One of nature’s treasures
The Merino breed of sheep, which produces the finest quality wool, is also thought to be the oldest breed, evolving from species that lived in the wild centuries ago. The breed was certainly known to the Phoenicians, who traded in the fleeces, and the Greeks, who contributed to spreading it around the Mediterranean area. In the eighth century Merino sheep were introduced into Spain by the Moors. The environment proved particularly suited to them, and the animals were welcomed by the local people, who soon came to appreciate the extraordinary properties of their fiber.
This also attracted the attention of the Spanish sovereigns, aristocracy and clergy. As the sheep represented a sure source of income, the royals took possession of all the flocks and categorically forbade them from being sold. Indeed between the fourteenth century, when King Alfonso of Spain initiated the first laws, and the end of the eighteenth century, anyone attempting to export even a single sheep faced the death penalty. Even Christopher Columbus, when he set off on his second voyage for the Indies in 1493, took a cargo of Merino fleeces as a precious commodity for trading.
Well aware of the value of the flocks, in the eighteenth century the Spanish kings presented the animals as royal gifts. Pairs of Merino sheep – which since then have been known as the “gift of kings” – were given to the Elector of Saxony and the royal families of Britain, France and Holland as prized tokens to seal agreements and alliances. And it was the Saxons who began to rear the sheep intensively and develop the characteristics of the breed, with the aim of improving the quality of the wool.
Once there were no laws and restrictions in the way, the breed became more widespread internationally. In 1773, on occasion of his second voyage to New Zealand, Captain James Cook took a pair of Merino sheep with him. Not long after that, in 1797, the breed also arrived in Australia, where it found the ideal conditions to thrive. The ongoing efforts of farmers in Australia and New Zealand ever since have led to the production and exportation of high quality wool becoming a driving force in the economies of these countries.
A new Loro Piana ExcellenceThe Gift of Kings®: this was the name Merino wool was known by in eighteenth century Europe, when the King of Spain gifted it to the Elector of Saxony and the r...
The Gift Of Kings®: the projectWool, the oldest natural fibre known to man, has been taken to an exceptional level of fineness and quality. Measuring only 12 microns, this wool is finer than ...
A unique fibre for exclusive productsAustralia is home to around 75 million sheep, only 18 million of which produce wool finer than 19 microns. In New Zealand there are 32 million sheep, but only 2...
The farms involved in the projectThere are four farms involved in Loro Piana's “Gift of Kings®” project, two in Australia and two in New Zealand. A total of 37,000 sheep are tended to with the ...