Through common usage and indifference to details the two terms have become intertwined. You will see rug retailers call themselves either Oriental Rug or Persian Rug dealers, and sometimes both. There is no difference in the type of handmade artisan end product, but a Persian rug is made in Iran (the old Persia of a Thousand and One Nights). ‘Oriental rug’ can then be used to loosely describe other types of rug from all the other main weaving countries – from Morocco and across to Egypt and then in a great arc taking in Turkey, the Caucasus, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet and China.
To satisfy demand for the most popular and profitable designs the manufacturers have been copying Persian rugs in all the Oriental countries so that the home furnisher can buy a Persian ‘Kashan’ rug from India or Pakistan, or anywhere else. The layman can then only trust the retailer, whether in person or online, to accurately describe the rug and to price it accordingly. This is not to say that an Indian ‘Kashan’ is always inferior to the original but in most cases the copies, whilst being competently made and will enhance any room, never really have the same feel. This is particularly true with fine Persian rug designs made in China which have a relatively lifeless aura.
There are many productions of Persian rug copies made in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that are of excellent quality. These Oriental rugs are Persian rugs in all but name and have superb designs and colours that enable the less wealthy buyer to furnish with beautiful reproductions of antique Persian rugs. The buyer should always pay close attention to the sellers’ description though and understand they are choosing a copy- however expensive and wonderfully made. There is increasingly no difference in price between finely woven Persian and Oriental rugs but there are large savings to be made if buying copies of less fine (but still robust) Persian ‘Gabbehs’ or shaggy Moroccan rugs from India.
If the buyer is someone who has to have the ‘genuine’ article then a Persian rug should always be actually made in Iran, but the astute person will ask the advice of a trustworthy expert retailer – few and far between these days – and will often be directed to a superior ‘Persian’ rug made in another country.