Inlay covers a range of techniques in sculpture and the decorative arts for inserting pieces of contrasting, often coloured materials into depressions in a base object to form ornament or pictures that normally are flush with the matrix.[1] A great range of materials have been used both for the base or matrix and for the inlays inserted into it. Inlay is commonly used in the production of decorative furniture, where pieces of coloured wood, precious metals or even diamonds are inserted into the surface of the carcass using various matrices including clearcoats and varnishes. Lutherie inlays are frequently used as decoration and marking on musical instruments, particularly the smaller strings.

Perhaps the most famous example of furniture inlay is that of Andre-Charles Boulle (11 November 1642 – 28 February 1732) which is known as Boulle Work and evolved in part from inlay produced in Italy during the late 15th century at the Studiolo for Federico da Montefeltro in his Ducal Palace at Urbino, in which trompe-l'oeil shelving seems to carry books, papers, curios and mathematical instruments, in eye-deceiving perspective. The similar private study made for him at Gubbio is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Inlay in wood

a tiny inlaid 'stratocaster' on a customised Fender guitar. the letters are mother of pearl and the wood is walnut burr
mother of pearl inlay into walnut burr on a customised Fender Stratocaster.
Inlay (ivory, red sandalwood, copper) on wooden casket

In a wood matrix, inlays commonly use wood veneers, but other materials like shells, mother-of-pearl, horn or ivory may also be used. Pietre dure, or coloured stones inlaid in white or black marbles, and inlays of precious metals in a base metal matrix are other forms of inlay. Master craftsmen who make custom knives continue a tradition of ancient techniques of inlaying precious metals; additionally, many new techniques which use contemporary tools have also been developed and utilized as well by artisans.

Intarsia inlay in wood furniture differs from marquetry, a similar technique that largely replaced it in high-style European furniture during the 17th century,[2] in that marquetry is an assembly of veneers applied over the entire surface of an object, whereas inlay consists of small pieces inserted on the bed of cut spaces in the base material, of which most remains visible.

Inlay on metals

Picture of Rolls Royce Phantom with Sun King® Diamond Inlay[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]
Bronze inlaid with silver: ceremonial flask, China, from the Warring States period, 3rd century BC.

The history of inlay is very old but it is still evolving alongside new technologies and new materials being discovered today. The technique of metal in metal inlay was sophisticated and accomplished in ancient China as shown in examples of vessels decorated with precious metals including this ding vessel (pictured) with gold and silver inlay from the Warring States period (403-221 BC).

Sun King Diamond Coating by Jean Boulle Luxury on a Bentley Azure in Monaco[10][11][12][13][14]
Oceanco is utilizing a new product, Sun King® Diamond Coating for Project Lumen.The proprietary Sun King® coating uses a patent pending process developed by Jean Boulle Luxury, working exclusively with partners AkzoNobel to tailor the diamond coating for automobiles, airplanes and yachts. The Lumen scale model painted in Diamond coating was on display at the Oceanco stand at the 2017 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

The French cabinet maker Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) specialised in furniture using inlays or metal and either wood or tortoiseshell together, the latter acting as the background. This type of inlay is known as "Boulle Work".

After learning the skill of smithing from the Navaho in 1872, the Zuni silversmiths cut small chips from crystals and gemstones, pearl shell and coral, to make inlay designs in a base of silver.

In 1990, Vivienne Westwood was inspired by Boulle Work, the inlay of precious metals into or onto wood to create a collection with inlay in the manner of André-Charles Boulle [15]

In 2016, a subsidiary company of Jean-Raymond Boulle discovered and has filed a patent[16] for a new type of diamond inlay, subsequently produced by AkzoNobel for application on cars,[17][18] planes[19][20] and yachts.[21]

Inlay in stone

Cathedral Virgin Mary : inlays in contrasting colours of stones in pietra dura

Pietra dura is the usual term in Europe for detailed inlays in contrasting colours of stones, including many semi-precious types; parchin kari is an Indian term. Pietra dura developed from the Roman Opus sectile, which was typically used on a larger scale, especially in floors. Cosmatesque work on walls and floors, and smaller objects, was a medieval intermediate stage, continuing ancient opus alexandrinum.

Inlaid artefacts have come down to us from the Ancient Mayan civilisation, among them, jade, mother of pearl and onyx inlaid into stone during the era that arts reached a peak during the seven centuries from 200 to 900 AD.

Inlay on fabrics

Vivienne Westwood collection of 1990 inspired by Andre-Charles Boulle to use Boulle Work or Boulle Inlay on her 1990 Collection

Vivienne Westwood created her Portrait Collection based on the furniture of Andre Charles Boulle.[22]

Images of inlays

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts, 1975, s.v. "Inlay", "Wood-working (Special Techniques)".
  2. ^ John Fleming and Hugh Honour, The Penguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts (1977) s.v. "Inlay".
  4. ^ "Meet The World's First Diamond Car, The Rolls-Royce Ghost Elegance". Forbes. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  5. ^ "Rolls-Royce 'Elegance' at Geneva". Piston Heads. Retrieved 6 March 2017. 
  6. ^ "This Rolls Royce is painted with real diamond dust". Money CNN. Retrieved 8 March 2017. 
  7. ^ "Rolls-Royce will show off a car painted with diamonds at this year's Geneva Motor Show". Business Insider. Retrieved 6 March 2017. 
  8. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury Group's Proprietary Natural Gem Diamond Finish Technology Exhibited at Geneva Motor Show". Business Wire. Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  9. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury works with Rolls Royce on a Sun KingTM Gem Diamond Coated Ghost Showcased at the 2017 Geneva Auto Show". Jean Boulle Group. Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  10. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury Sun King® Diamonds Lining a Bentley in Monaco". EBL NEWS. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  11. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury Sun King® Diamond inlay on a Bentley in Monaco" (PDF). Jean Boulle Luxury. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  12. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury Sun King® inlay at Top Marques Monaco 2017". SG News. 
  13. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury at Top Marques Monaco". Top Marques, Monaco. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  14. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury's proprietary natural Gem diamond inlay exhibited". Investors Africa. Retrieved 23 March 2017. 
  15. ^ "Vivienne Westwood 1990 A/W Collection : Portrait". Retrieved 10 December 2017. 
  16. ^ "Oceanco's-project Lumen shines with revolutionary Sun King® coating made from diamonds". Oceanco, line 2. 
  17. ^ "Bentley Azure painted with two million diamonds". News 18. 
  18. ^ "Jean Boulle: Diamond Luxury at Greater Heights". Aviation Week. 
  19. ^ "Jean Boulle Luxury Launches the World's First Aircraft Finished with the Sun King™ Natural Gem Diamond Coating at EBACE 2017". Aviation Week. 
  20. ^ "Jean Boulle: Diamond Luxury at Greater Heights". Aviation Week. 
  21. ^ "The Oceanco Lumen is a Superyacht Literally Bedazzled in Diamonds". RobbReport. 
  22. ^ "Vivienne Westwood 1990 A/W Collection : Portrait". Retrieved 23 March 2009. 

External links