Chess Set Review: 4" Imperator Staunton Chess Pieces
Here to see the chess set!
the years, I have seen many chess sets. Most are rather ... generic and
purely functional. It is rare you find a set of chessmen that explore a
level of artistry that is considerable. We deal with many manufacturers
from all over the globe, but most wooden chess sets are manufactured in
India. The general quality of chess sets exported by this country are
of the generic and functional type. Many aficionados of finer chessmen
complain that the Indian produced chess sets are "always" of a poor
quality. I have learned this is not always the case, in fact the finest
chess pieces in the world often originate in India.
years ago, one of our manufacturers informed us that they had produced
a very high quality, ebony chess set that rivals some of the finest
made. My reaction was, "Umm...OK...sure. I'll take a look at it at the
Toy Fair in New York in February". I'm not easily impressed these days.
I went to the fair and low and behold there was this manufacturer with
this pretty staunton chess set. When I got up close, I began to realize
the true quality of this set of chessmen. The finish gleamed, the ebony
was an absolute pitch black, the proportions of the chess pieces seemed
perfect to me.
But it was the Knights that really caught my eye. They were absolutely
gorgeous. For the first time, a knight that actually looks like a real
horse's head. Not some weird interpretation of a horse, but a real
miniature still life "sculpture" of a horse's head. It was outstanding.
We decided to purchase many of these for this reason, and others, which
I will outline in detail below.
have been trying to think of a special name for this chess set. Legend
Products has its "Pioneer Elite" and the Mark of Westminster has it
"Super Grand Series", and the House of Staunton has it's amazing
"Millennium Series". While not as expensive as some of its brethren, it
is certainly one of the best. But this chess set is "special", follows
"classic" lines for a sculptured set, and follows the traditional
detail of the "Staunton" Pattern. The name fits, albeit modestly.
ebony, by the way, is absolutely pitch black. Some of the darkest ebony
I have ever seen in a Indian produced set. The boxwood is creamy and
shows deep figure and luster. The set is richly finished. Hand buffed
and rubbed lacquer finishes of this quality are very rare out of India,
so this set ranks as one of the best. The luster is outstanding; it is
deep and hard. You can see on the image of this beautiful knight, the
luster of this finish on the boxwood at the base. They shine but are
not high gloss, instead a smooth warm satin finish is presented.
of the other details that make this set outstanding are subtle, but
when combined give this chess set its high marks for attention to
detail and general high level of artistry. There is a consistent
concave curvature in each of the chess pieces. It is expressed in all
of the pieces without exclusion. This is atypical for nearly all other
chess sets I have seen, particularly when one compares the rooks. This
consistency in general design, from king to pawn, is another aspect
that give this set high marks on my list. You can notice this on the
image at the top of this review. In addition, the relative heights is
consistent, and correctly progressive. You could almost take a ruler
and place it on the top of the king's delicate finial, an there is a
straight nearly linear slope down towards the pawn.
nice detail I personally love is the very wide hand worked miter cut in
the bishops. As you can see in the image to the left the cut is not
just a straight saw cut, but also involves a hand reamed widening and
rounding at its base. The cut itself is wide and smoothed by hand. This
type of wide cut miter is becoming the fashion in chess sets, even
though it doesn't represent the original Staunton pattern. I think it
makes a bishop chess piece look much more like the garment worn by its
rooks have also been given special attention. The castellations on the
top of most rooks are usually achieved by cutting across the turret
three times, like cutting a pie. This leaves six castellated
battlements with flat bottoms which lie parallel to the chessboard.
This is not accurate to true castellations found on real
fortifications. Usually, the castellations slope downward towards the
ground, leading away from the turrets. This is done to increase the
line of sight downward and afford the defending forces a clear view of
what is below them without leaning over the battlement, making them
vunerable to arrows or other siege weaponry. A wonderful detail on this
set is the extra step in carving to accomplish this sloping detail.
This detail is rarely seen on most castellated turrets on rooks in
attention to detail even goes as far as the very bottoms of the chess
pieces. The maker of this set choose to place black leather on the
bottoms of this set. And it was done purely for esthetic effect. Notice
in the image to the left how the underside tapers inward at the broad
base. The leather is undercut so as to not take away from this inward
taper when it sits on the chessboard. In fact this undercutting
accentuates this taper. They choose leather because of it thiness. A
felt bottom would be nearly three times as thick. This would break the
flow of the taper, and take away from this detail. The leather is thin
and help maintain the integrity of the tapering. This leads me to
mention the very broad bases on these pieces and how they are executed. The
wide bases complete the concave contour mentioned earlier, in fact,
they resolve this line down to the chess board. It is done in way so
the pieces have a broad base, but also, by following this line
gracefully it doesn't make the pieces seem overtly "squat". The lines
are elegantly resolved to a very broad and stable base. This broad base
also accomodates the ability to allow for very heavy weighting of this
set of chessmen. The chess pieces are one of the heavier chess sets I
have seen in this size category. Later in this review we will give a
chart showing the dimensions and weights for all the pieces in this
set. It is enough to say, at this point, that this set is indeed quite
many people out there who complain, downplay, or take no account of
chess sets made in India. They cite poor quality as their primary
reason to be taciturn or even indifferent. But if one looks deeper, one
will find mostly this is a simple case of bias. We all create favorites
in our mind and tend to excuse all others by convincing ourselves we
chose the best. We justify our choice by excluding all others. Hey ...
there are times where clarity breaks through and allows one to open
their eyes and understand the real truth. In this case its that one
should not generalize. This set (and others) from India disprove the
notion that high quality is not attainable from that region. This set
has all the keynotes one would desire in a high quality set, and I have
one sitting gloriously on my dining room table as I write this! My eyes
are wide open.
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