Buy a Chess Set For Christmas

The Christmas season is looming ever closer and it will soon be time to begin thinking about buying presents for our loved ones, and not so loved ones! For those relatives you are not too keen on we would always advise socks and pants, maybe some soaps and smellies for those with poor hygiene. But for those you are fond of there can be no better present than a fine chess set.

A luxury chess set will last longer than a lifetime, in many cases it should last multiple generations. There is also something extremely satisfying about a fine chess set. You don’t have to be a fan of chess, or even a fan of fine crafts to appreciate a lovely chess set. There is just something magical about them that is impossible to explain. A total of 32 (34 on a luxury fine set) pieces, each one carved with such loving attention that it could be sold as a fine gift on it’s own!

One mild irritation about buying a chess set is the problem of where to find one. It’s almost impossible to find a decent selection in a high street shop. Even the specialists chess shops don’t sell particularly great chess sets. Online shopping is the only answer it seems but with Christmas round the corner there will be plenty of the usual suspects piling the sets high and selling them cheap.

Plan ahead and do your research, buy from a reputable retailer who is happy for you to drive over to their premises to sample the products before you buy them. Be fussy and remember that the UK consumer laws mean that if you buy online you have the right to return it for literally any reason and for a full and complete refund. Always ask a retailer if the photos on their website are the actual photos of items from their stocks. It’s not unheard of for less reputable sellers to steal product images of high quality products and use them to sell their cheap wares. Aside from getting themselves sued in the new year it’s also bad practice on behalf of their customer service which results in disappointment when the products arrive.

So when you type buy chess sets into google this Christmas do your best to ensure you buy from the best and if you do make a mistake don’t worry about getting it returned and getting your money back. Good luck and Merry Christmas!

The Future For Luxury Wooden Chess Sets

Classic Chess sets, such as the Staunton variety, tend to involve looking back into the past, as opposed to the future. We seldom think about what will become of our luxury chess sets, but it stands to reason that the really high quality and super luxury sets will hopefully remain treasured in your family for generations to come.

The issue facing fine luxury chessmen, and indeed all other luxury hardwood items is the ecological situation surrounding the woods used to make them. Ebony, Rosewood, & Red Sandalwood are the most commonly used woods and certainly some of the most desirable. Yet ever year the price of these woods goes higher as the socks run low and governments across the world impose restrictions on the further deforestation of these woods.

One issue we face is that the trees that bear these woods take many years to grow, indeed some can be over 100 years old when cut down and harvested. This means that any re planting schemes are extremely long term efforts that probably wont sure up any supply problems in the coming decades.

Already countries like India are trying to impose export sanctions on luxury hardwoods, countries like Brazil have completely banned the export of their precious rosewood much to the dismay of the luxury musical instrument industry. As pressure from the environmentalists mount, and governments bow down to the scientific consensus it’s realistic to assume that supply of luxury chess sets is going to shrink.

The UK’s most prominent online chess retailer is feeling the pain of this situation with the supply of their solid ebony chess boards. The boards come in a variety of sizes and are made from huge chunks of defect free black ebony. The results are quite stunning. Being the only retailer in the UK to offer such boards the demand is high, despite the very high price.

However obtaining enough stock to fulfil the orders is a constant challenge. Suppliers complain that it’s hard to source enough of the high grade woods and the prices are increasing every month. The costs of the wood are now scaring some wood workers out of using those woods through fear of making a mistake on a chess product and having to throw the item into the reject bin. Something that then pushes the overall price up further.

In the eyes of the consumer this situation isn’t having much of an impact yet. They can still buy excellent chess products at good prices, often artificially low at present due to failing chess businesses selling off stock cheap to maintain some cash flow. However this will be short lived and the days of being able to buy luxury wooden chess pieces at an affordable price will soon be behind us.

The only advantage to consider is that in future generations the finest chess sets made from the best grades of endangered hardwoods will increase in value and collectibility. One just has to look at the price of musical instruments that contain Brazilian Rosewood, in some cases they are worth thousands of pounds now! Given the price of classic antique chess sets these days it’s a fair assumption that the finest chessmen at today’s new prices will represent superb investment opportunities!

How they make those perfect chess pieces

When we see a supreme luxury set of chess pieces it’s often difficult to imagine just how much work has gone into producing it. There are many stages that the producer has to go through in order to end up with 32 perfect chess pieces that are good enough to attract the ‘luxury’ price tag.

