The backgammon sets by Alexandra Llewellyn are not only incredibly beautiful – they can also be highly personal, says the British designer of her bespoke commissions (from £7,200). “It’s about giving this 5,000-year-old game a new lease of life by telling the client’s life story through the design.” The process starts with a conversation, in which customers discuss their tastes and even their memories before choosing the style of board.
For the outside of the case, Llewellyn uses a variety of woods, predominantly macassar ebony, masa birch, burr walnut and rosewood. “We work with such a wide network of British craftspeople that we can source any wood or materials, even rubber,” she adds. The design of the playing surface is primarily printed or painted; many recipients choose an autobiographical slant, with each of the elongated points of the board accompanied by personal details, such as children’s names and birthdates, or special places they have lived or visited. The playing pieces are made from semiprecious stones, coloured glass, mirror or dichroic glass encased in polished brass, and can be further personalised with motifs, initials or engraved text. The shakers, meanwhile, are generally made of tanned ebony or rosewood.
To have a look at Alexandra Llewellyn’s thoughtful designs in person, Harvey Nichols is currently holding a pop-up of her work – including painted designs such as Cigar (£3,400) and those in marquetry, such as Desert (£7,200) – until January. Because the bespoke commissions take eight to 12 weeks to make, one won’t be ready in time for Christmas. However, Llewellyn will come to the store to discuss ideas with the gift giver or recipient, delivering her initial designs so that they can be opened on the big day.
For those who don’t want to wait, Llewellyn has collaborated with fashion and nature photographer Kristian Schmidt to create 10 striking limited-edition backgammon sets (£5,800), each signed and numbered by the photographer. The box is made of fine ebony, while the black and white printed board is offset with brass-encased lapis and turquoise pieces, engraved with the names of the world’s most endangered species. What’s more, 20 per cent of proceeds will be donated to WildAid, a charity fighting to end the illegal wildlife trade. Win win.