While all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists. —Marcel Duchamp
The simplicity of black and white transformed into a dance of cunning and skill that pushes human reasoning to its limits: chess is a game simply unlike any other. It has inspired everyone from Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte to boxer Lennox Lewis and even writer George R.R. Martin with its unique focus on concentration, strategy, and brilliantly laid traps and trade-offs. Stanley Kubrick used it to gain the respect of actors, while Vladimir Nabokov actually worked complex chess moves into his short stories.
The game's iconic design, which emerged from the shadows of history somewhere in India near the 6th century CE, is also a work of sheer human ingenuity. Rooks and knights, queens and pawns dance around the simple eight-by-eight square board with an elegance and complexity not found in any other game in history. This has inspired artists and other creative types to experiment with its form and structure, giving modern chess-lovers some exciting, iconic, and uniquely designed chess sets to choose from.
Here are some of the most creative and cool chess sets to bring out your inner design snob.
Artistic and Decorative Sets
Artistic and decorative chess sets are not only fun to play, but they also double as design accents in your home. These uniquely designed chess sets will light up the eyes of all chess-lovers.
Modeled after the 1920s-era wooden chess set designed by visual artist Man Ray, this set features geometrical forms substituted for the traditional chess pieces. It was created to honor the lifelong friendship between Man Ray and artist Marcel Duchamp, an avid chess player. The original is still on display in the permanent collection of MoMA. Made in Germany out of solid beechwood, this is an excellent gift for those who think they have everything.
Designed by Joseph Hartwig in 1923, this set was inspired by the Bauhaus movement in Germany, which sought to combine art with craft and produce functional yet aesthetic works of everything from architecture to furniture. Minimalist and also ethereally geometric, this elegant and cool chess set also stacks nicely away into its wooden case.
What do you get when you allow one of the 20th century's most outstanding architectural geniuses to design a chess set? The answer is a fascinating miniature cityscape where each piece is a different skyscraper drawn from ideas in Gehry's own personal portfolio. We don't carry this set. Still, it's an abstract marvel worth gawking at.
This chess set, made entirely out of concrete, is modeled after the ancient Roman amphitheaters where gladiators battled it out for the glory of the emperors. It has a classic yet artistic look that adds ambiance to any sitting room; it is an interesting showpiece for homes with a more rustic than modern look.
Novelty Chess Sets
Novelty sets focus on the fun factor just as much as they do on function. These uniquely designed, cool chess sets will delight anyone who loves the game of chess.
Featuring weighted pieces that actually "wobble" in their concave-shaped board squares, this award-winning design adds movement and action to the game. Made from polished maple and walnut, it's also a classy piece of room furniture that will entertain guests of all ages.
Featuring iconic Manhattan skyscrapers like the Flatiron Building and One World Trade Center, this unique chess set design is as fun to play as it is to look at. It makes a great novelty even for those who don't play the game, although it will surely inspire them to learn!
Luxury Chess Sets
Luxury chess sets go above and beyond your basic board or those made just for the novelty of doing something creative and new; they feature iconic details and are often designed by renowned or legendary artists and designers. The uniquely designed chess sets here are true treasures that all enthusiasts will love.
Architect Daniel Libeskind partnered with the luxury crystal producer Swarovski to create this gorgeous and glimmering set that depicts some of his most famous buildings over a board modeled after maps of New York and Milan. Produced exclusively by Libeskind himself, you must contact his studio to inquire about purchasing this ultra-cool chess set.
Artist Felix Ure designed this all-metal chess set, which was handmade on five-axis CNC lathes. Steel and brass pieces contest across the squares of a solid aluminum board and fit snuggly into an all-aluminum flight case.
Zaha Hadid was recognized as one of the major figures in 20th-century architecture. In fact, The Guardian once described her as the "Queen of the Curve." This element takes center stage on the chess set she designed, "Field of Towers," where no straight lines or edges can be found. This is a truly one-of-a-kind chess set made of polished resin and featuring a silk screen printed grid as a board.
An elegant take on the portable chess set, our luxury travel set features pieces made out of pure stainless steel — playable on an all-leather roll-up board. The entire set fits nicely inside its suede leather pouch and carbon blue archival box.
Practical and Affordable Sets
You don't have to get fancy to play a great chess game. Many world championship games were won on simply roll-up mats and with basic pieces. But since this is a list of uniquely designed chess sets, we have the perfect set for you that won't break your budget yet will still stand out from the crowd.
Simple, elegant, and made to last, our Panisa chess set was designed by Panisa Khunprasert, a Vietnamese creator inspired by her parent's toy business. Artsy minimalist pieces are reminiscent of some of our top decorative and luxury sets, while the foldable and magnetic board allows for easy transportation and storage.
A Chess Set for Every Type
Uniquely designed chess sets make great gifts as well as classy home furnishings, and most chess fanatics love cool chess sets that are special and one-of-a-kind in some way. Check out our full selection of chess sets, as well as other wonders for your home.
Words by Ocean Malandra