Why Persian rugs are so expensive

  • Persian rugs can often take years, and sometimes decades to create.
  • A high-quality Iranian carpet can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • The most expensive Persian rug sold at auction in June 2013 for $33.8 million.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Hand woven with the finest materials including wool and silk, a single Persian rug can often take years and sometimes decades to create. A high-quality Iranian carpet can cost tens of thousands of dollars, with antique rugs fetching even higher prices.

So, how are Persian rugs made, and why are they so expensive?
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Although several countries are associated with the term "Persian rug," authentic Persian carpets and the traditional methods of producing them originate in Iran. Every Persian rug is regarded as a piece of art which reflects the history and culture of Iran.

There are many varieties of Persian carpet, each distinguished by their materials, patterns, and weaving techniques, from the floral designs of Isfahan in central Iran to the intricate, fine details of Qom carpets and the strong, compact Bidjar rugs from the Western Kurdish village. Gabbeh rugs, made in the Fars province of southwestern Iran, are perhaps the most traditional carpets, characterized by their bold designs.

Mohammad Hossein Tumani: "One of the beauties of gabbeh is that you see what is in the weaver's mind. There were times when, for example, a weaver would sit in her backyard, weaving the forests, mountains, plains, fields, and even sheep and the various things she saw. Gabbeh stated from here."
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Narrator: Traditionally, Persian rugs are made from sheep's wool, which is boiled, spun, and dyed by hand. These bright and elaborate yarns are dyed with natural colorings from plants and insects. In many regions, such as Yazd, hundreds of weavers may work in the same factory at any given time.

However, here in Fars Province, where carpet weaving is recognized as part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, the materials are distributed to small villages for tribal women to weave in their homes. Mohammad Hossein Tumani: "Depending on the size of the house, each house will have the same size loom. For example, a woman may have a small house, so she should also have a small loom. The difference between Fars carpets, especially gabbeh, and other carpets, which make it difficult to weave is that Fars carpets' looms are placed on the ground. Fars carpets are horizontal. That means the weaver has to work much harder. The weaver's back is in bad condition, and she has to weave the carpet in a curved way and work.
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Narrator: The process of weaving a Persian rug differs slightly with each variety, but generally speaking, a bed of foundation material called warp is installed into the frame, called the loom. Starting at the bottom, weavers then feed wool in between the warp, tying knots called weft on each one.

A highly detailed silk rug can have over 1,000 knots per square inch. However, most carpets are not valued based on knot count, but rather their materials, design, and overall size.

Mohammad Hossein Tumani: "The bigger the carpet, the more time it takes, and sometimes the gabbeh or carpets that are so much bigger that one person can no longer weave it alone need four or three people to work together and get it done. For example, if a person wants to weave a 12-meter gabbeh, it may take two years, but because four people start weaving together, it is divided into four, for example, it can be woven in six or seven months. But a person can weave 1 meter of gabbeh for about a month to two months."
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Narrator: While some varieties of Persian rugs follow design specifications, gabbeh carpets are often completely improvised, with the weaver adding traditional motifs, such as goats, trees, and dolls.

Mohammad Hossein Tumani: "There is no formula. You should feel this with your flesh, skin, and bones. They have to know how to weave, knit carpets, knots. Interestingly, someone who weaves a good Qashqai carpet, for example, cannot weave a good Tabriz carpet. Or the one who weaves a superb Tabriz carpet cannot weave a good Isfahan carpet. It is interesting and perhaps funny to know that each area can weave a specific carpet well."

Narrator: The origin of these rugs dates back at least 2,500 years ago during the reign of the Persian Empire, which spanned across neighboring countries including what is now known as Turkey. The legacy and tradition of carpet making still remains there. In fact, in 2018, Turkey exported $1.9 billion of hand-woven carpets worldwide, far higher than Iran's total of $35 million. As such, Turkish carpets can sometimes be regarded as authentic Persian rugs.
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The most expensive Persian rug ever bought was a 17th-century Persian vase-style carpet, which sold at auction in June 2013 in London for $33.8 million.

But despite Iran's rich history of producing handmade rugs, the tribal rugs produced in rural villages could be under threat from a lack of young weaving talent.

Mohammad Hossein Tumani: "The weaver is the first step. Well, she certainly makes the least profit. There are a lot of middlemen who make money from this carpet. But, yes, the weaver is less profitable considering the art she is doing, so, unfortunately, it is a problem. I can promise you now, with this situation, that maybe in another 15 years or sooner there will be nothing left of the carpet. It is an art that not everyone can learn; they must be growing up with this art. Unfortunately, the young girls, and people who were carpet weavers in tribe houses, they don't spend their time, patience, and senses, and they do not allow themselves to weave a carpet because they saw their mother, how sick they might be, get weak, suffering from back pain and hand pain. Financially, it is not valuable or exciting to want to work so hard to weave a carpet. The carpet will be completely gone in about 15, 20 years."
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