The most expensive shahtoosh shawl is made from chiru, a Tibetan antelope’s fur. Because the animals cannot be shorn, the only way to obtain their fur is to kill them. The chirus down hair is the finest of all animal hair. The white down hair of chiru is the most expensive because it can be dyed in a variety of colours.
The shahtoosh shawl is handcrafted, with the wool spun and woven in a special diamond-shaped plain weave known as ‘Chashme bulbul’ (nightingale’s eye).
The shawls are so fine that they appear to be liquid gold that can pass through a ring. Because of this, the king of wool is also known as a ring shawl, as it can pass a ring test. According to scholar R. Nath, Mughal Emperor Akbar favoured the shahtoosh shawl for its warmth and lightness. The 600-year-old weaving industry was outlawed in 2004 after the species of chiru became critically endangered.The international ban on its poaching was contested by the industry weavers who suffered monetary loss. The animal was often killed by licensed hunters in the regions of Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir before 1979.
The animal which is native to Tibetan lands is still illegally killed for its down hair. Any person who weaves shahtoosh shawl has the blood of three antelopes on their shoulder.