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The Persian art of inlaying and ornamenting the surface of wooden or metal objects in a highly-elaborated mosaic-like manner is called Khatamkari.

Products: Chairs, tables, frames, vases, chess games, boxes, and a large variety of containers.

Place of origin: Shiraz, Isfahan, Golpayegan, and Tehran.

Materials: Ebony and jujube wood, gold, silver, copper, brass, and aluminum, animal bones (camel, horse and elephant ivory or tusk), glue and variety of surform (grating) tools.

The process:

The process of this version of marquetry native to Iran starts with the preparation of the bones, by soaking them into limewater (a diluted solution of calcium hydroxide) for a while in order to extract and eliminate the bone marrow and the capillaries, and to facilitate their cutting. Once soaked, the bones are cut into narrow strands or sticks that cross-sectional, display a triangular shape. A similar procedure is followed when preparing wood or metal (no soaking is performed with metals, though).

Then, the artisan takes four of these delicate triangular pieces of bone, wood, or metal (usually 30 cm in length and 1 or 2 mm in diameter) and glues them together forming a triangular prism called tugelo. At this point, the artisan puts the tugelos next to each other in a pre-determined order or pattern, glues them one to another, and then cuts them cross-sectionally, creating thus delicate pieces of colorful geometric designs.

Continuing the process, the craftsman glues these pieces onto the work surface to be inlaid (the chassis), which he then puts into a machine press to eliminate any empty space between the tugelos or between the chassis and the Khatam. The work surface can be anything from a plate, a frame, or a clock, to a jewelry or a tissue box.

Once the inlaying process is over, it is time to finish the craft. The eventual empty spaces are filled with priming, and then the artwork is smoothened, polished, and shined with sand paper and oil, respectively.

History and background:

While the beginning of Khatam remains mysterious and unknown, Khatam enjoys a rich history. Some of the first known Khatam are a tribune in a Shiraz (Iran) mosque, dating back a thousand years ago; the ceiling of the main balcony of the Atigh mosque in Shiraz, 14th century; and the walnut doors overlaid with bone made by a Persian artisan in 1591, displayed in a Berlin (Germany) museum.


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