$5.5 Million Carpet, a Pearl-Studded Masterpiece, Sets World Record in Qatar

By Lara Setrakian, ABC News, Dubai 

You don’t wipe your feet on this rug.

The Pearl Carpet of Baroda, a diamond-and-pearl-encrusted masterpiece of 19th century India, sold at auction today for “only” $5.5 million to an undisclosed client – though less than predicted, even at that steep price.

The carpet is believed to have been commissioned in the 1860s by the Majaraja of Baroda, a Mughal Indian ruler.  To get a sense of why the piece is so remarkable, aside from its precious parts, I reached out to the New York-based expert David Dilmaghani of RugRag.com, an online resource on fine carpets.

“Its historical importance, provenance and material make the Pearl Carpet the epitome of everything a serious collector, government or museum would want -- timeless motif and colors, wide horizontal interest in the market, mystique, exclusivity, manageable size, documentation and, above all, completeness,” Dilmaghani said. 

“What is spectacular to us is the very construction, and the clear respect for the unique shape of each of the millions of pearls, stones, sapphires and rubies … to attain such a regular and symmetrical rug from varying-gauge pearls takes both unbelievable workmanship and complex mathematical understanding.” 

The carpet was sold at Sotheby’s first-ever auctions in Doha, Qatar -- a major step toward that city’s rise as a culture capital.

In November, the city opened a landmark Islamic Art Museum, designed by star-chitect I.M. Pei.

With oil and gas money from the most recent price boom, Gulf states, particularly Qatar and the UAE, have become billion-dollar patrons of the arts. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan is building outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim.

Last year, Dubai hosted the record-breaking sale of “Oh Persepolis,” a sculpture by Iranian Parviz Tanavoli. The $2.8 million sale made it the most expensive piece of modern Middle Eastern art ever sold at auction.

Even so, the Gulf market does show signs of slowing. The Pearl Carpet sold for $5.5 million, but experts with the art house had predicted it would go for as much as $20 million. Low oil prices and a slow global economy may be flattening demand and cutting disposable income. Still, it’s a fair chunk of change for a rug.

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