Chess has been around for hundreds of years. It originated in India during the sixth century A.D., then spread to Persia and the Muslim world before Southern Europe took to the pastime. Chess acquired much of its present day form during the fifteenth century; from then on the game never lost its luster.
Neither has our fascination with chess sets themselves. One of the reasons chess is so fun and interesting is that chess pieces bring us back to the days of castles, royal wealth, kings, queens, and chivalrous knights. Any chess lovers will admit that an exquisite collection brings that rich past to life. The following are among the world’s most artistically advanced and unique chess sets, and the quality of the material used to create them is no laughing matter either.
10 Medieval Venice Chess Set: $30,545
Pianki produces many historical and artistic chess sets, such as this Medieval Venice set, which includes 7+ inch pieces crafted from solid bronze and plated with 24k gold and silver. The ensemble visualizes a medieval battle between patricians and knights. There are soldiers wielding shields, lances and swords, and a watch tower for defense. Each piece is highly detailed and completely three-dimensional for those who want to savor the essence of medieval culture.
All the characters bear the sculptor’s signature, a mark of the work’s distinction. The chess board is solid bronze plated with 24k gold and silver. Its checkered design recalls Italian tile work and the sides of the board have little three-dimensional building tops and gilded coats of arms.
9 Renault F1 Team Collection Chess Set: $42,000
This set is made from the same materials that make a Formula 1 Renault car: titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum. The chess pieces are shaped in the form of hubs, cockpit sittings, and suspensions, while the F1 carbon board is designed with traction to give players the illusion that they’re driving across a track to race an opponent. Clean, sleek and minimalist, the Renault Formula 1 is the chess set of a modernist's dream.
8 Silver Jubilee Chess Set: $77,880
In the 1970's, Geoffrey Parker, manufacturer of high end luxury goods, including games, made a genuine gold, silver and suede chess set in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. The whole ensemble is priceless, but cheaper versions in sterling silver, or sterling silver-gilt are now available to non-royals.
The one in the photo above is the sterling silver version, priced at $77,880. It features stout, rounded pieces that look a bit like crowns. Clear and pristine, these treasures look like ice cubes on a silver platter.
7 Carolingians & Moors Chess Pieces: $96,075
One of the most ornate chess ensembles in Pianki’s inventory is the Carolingian and Moors collection. Its intricacy of detail (scrollwork, fabric texture, etc.) and amount of precious metals are out of this world. Piero Benzoni built these chess pieces, each of which measures nearly a foot tall, from solid bronze plated with 24K gold and silver.
Together, the pieces visualize a battle between early medieval Carolingian Europeans and black Arab Moors, who during the Middle Ages were enemies of the Christian faith.
6 Carolingi XIV Chess Set: $113,580
Piero Benzoni’s most famous chess set is the Carolingi XIV, which visualizes warring Ottoman Turks and (Frankish) Carolingians of the ninth century. Each of these large (7+inches) statuettes is made of gold, hand painted in 24k gold and silver, meticulously detailed and dressed in precise period style. There are horseback warriors equipped with shields and weaponry, intimidating kings and queens, a crenellated watch tower for defense and other figures that will bring the player back to a tumultuous period in history that gave rise to the age of kings.
Benzoni’s chess set comes with his signature gold and silver checkered board, as well as a limited edition onyx table that completes the game’s opulent look and makes a striking edition to a living, hallway, or study room.
5 Baccarat Crystal Chess Set: $287,684
To celebrate its 250th anniversary of making luxury crystal, Baccarat ordered Nendo to create this limited edition chess set. Thirty-two pieces are made of hand cut clear and midnight blue crystal, based on the Baccarat icon, the Harcourt glass design. Although they look like little vases, their shapes are modified versions of the bishop’s miter, the queen’s hem, and the king’s crown.
Faceting allows each piece to pick up light at different angles. The board itself is made of scratch-resistant glass cubes that refract light, thus contributing to the set’s utter brilliance.
4 Royal Diamond Chess Set: $600,000
The luxury goods company Charles Hollander specializes in extraordinary diamond chess sets, the most renowned of which is the Royal Diamond Chess Set made in 2004. Thirty craftspeople and over 4,500 hours went into making black, silver and white tour de force.
All the chess pieces are made of white gold studded with white, or black diamonds (9,900+ stones total; carat weight 189.09). The chess board is formed of white gold checkered with alternating black and white diamond studded squares. The set’s overall look is roughly textured, but scintillating and refined.
3 J. Grahl Chess Set: $700,000
J. Grahl designed this chess set for the Cole family in 1972. It once resided in the Gemological Institute of America as an antique pending purchase. Only a dozen copies of the original were made, and the last sale was made in 2008.
Grahl’s solid 14k gold and silver figures weigh nearly a pound in total and, if dropped, will not scratch in the least. All characters are fashioned as medieval Europeans. Fully armored knights, arrow bearing soldiers, bishops, kings and queens are fully dimensional and intricately carved. Some of the queens (shown above) hold orbs (symbols of earthly power) made of gemstones and precious cabochons decorate their dresses. Other royal figures, too, bear cabochon gems, the typical medieval cut for precious stones.
Players can imagine the royal characters living in Grahl’s three-dimensional castles, situated on mountain tops for defense.
The chess board is made of sterling silver and African ebony. The set’s cherry wood and glass display case completely seals the chess set from dust and other harmful elements, and makes a nice addition to a cherry wood room.
2 Art of War Chess Set: $750,000
Victor Scharstein’s Art of War chess set is an Oriental style masterpiece. The board is ebony with gold and rhodium inlaid checkerboards rimmed with Chinese lettering. A solid gold foot with diamond toenails holds up one end of the board, and a solid silver foot with ruby toenails elevates the opposite corner.
Most remarkable are the meticulously carved solid gold chess pieces, all of which are studded with precious gemstones: sapphires, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. There are royal figures, warriors, scholars, and finely striated pagodas that look realistic enough to live in! These top quality pieces shine and glitter in all their precious finery, and their varied colors enhance their three-dimensional brilliance.
The Art of War chess set comes with a velvet lined wooden case complete with lock and key. Its handle is solid gold studded with twenty-one genuine gemstones. Gold and rhodium inlaid samurai decorate the top of the case’s exterior.
1 Jewel Royale Chess Set: $9.8 Million
The world’s most expensive chess set was commissioned in Great Britian by the company known as Jewel Royale. Valued at 9.8 million dollars, it’s made of solid gold and platinum, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, white and black pearls, all fashioned in a highly unique style. Each piece, barring the horses, comprises a gem-studded spiral at the middle. Every chess piece’s top bears an attribute: a king’s crown, a queen’s crown, a bishop’s mitre, or a pearl for a pawn. The king, valued at $100,000, is the largest piece.
Don’t be fooled. Even though these chess pieces look light and airy, they are as substantial as paperweights. The king alone weighs 165.2 grams. A limited number of replicas of the Jewel Royale will sell for over $26,000 in the near future.
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