Simon Purkis was relaxing on an Indonesian
beach as the sun went down, playing chess
with an old school friend turned traveling
companion, when the idea came to him. As the
fading light eventually made it impossible to
differentiate between the pieces, Purkis realized
what was needed: an illuminated set.
He returned home with the germ of a plan,
quit his job in mergers and acquisitions in the
City, and in 2012 established Purling London.
The company is now the global go-to for
handcrafted chess and other classic game sets to
be found in Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods.
“I’ve always loved design. I was a chartered
engineer before I moved into finance and I
realized I wanted to do something creative,”
says Purkis. “At Purling we want to bring back
the delight of playing games, but as artifacts
they can also be used for interior design,
accessories, and gifts.”
That creativity has come through working
with contemporary artists who hand-paint
chess pieces to create one-off works of art. The
company has collaborated with names including
Mr. Doodle, who has worked with Adidas and
Fendi, Sophie Matisse, and Thierry Noir, the
first street artist to paint on the Berlin Wall.
The company offers heritage sets, too, with
exquisite hand-carved ebony Staunton pieces—
the byword for chess. Purling also produces
checkers, backgammon, cards, and darts. “The
process for all our games is similar: traditional
forms are given a contemporary twist,” explains
Purkis. “Our cards might carry the classic
English pattern but will have a color contort, a
blue and gray palette with magenta hearts and
diamonds overlay. For Bergdorf Goodman we
used a purple colorway to give a flavor of the
store. Dart flights are monogrammed, and with
a new backgammon design we have, the board
could be hung as if it were a painting.”
Purling’s confections are ordered not just by
individuals, but also for film and video shoots,
installations, and hotels, and companies that
want branded sets to provide entertainment
for guests and clients. Pieces have also been
exhibited at Christie’s. “For the auction house’s
Russian art sale, we made a chessboard for them
to display an antique Soviet-made ‘Reds and
Whites’ porcelain set,” says Purkis.
Purkis’s enthusiasm and love for his work is
infectious, and refreshing in today’s digital world.
“Classic games are an antidote to the mobile
age. They bring families and friends together
for quality time that all ages can enjoy.” So did
he ever make his illuminated board? “We did.
But the light cast shadows over the pieces so we
discontinued it,” says Purkis. Knowing what
works, it appears, is the secret to the perfect game.
Team players: Ornaments a and sets made in association
with Purling by Francesco Jacobello (top right);
Lhouette (below); Nette Robinson (left); Khamama
(above and opposite); and Caio Locke (top left).