Oriental carpets: No bumpy rides

Few possessions can rival the beauty of an oriental carpet. With their historic beginnings in the mysterious East, a true oriental will make a statement of good taste and style in almost any room. Be aware, however, that a really good carpet represents a significant investment and should be chosen with great care.

When you purchase an oriental, you are investing in an heirloom, and there are several pitfalls that can easily be avoided if you are willing to do a little homework.

The quality of an oriental carpet is determined by the wool, density of knots and the detail of the design. The more intricate the design, the more skilled the craftsman who created the carpet. Length of fibre, lustre and springiness determine the quality of the wool used to weave an oriental.

The knot density refers to the number of knots per square inch, and is relative to the fineness of the weave and the complexity of the pattern. The average worker can tie between 10,000 to 14,000 knots per day, and as such, even several workers can only weave one or two inches of carpet in their workday.

Rugs are produced in various qualities with as few as 85 to 150 knots per inch, to as my as 300 knots per inch. An all-silk carpet can feature as many as 400 knots to the inch. Knot density is one of the best clues to the value of a carpet.

Where and when to buy
Here are a few more points to keep in mind before you venture out to make your purchase:

  • buy from an established retailer of oriental rugs. Choose only a dealer whose integrity can be verified through a recognized trade association such as the Better Business Bureau.
  • avoid travelling auctions, which are often held at hotels and airports. You can protect yourself and your investment by choosing a retailer that you can continue to deal with on an ongoing basis.
  • beware of “Going Out Of Business” sales. Often they are simply promotional schemes where values can be inflated and quality can be questionable or low.
  • it is wise to be wary of large discounts such as 60 per cent to even 90 per cent off. The goods may have unreasonably high mark-ups, the result being that you could end up paying more for less.
  • never purchase a carpet unless you have taken the time to inspect the actual piece for quality, colour and design. Don’t buy until you feel totally comfortable with your selection.
  • like any other reputable art dealer, most established retailers of oriental carpets will allow you to try a rug at home for a day or two without the obligation to keep it. They will refund the full purchase price if you choose to return the rug. Look for a dealer with this kind of return policy.

Historic beginnings
The roots of most of the traditional carpet motifs, patterns and colours produced in the world today can be found in Iran (Persia), the original home of the oriental carpet. Exports of these treasures began in the 16th century. By the 1850s, German, English and American companies began to establish factories in Persia, ensuring this art form’s continued development.

Generally rugs are named for the town, village, or district where they have been woven. In the case of Nomadic pieces they are named for the weaving tribe that created them.

Colour, pattern weave and weaving techniques are uniquely linked to the individual cultures of the people that originated them, and as a result, can be specifically identified using these clues.

Carpet weaving was introduced to India during the 16th century. Exquisite pieces have been woven in Jaijpur, Kashmir, Agra and Benares. After the First World War, India experienced a huge growth in export to the American market, and continues to enjoy demand for its beautiful weaving today. In addition to pile carpets, the expert craftsmen in India produce flat waves, such as dhurries and chainstitch rugs, in techniques that are uniquely their own.

China, as well, is a renowned source for oriental carpets, both in traditional Chinese motifs and adaptations of traditional Persian designs and colours. The production of rugs in odd shapes, such as circles, ovals, squares and hexagons is particularly unique to China.

Pakistan, Rumania, Nepal, and Afghanistan are also recognized countries of origin for oriental carpets.