Khātam (Persian: خاتم) is an ancient Persian technique of inlaying. It is a version of marquetry where art forms are made by decorating the surface of wooden articles with delicate pieces of wood, bone and metal precisely-cut intricate geometric patterns. Khatam-kari or khatam-bandi refers to the art of crafting a khatam. Common materials used in the construction of inlaid articles are gold, silver, brass, aluminum and twisted wire.
There’s a wide variety of different types of wood employed, each revered for a particular color or hue. Khatamkars (as the artisans are known) may use cypress, teak, ebony, rose, betel, walnut, logwood, jujube, pistachio, orange, or aspen. The metals used include brass, aluminum, gold, and silver. The bone is traditionally camel, but cow bones are also used in modern times.
Art blogger Maryam Moghaddas offers a wonderful in-depth piece on khatam, wherein she breaks down the basic technique. Here’s a synopsis:
- Cut the material rods.
- Shape the rods into triangles.
- Design the basic pattern.
- Put the rods together to create your basic pattern.
- Bind the rods with string and glue, and press together for 24 hours.
- Slice 1mm layers off the glued prisms.
- Assemble the thin layers on the surface to be applied, and glue.
- Finely sand to make surface as smooth as possible.
- Oil and polish to a shine, then apply lacquer.
The ornamentation of the doors of holy places predominantly consists of inlaid motifs. Samples of these can be observed in the cities of Mashhad, Qom, Shiraz and Rey. In the Safavid era, the art of marquetry flourished in the southern cities of Iran, especially in Isfahan, Shiraz and Kerman. The inlaid-ornamented rooms at the Saadabad Palace and the Marble Palace in Tehran are among masterpieces of this art.