Simple beginnings

A chess piece usually starts life as a solid block of hardwood that is cut roughly into an eight sided shape. It’s then put into a lathe and turned to it’s correct shape by pushing a very sharp blade against it. The blade is of utmost importance. It must be a perfect reverse of the desired shape and extremely sharp. The aim is to cut into the spinning wood without splintering the wood or leaving small hollows. Not something an amature can achieve very easily! The end result should be a perfectly formed chess piece albeit with a slightly rough surface.

Smoothing things over

The next job is to carefully sand the rough surface of the chess piece away. This is usually done with very fine abrasive paper. Then the piece is polished with a rotating buffer to remove the sanding marks. There are many stages to the sanding and polishing of a chess piece. Mechanical polishing combined with hard wax is used to create the desired effect.

A weight off your mind

Even the best style and quality of chessmen would be nothing without some weight inside them. The chess piece is clamped carefully and then a large hole drilled into the base. The hole is then filled with either molten lead or a steel disc. It’s vital that some room is left in the hole for some flexible filler. If the metal weight goes in with a tight fit it can cause cracking later on!

Covering things up

The base is then covered with either a felt circle or a piece of leather to cover up the weight and filler. After this a final stage of polishing takes place. It’s worth noting that during all of these processes each piece must be carefully checked. Defective or damaged pieces must be thrown out and replaced with a new one. On luxury chess sets it’s typical to turn around double the quantity you need in the knowledge that 50% wont make it through to the end of the finishing process without picking some damage of defect. Super luxury chess sets will often have minute tolerances of what can be considered acceptable, which can mean the pile of rejects is huge compared to the finished examples.

Ebony Chessmen

The classic look that chess players and enthusiasts love is the deep black of ebony wood for the dark chess pieces. When polished to a deep shine it looks so deep, so black, so Staunton! But Ebony is seldom this black by nature. It will often have streaks of dark brown running through it. It is common practice to stain the ebony jet black in order to create a uniform blackness.

The Regency Chess Company

The Internet is awash with retailers selling chess products. Recently a new contender arrived on the scene in the form of The Regency Chess Company. Based in Bath, United Kingdom these guys are creating something of a stir among the chess retail industry.

One of the most striking things about the regency website is their amazing product photography. I am informed that they do this themselves and only photograph the exact items that they stock on the website. This means you can be sure that you will receive exactly whats in the photos when you order, not a generic product sourced from another manufacturer long after the original photo was taken.

Already they seem to be holding stock of some unique and exclusive designs of Staunton Chessmen but one of the striking things about their range is their selection of chess boards. Many of the UK based chess retailers seem to stock a fairly small range of boards whereas these guys have a vast selection that includes basic veneer boards right up to luxury solid hardwood boards.

Already some long established budget retailers have begun copying The Regency Chess Company, like all great things, imitation is inevitable. It would appear that if you want to buy the cheapest chess sets, buy from somewhere else. If you want the best, buy from Regency.

Selling for less than the sum of it’s parts

I had the chance to talk to a traditional English woodworker today. He makes fine chess sets from lovely cuts of luxury hardwoods. I quizzed him about the types of wood used to build chess sets and found out some interesting facts. Lets take rosewood as an example. A quick glance at some chess retailers tells me that you can buy an imported rosewood chess board for as little as £80. Yet I showed an 18 inch solid rosewood board to the English wood worker who priced up the raw wood materials at around £75! and that’s before he has even picked up his saw!

There seems to be a mighty casm between the price of these things in the UK against imported wooden products from countries like India. He went on the say that should we wish to commission him to make an identical chess board to the one retailing for £80 he would charge us a trade price of £250!

It does seem a little crazy but it would seem the cheaper imports are what is needed if luxury solid wooden chess products are to be brought to the mass market and made affordable to the everyday man in the street. It’s fair to assume that as stocks of wood like rosewood and ebony run dry and deforestation restrictions come into force the price and value of these woods will increase.

Will the day come when the scrap value of your large luxury chess board be worth more than you paid for the board? Either way, with the ecological problems the world now faces it’s clear that generations in the not too distant future wont be able to get hold of these sorts of products at a consumer price, so enjoy it while you still can!

Luxury chess sets

Chess blogger has been on the prowl for luxury chess sets this week and has travelled afar to look at some in the flesh. Before one begins to scratch the surface of fine chess pieces it’s hard to know just how luxury and indeed expensive a set of chessmen can be. London seemed to be the place I needed to get to if I wanted to see a decent range of expensive chess sets. The big name department stores and a couple of niche chess specialists was where I was heading. I wont go into detail about the products and stores I looked at, instead I will keep this post fairly general.

