible item, such as baseball cards. In fact, you can often find oriental rugs at auctions being sold for thousands of dollars, sort of like the Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet we mentioned about earlier! Many people like to think of buying an oriental rug as an investment because it is! If you can find an oriental rug that is priced right, you can actually make a lot of money off of it in due time. This is also considering that you will get to use the rug in your home and show it off - that's much better than a bank investment.
The age of an oriental rug can be hard to determine. One of the key signs is if the volume of the rug has worn down. You see, wool is a natural material of the Earth and it does eventually decompose over many years. A 50-year-old rug will show this by having spots of the back canvas showing because the wool has decomposed. You will also see the design and dye of the rug have started to really make an imprint on the canvas of the rug because it has set in so deep over time. Some of our oldest rugs are in our Vintage Overdyed Rug Collection. This collection features vintage Persian rugs that we have repaired and then dyed to recreate the rug and bring it new life. These rugs are very valuable! Rugs more than 100 years old are considered antique; rugs between 50 and 70 years are semi-antique or vintage.
Navigating the world of wool oriental rugs can seem intimidating at first, but don’t let the flood of options discourage you. While pricing can always be disassembled into its component factors, in the end, it comes down to what you’re willing to pay for a rug you love.
Please feel free to contact us here at RugKnots if you have any questions about oriental wool rug prices. We’ve been in the business for generations and we’ve watched industry trends come and go. But even as prices fluctuate from year to year and rug to rug, a quality hand-knotted wool rug is a worthy investment in art and craftsmanship that will never go out of style.