Bone formation throughout skeletal growth and remodeling always entails deposition of new bone onto a pre-existing mineralized surface. In contrast, the initial deposition of bone in development requires the formation, ex novo, of the first mineralized structure in a nonmineralized tissue. We investigated the cellular events associated with this initial bone formation, with specific reference to the respective role of cartilage and bone cells in bones which form via a cartilage model. The cellular architecture of initial osteogenic sites was investigated by light, confocal, and electron microscopy (EM) in the membranous ossification of fetal calvarial bones (not forming via a cartilage model) and in the membranous ossification of the bony collars of endochondral bones. Bone sialoprotein (BSP), which is expressed during early phases of bone deposition and has been proposed to be involved in the control of both mineral formation and bone cell–matrix interactions, was used as a marker of initial bone formation. We found that at all sites, BSP-producing cells (as identified by intracellular immunoreactivity) are arranged in a characteristic vis-à-vis (face to face) pattern prior to the appearance of the first mineralizing BSP-immunoreactive extracellular matrix. In perichondral osteogenesis, the vis-à-vis pattern comprises osteoblasts differentiating from the perichondrium/periosteum and early hypertrophic chondrocytes located at the lateral aspects of the rudiment. By EM, the first mineral and the first BSP-immunoreactive sites coincide temporally and spatially in the extracellular matrix at the boundary between cartilage and periosteum. We further showed that in an in vitro avian model of chondrocyte differentiation in vitro to osteoblast-like cells, early hypertrophic chondrocytes replated as adherent cells turned on the expression of high levels of BSP in conjunction with the switch to collagen type I synthesis and matrix mineralization. We propose a model for the priming of bone deposition, i.e., the formation of the first bone structure, in which the architectural layout of cells competent to deposit a mineralizing matrix (the vis-à-vis pattern) determines the polarized deposition of bone. For bones forming via a cartilage model, the priming of bone deposition involves and requires cells that differentiate from early hypertrophic chondrocytes.