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Spain chessboard maker’s sales soar on ‘Queen’s Gambit’ success

Employees of Rechapados Ferrer make chessboards in La Garriga near Barcelona.-AFP

At David Ferrer’s factory, workers are busy cutting, trimming and stitching together fine sheets of wood to make chessboards to meet a surge in orders in the wake of the runaway success of the Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit”. Rechapados Ferrer, a small family-run business, is struggling to keep up with demand since its boards appeared in the award-winning miniseries about an orphaned chess prodigy. “We have never experienced such a strong boom in demand for chessboards,” says David Ferrer, 30, who runs Rechapados Ferrer in La Garriga, the industrial belt that surrounds Barcelona.

The company usually makes around 20,000 chessboards annually, but has already received orders for more than 40,000 so far this year, thanks both to the Netflix series and renewed interest in board games during lockdown. “And there are still many months left until the end of the year,” he told AFP. Rechapados Ferrer, which has just 14 employees, was founded in the 1950s to supply veneer-or slender pieces of wood-for furniture, but a decade later it also expanded into making chessboards. “If my parents could only see this,” smiles Joan Ferrer, David’s father and the son of the firm’s founder. Although retired, he often visits the factory and can still remember how his parents made the first chessboards in “a small room, stitching and trimming the strips of wood”.

An employee of Rechapados Ferrer looks at finished chessboards in La Garriga near Barcelona.

‘Demand is crazy’
They initially only worked with a nearby maker of chess pieces, but eventually expanded to sell their products across Spain and then the world. Today, 98 percent of their chessboards are exported, some of which are used in tournaments, so they were not surprised when they learned their products had been used in “The Queen’s Gambit”. Miquel Berbel, who heads the company’s chessboard division, spotted one of their sets in the final episode of the show.

In the nail-biting finale, chess prodigy Beth Harmon goes to Moscow to take on Russian world champion Vasily Borgov in a match played on an elegant black-framed board with a decorative red-and-yellow border. “There are very particular boards that only we make and that board was 100 percent one of ours,” said Berbel. The board was custom-made for the company’s first international customer, a board games distributor in Berlin where the series was partially filmed.

When Ferrer heard about it, he was excited, but it wasn’t the first time that their boards had featured in films or TV series. “I was excited… but I didn’t expect this sort of response at all,” he said. “Demand is crazy. We’re getting a huge amount of emails and we can’t answer them all.”

‘Seek perfection’
Orders began to increase early last year when the pandemic first hit and the lockdowns began, but they really took off after “The Queen’s Gambit” premiered in October 2020, prompting the firm to hire three new workers. “To meet demand, we ought to be doubling or tripling the workforce. And we don’t want to go down that route because we don’t know how long it’s going to last,” says Ferrer. Making chessboards is a slow process. A worker first selects high-quality wood that is trimmed into long thin sheets of light and dark colors.

With the help of a machine, another craftsman sews the sheets tightly together with a sticky thread, checking constantly to make sure there is not the slightest gap between them. The board is then varnished before being packaged. “We check the finishings a lot, we try to seek perfection,” says Oscar Martinez, a 40-year-old craftsman. Even if he wanted to, Ferrer says it would be hard to find more workers to help given the shortage of skilled craftsmen, whose training lasts “four or five years”. “We want to grow naturally. It is very skilled work and everything takes time,” he says. “It’s real craftsmanship.” – AFP


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