Was I impressed? Well in a word yes, and no. Although I did see a great deal of chess sets, some for hundreds, others for thousands of pounds I didn’t see anything that looked like it was of immeasurable quality. My keen eye is always trying hard to spot faults and many faults I did spot, even with one set that was the most expensive one in a very well known department store.

It seems that price can’t be your gauge to quality, while some chess sets may appear to be ‘reassuringly expensive’ it seems the reassurance of quality is not to be assumed lightly.

Chess set retailers embrace social networks as marketing tool

Social networking has been taking the web by storm over the last couple of years. Websites like facebook, twitter and bebo have become a huge part of peoples online lifestyle. Where the young generation of hip groovy teens lead the way, the grown ups are now following. One chess set retailer, the Regency Chess Company has embraced social networking and now uses it as a highly effective platform to communicate with it’s customers.

At face value the social networking sites don’t immediately jump out as being the place to go to market your online business to new clients site. Lets not forget however, that millions of people the world over are using social networking as a way to communicate, network and gain information about their interests and hobbies.

The social networking scene is not to be seen as a place for an instant quick fix in terms of advertising or promotion. Instead see it as a longer term branding exercise that will win you real support from your customers. Of course, being featured all over the webs social media networks will mean you have to work extra hard at pleasing your customers. People will be talking and twittering about you so make sure they only have the chance to say nice things about your company and your products.

Slumping Pound Sends Price of Chess Sets Soaring!

The global economic crisis is not exactly hot news at present. One of the biggest problems facing us in the UK is the decimation of our currency. The GB pound is not so much suffering but dead in the water at present. It seems every time Gordon Brown or one of his Socialist cronies open their mouths in public the value falls even further.

What has this got to do with chess sets you might ask? Well the Chess market in the UK relies on goods imported from other parts of the world. India, China, Poland, Italy. Irrespective of which country the sets come from the prices are going up!

It’s a tough time for chess retailers. Often accused of making huge margins by those with no business understanding. The reality at present is that margins are getting tighter, sales harder to come by and suppliers are seeking to sell their wares to other countries who’s currency is remaining strong.

Will this mean the end for some of the smaller chess retailers? or even the larger ones? Only time will tell but one thing is for certain… it doesn’t get much worse than this!

Why do chess pieces crack?

It can be a very sad sight, you have a stunning set of wooden chess pieces that were bought long enough ago for the warranty to have expired and in one of the pieces a huge crack is developing. This problem can affect sets from both sides of the price spectrum.

Anyone who knows about wood will tell you that wood will move and change shape over time. When it’s first harvested it is full of moisture, as it seasons this moisture decreases. During this process the wood can shrink, warp or move.

The idea behind wood working is to let the wood complete all of it’s moving and changing before you turn it into your desired object. There are however a few problems. Firstly there are two factors which affect the wood. They are temperature and moisture and the two go hand in hand. Heat the wood to a high temperature and you can expect to see moisture reduce, let the wood sit in cooler damp climes and expect to see the moisture increase.

Because most chess sets are made in one country, then shipped to another it can experience dramatic changes in temperature and humidity. Another factor involved is the weighting of the chess piece. Chess pieces are hollowed out at the base and metal weights inserted. In the old days they used to drill a hole, fill it with molten lead then seal up the base with a leather disc. Worries about the safety of lead caused a switch over to steel which was inserted in the form of solid discs.

In the beginning this caused a problem. The old lead method was quite ideal for the pieces because lead was soft, this meant that the wood could move, bend, and contract slightly and the soft lead inside would accommodate it. Hard steel however was less forgiving and if fitted too tightly inside the chess piece would mean that cracking was very likely.

This problem was solved by drilling a slightly larger hole in the piece than was actually needed so that the steel disc fitted loosely inside. A soft ply-able filler is then inserted around the steel to fill in the gaps and remove any gaps or movement. This meant that the wooden chess piece could move, bend and grow without the weight inside causing the wood to crack.

Despite these developments some cracking will still occur, wood is not a 100% stable material and a degree of change is to be expected in it’s lifetime. When buying fine chess pieces from a retailer ensure you choose one who offers a good replacement policy for any pieces that do crack. Just make sure you don’t start cracking up yourself if one or two of your pieces do.