Introducing Checkmate, Berd Vay’e’s New Chess-Themed Art Collection

Big Moves: Introducing Checkmate, Berd Vay’e’s New Chess-Themed Art Collection

Up to six times the size of a traditional chess piece, the New York-based artisans of Berd Vay’e have created a life-size six-piece collection.

By Rhonda Riche

Thanks to the proliferation of online live streaming events and the popularity of the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” enthusiasts have rediscovered chess in novel ways. Moreover, new and faster versions of the game are evolving as players participate in (and fans watch) more tournaments from all over the world.

But this ultimate strategy game has never truly been out of fashion – the checkered board and design of the courtly pieces are universally recognized, even by those who have never chess.

Likewise, the cogs and gears of a mechanical timepiece have an aesthetic appeal that transcends their mechanical usefulness. This symbolism is something that has not gone unnoticed by Berd Vay’e.

King of Games

Chess is a game that relies as much on instinct as intense calculation. These qualities are very much part of Berd Vay’e’s repertoire. Known for incorporating increasingly rare components of vintage watches – some 50 to 100 years old – in one-of-a-kind Lucite sculptures, Berd Vay’e has always appealed to watch enthusiasts and art lovers. And with their newest collection, Checkmate, the New York-based artisans are also ready to make their move into another area that fascinates them: Chess.

Berd Vay’e founders, Eddie Kurayev and Albert Akbashev, grew up in the Soviet Union, where chess players enjoyed rock star status. The duo’s passion for horology grew in tandem with their love of the game – mostly because both arts require focus, strategy, and an appreciation for both big and little sacrifices.

The Checkmate collection, with its oversized Lucite chess pieces, each embedded with tiny vintage watch works, is designed to showcase the art and complexity of watchmaking by embodying the six chess pieces: The Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, Queen, and King.

“Chess is a mind game that requires time and strategy,” commented Berd Vay’e co-founder and artisan Eddie Kurayev. “It is very complex, like the foundations of watchmaking.”

Building a Bridge

Through this lens, Kurayev sees the art of watchmaking as a balancing act of creative and strategic design choices seen in each dial, movement, mechanism, and overall design complexity. And like a watchmaker must position an intricate series of components to create a powerful mechanical movement, so too must a chess player creatively take control and overpower their opponent with knowledge, strategic planning, and calculated timing, making each move unpredictable.

In both pursuits, learning is easy; mastering is hard.

Similarly, perfecting the physical details of each piece in the Checkmate collection poses a unique challenge. The complexity of the royal crowns found on the King and Queen, the groove engraved on the Bishop’s head, the large curves of the Knight’s head and neck, and the Pawn’s spherical tip are just some examples of the exacting elements found in the series.

Each sculpture is also embellished with over 1,500 hand-set, vintage components, primarily of Swiss origin, and sourced from the industry’s most important manufactures. However, these high-quality vintage components are extremely difficult to get. In fact, with a 50 to 60 percent rejection rate, Berd Vay’e co-founder, Eddie Kurayev, likens the process to selecting diamonds in specific colors and grades.

To further complicate things, each sculpture is up to six times bigger than a traditional chess piece; the King is the largest, at 18 inches, and the most challenging to create.

Grandmaster Flash

The world of chess sometimes seems rarified, with savant-like masters playing for six-figure prizes (last year, Norwegian chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen was the world’s highest-earning esports player of 2020, collecting $510,587 in online tournaments alone). But it’s also incredibly accessible – all you need is a board, pieces, an opponent, and time.

The Checkmate collection represents the amount of time and passion that Kurayev and Akbashev put into their process. Each shatter-resistant, crystal-clear piece is cast in eight to ten layers of Lucite over 24 hours before being baked in an autoclave at 140 °F with a force of 120 pounds per square inch. Each sculpture is then carefully shaped and polished by hand to highlight every curve, edge, and intricate detail.

Additionally, these art objects are individually numbered and come with protective gloves and a Certificate of Authenticity bearing the sculpture's serial number.

The sculptures are sold individually and limited to 999 pieces each. They are priced from $7,500 to $10,800.00 and are available for purchase via the Berd Vay’e website.

(Images © Berd Vay’e)

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