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An Investment You Can Walk On

Chloe Cho|Anchor/Reporter, CNBC Asia Pacific
Wednesday, 27 Oct 2010 | 8:48 PM ET

There’s nothing quite as luxurious as the feel of silk, especially when it’s underfoot. Hand-woven silk-on-silk Persian or Oriental carpets are among the finest and most expensive in the world.

The value of an Oriental rug is determined by the same factors that set the value of any work of art: authenticity, rarity, quality & condition. Plus, they are like diamonds — the bigger they get, their prices shoot through roof!

Super-fine wool-on-silk carpet from Tabriz, Iran. Measures 8m x 5m and retails for S$500,000 ($383,267).
Courtesy: The Orientalist, Singapore
Super-fine wool-on-silk carpet from Tabriz, Iran. Measures 8m x 5m and retails for S$500,000 ($383,267).

Some of the most sought-after Persian or Oriental rugs are still made in Iranian cities such as Qom, Nain, Isfahan and Tabriz. Even to untrained eyes (or toes!), these fine rugs are very different in both the way they look and feel, compared to the thicker, more rugged tribal types typically found in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other parts of central and South Asia.

A key distinction arises from how they are made. Silk-on-silk rugs are hand-woven with super fine silk thread on a silk foundation, as opposed to the less refined weaves such as silk-on-wool, wool-on-wool or wool-on-cotton.

Over the past two to three decades, such fine rugs have seen their value appreciate due to stronger demand. This situation is compounded partly by an embargo against Iran during the 1980s and 1990s, and partly by actions by the Iranian government to control the supply. “This was particularly accelerated in the 1990s when the Iranian government passed a law limiting the number of carpets exported out of the country each year, ” says Alan Foo, General Manager of The Orientalist, the largest carpet retailer in Singapore.

New sanctions by the U.S. against Iran over its nuclear program came into effect last month, including another embargo on rugs. That could put further upward pressure on prices.

Super-fine silk-on-silk carpet from Kashan, Iran. Measures 4.3 x 6.6 feet and retails for S$10,000 ($7,668)
Courtesy: Handmade Carpet Gallery, Singapore
Super-fine silk-on-silk carpet from Kashan, Iran. Measures 4.3 x 6.6 feet and retails for S$10,000 ($7,668)

Foo adds that a collectible carpet is at least 30 years old, while an antique carpet would be at least 80 years old. But don’t despair if the fine rug at home is not 'made in Iran'.

"All hand-knotted fine carpets see their value go up over time especially when well preserved," says Yasser Faiz of Handmade Carpet Gallery, whose family operations span across the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Dubai. Faiz cites the example of a prominently featured, fine double-knotted Pakistani rug at the Istana, the official residence of the President of Singapore.

That said, Faiz does point out that silk carpets from Iran have doubled in price in the last five years. For instance, 3 x 5-meter silk rugs which were purchased about $1,000 15 years ago, now command as much as $4,000.

But before you start making your way to the nearest Persian rug dealer near you, here are some quick tips from the pros.

  • Visit 3-4 carpet dealers before selecting one.
  • Measure dimensions for symmetry.
  • Check density as well as bumps/unevenness when laid on the floor
  • Seek expert advice. Don’t expect to gain investment quality on the cheap.

When it comes to maintenance, cleaning with a short brush with stiff bristles is ideal; but if you choose to vacuum, do so only once every few weeks. Also, avoid pushing the carpet heavily in the opposite direction of the pile.

Even if you can't spare the effort, rug experts will assure you that these carpets will stand the test of time. Of course, red wine spills and flooding aren’t that great for them, which is why all Persian carpet lovers are encouraged to insure their investment-grade assets once they’re brought home.

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