Named Battle of Issus after the second battle Alexander the Great fought against the Persian army (and first clash with Darius III) on November 5, 333 BCE , this impressive, late 20th-century chess set (25 1/2″ wide x 25 1/2″ deep x 10″ high) is considered by Bill Rau, Owner and CEO of M.S. Rau Antiques to be “an exceptional work of art you won’t find anywhere else in the world.”
As expected, like many expensive chess sets out there, a large number of precious stones can be found in this masterpiece. In addition to the pink rhodonite and green malachite that comprise the surface of the board and the bases of all the pieces, there are approximately 4 kilograms of 14K gold, 2.3 kilograms of 24K gold, 5 kilograms of pure silver, 320 grams of garnets, plus accents including pearls, turquoise, rose quartz and enamel that make every part of the design sparkle.
Even though all pieces are encrusted with semiprecious stones and brightly hued enamel, every 14K gold game piece is made differently to embody the unique characters of the Battle, including (of course) Alexander the Great, Darius and Athena—Greek goddess of war and wisdom.
Darius III serves as King, while the Persian winged god of war serves as Queen.
Yet, beyond the precious material and beautiful design, what’s particularly impressive about Battle of Issus is its lively rendition of the strategic game. From the subtle details such as laces of the soldiers’ boots to different movements in each piece such as Alexander the Great lowering his sword, archers tensing their bows and horses shaking their manes, it’s evident that that the hard work paid off. Equal amount of attention is poured into the chess table, with sides of board featuring battle scenes sculpted in high relief, heightening the drama of the game board and bringing the historical battle to life.
According to Rau, extensive research was conducted on Greek and Persian customs and clothing, antiquities, sculptures, architecture, and texts to make the chess set as historically accurate as possible. And over the course of ten years, a master jeweler spent more than 14,000 hours crafting each component by hand, ensuring that each chess figure is equipped with different mechanical movements.
So while one may marvel at the impeccable details—like the laces of the soldiers’ boots and the unique movements of each piece such as Alexander the Great lowering his sword, archers tensing their bows and horses shaking their manes, the rest of the chess set is just as impressive. For instance, the sides of the chess table feature battle scenes sculpted in high relief, effectively heightening the drama of the game board and bringing the historical battle to life. The sides of the board showcase intricate battle scenes against a background of pure silver.
Oftentimes, a masterpiece like this may only be used for display. But in the case of the Battle of Issus—a chess set that comes along with custom-crafted mahogany and leather-topped table and two 19th-century leather upholstered chairs, “It’s certainly designed to be played,” noted Rau.
(Photos courtesy of M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans)