I recently received an email from my brother-in-law with a link to a blog post about the 12 coolest chess sets. Though I found the article to be interesting, I felt it contained some items that I didn’t care for – probably because some of the choices contains sets that weren’t “playable” or traveled well-worn ground (war-themes, Star Wars, and other hokey ideas).
So, in the spirit of debate, I’ve borrowed a couple of the items on the list and added a few of my own:
1) Marble Chess Set – This set is one of the most beautiful marble sets that I’ve seen over the years. Of course the reason is that I drove my wife crazy during our honeymoon in Greece back in 1997 looking for just the right set to take home as a souvenir.
As we toured Athens and moved on to stops on some of the more famous Greek islands, I was searching for a unique design that I hadn’t seen before. Finally, on our second to last day, in the city of Fira on the island of Santorini, I saw this set.
I can’t say that I remember what it cost. Probably somewhere between $150 and $200. But it was the sturdy black and white board and beautiful pieces that won me over! And though it was a pain to bring back in my carry on bag, the sight of this set always brings back fond memories of our visit to Greece.
2) 3D Chess Set – Borrowed from the above mentioned blog … – I was fascinated by the beautiful design of the set and decided to do a little more digging to learn more about it.
The truth is, the set doesn’t really exist. It’s work of a New York designer and creative director named Ji Lee. He was born in Seoul, Korea was raised in Sao Paulo, Brasil and eventually ended up in our part of the country.
His web site, pleaseenjoy.com shows the work of a person with a wide range of interests who is working on some provocative ideas such as “The Bubble Project” where he places cartoon bubbles on top of various advertisements in the city to invite the public to provide a ”two way dialog” on their feelings about the messages they encounter on a day to day basis.
What I really want to know however is – where can I get a real set like that, so I can try it out!
3) Alice (in Wonderland) Chess Set – Another nod to the chess set blog, and another set that only exists as a prototype! As with the 3D set, this one was also created by a designer. The artist, named Yasmin Sethi, was inspired by the book Alice in Wonderland and by the idea that a chess piece doesn’t have any value unless it’s on the board.
With that in mind, none of the glass cylinders are distinguishable from one another until they are placed on the board. Then by the magic of a special board design, LED’s illuminate the type of piece within!
A further look at his personal site: www.yasminsethi.com shows other samples of his work and reveals that he is seeking employment!
4) Royal Diamond Chess – This is the one that really took my breath away. A few years ago, a French artist and Jewelery designer named Bernard Maquin (1932-2004) put a score of craftsmen to work on creating a true “masterpiece”.
The result was a work of art made from 14 carat white gold and close to 10,000 black and white diamonds that took 4,500 hours for his team to create.
One look at the Knight pictured here says it all – stunning! The only catch is, the set costs about $500,000 if you wish to purchase one.
Not surprisingly, Maquin wasn’t only interested in creating chess sets. A quick Google search uncovered a number of similarly wonderful creations such as a gorgeous Roulette Wheel as well as a Backgammon set made of over 60,000 diamonds!
5) House of Staunton – Mammoth Ivory – When it comes down to it, I still feel that the most wonderful (and playable) sets come from The House of Staunton.
When I first saw this set mentioned on their web site, I thought is was an elaborate joke. Who knew that there really was a stockpile of Ivory that can be harvested from Wooly Mammoths that died in the Siberian Tundra more than 2,000 years ago!
A relative bargain (compared to the Royal Diamond Set), you can purchase this one on the House of Staunton site for only $13,000 ($12,999 if you want to be exact).
As described on the website, the entire set is made of ivory (the dark pieces have been stained black) and is presented au natural so that you can appreciate the quality of the grain. They do provide leather base pads with the set, so you can affix them to the bottom of the pieces if you so desire.
What strikes me about the set is the great Staunton qualities that I love – understated, classicly crafted pieces with great lines. The knights are intricately detailed and beautiful to look at. When I see the photograph, it inspires me to break out my pieces and play a game or two!