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Sadelie doos open.jpg


British India, Bombay (present-day Mumbai), early 19th century

Micromosaic inlaid wood, with fitted ivory interior and tools, and silver fittings.

H. 12.6 x W. 43.2 x D. 28.5 cm


Workboxes, portable writing desks, inkstands and jewellery boxes were among the variety of nineteenth-century items decorated with geometric micromosaic patterns, called sadeli. Although the generic term “Bombay boxes” is used for a range of boxes decorated in this fashion, production was not limited to Bombay, as Amin Jaffer points out (A. Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, London 2001, p. 313). Sadeli boxes were popular souvenirs with travellers to India, as Mrs. Postans observed in the 1830s: “the liberality of homeward-bound friends has now rendered (mosaic work) so much appreciated in England, in the form of presentation workboxes, desks, watch-stands, and numerous other ornamental souvenirs”. Queen Charlotte owned three sadeli boxes “of Bombay work”(Jaffer 2001, p.314).

The sadeli technique came to India from Shiraz in the sixteenth century. It consists of binding together lengths of geometrically shaped rods of diverse materials such as tin, copper, horn, ivory, sappan wood and ebony arranged in symmetrical geometric patterns. These rods are sliced through transversely and formed into thin sheets of repeating patterns that are laid over and glued to the wooden carcass (see Jaffer 2001, p.313).

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