Koftgiri is a type of decoration originating in India with the Mughals as a means to decorate arms and weaponry.  It can be both an inlay and overlay art.  The word Koftgiri refers to the action of "beating" the pattern into the iron. It was a widely-practiced decorative technique in eastern cultures, from the Far East to the Maghreb and is an artisan technique that is still practiced today. It is interesting to note the differences and similarities in the way it was executed from one region to another.

Iron or steel of the required size is heated, and slightly hammered into flat surfaces on which grooves are made. These minute lines are carved in the base iron, depicting a variety of motifs.  Very thin silver wires are then laid in the carved grooves.  The surface is then processed (for example, by hammering) and polished to ensure the silver remains embedded in the surface of the metal.

Since the cuts on the metal are not as deep as with inlay, the soft metal decoration can wear over time with use. This is because the impressed metal may not fill a groove, allowing oxidation to occur in small pockets which in turn may lead to looses in the koftgari on older examples.

With koftgari, it is possible to produce much more elaborate designs than with inlay.

There are three koftgiri techniques:

  • Te-hen-shah or "Deep inlay": a pattern is carved into a blade and the silver wire is hammered into the undercut grooves (a process called "zabr kardan"). You can't feel the pattern on the blade.  This is more typically simply called "inlay".
  • Traditional koftgari:  a crosshatching pattern drawn on the blade with a sharp implement ("Silai", a hard steel needle) followed by heating and pressing with a polish hakik stone.  You can feel the pattern. Also called "cross-hatch wire koftgari". In Persian it is called "talakub".
  • Teh-tula:  a gold or silver foil is hammered onto a crosshatch or punched surface. This is more of an overlay art.  You can feel the gold/silver on the objects.  The pattern just looks embossed.

Another technique called "Mulamma" is thought of as imitation koftgari.  It is a way of gold plating (gilding) on steel.  Like koftgiri, the surface to be gilded is crosshatched.  The pattern is drawn with the silai and then very thin gold leave is applied and rubbed with an agate stone, bone, or an ivory burnisher.  Repeated heating and rubbing assures the soft gold is spread evenly and fixed firmly to the surface.  A variation is to apply a paste of gold and mercury instead of gold leaf.  Subsequent heating vaporizes the mercury leaving only the gold fixed to the surface pattern. These techniques are not to be confused with a modern technique to fake koftgari by painting gold or silver paint with a brush over the criss-cross pattern. Real koftgari work takes considerable time and skill to execute.

In each case, the craftsman uses one or more techniques to erase the cross hatching where it is not holding silver or gold to the surface.  Depending on the skill of the craftsman, this may be more or less successful and it is often possible to see some cross hatching remaining even on very high quality items.

There are many skilled Koftgari artists in India who do make genuine Koftgari following centuries old techniques. Their work is by no means less valuable than the old/antique Koftgari and should be appreciated as a surviving artistic treasure of mankind.

A hilt showing Te-hen-shah inlay art

A hilt showing Te-hen-shah inlay art

A Persian pesh kabz showing hatching used only in the areas of the high relief applied gold design

A Persian pesh kabz showing hatching used only in the areas of the high relief applied gold design