THE COMPANY’S HISTORY & OUR CRAFTSMEN
From that first Chessboard, Backgammon was the next obvious luxury game where precise inlaying was de rigueur. By the early Seventies, the Company had already established itself as No.1 in The World for luxury board games. This culminated in Chess when Geoffrey was commissioned to make the leather boxes and chessboards for the famous Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer’s 1972 World Championship battle in Reykjavik, Iceland.
While for Backgammon, the Company’s expertise was required for what is widely recognized as the first World Backgammon Championship, sponsored by Rothman in 1974 and taking place on the fabulous QEII which sailed for a week between Southampton and New York with the world’s best players in fierce contest.
During this time, the Backgammon “boom” demanded “Geoffrey Parker” boards by the hundreds, and his group of craftsmen and women expanded to a team of 25, each being trained “in-house” to Geoffrey’s exacting standards.
Staying Ahead Of The Game
To ensure he stayed ahead of the “game”, Geoffrey sought out at this time; the World’s most formidable Backgammon champion, Paul Magriel, to ensure that his boards matched professional requirements. Together, Geoffrey’s famous weighted leather Backgammon stone (or checker) was created. This unique and essential accessory encompasses all that is at the core of The Company’s persona; precision, skill, craft and dedication to create a perfected balanced playing piece of leather artistry. The skills required are rivalled by no other; utilizing the ancient fine edging, burnishing and papier mâché.
Height of Luxury
Almost every luxury retailer of note, commissioned Geoffrey Parker to create specialist game ranges, including Asprey, Dunhill, Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Garrard, Simpson’s, Smythson, Cartier, Fred, etc. Even a “blind” backgammon was made for famous American singer, Stevie Wonder.
The second Generation Joins The Company
In 1977, Geoffrey’s son, Max joined the Company full-time, after “helping” during the school holiday in the now expanded workshops.
With the midget classic books still an important part of the Company, Max and Geoffrey travelled to the United States to attend the American Booksellers Convention where their presence amongst the more mainstream publishers caused something of a “stir”. Numerous small bookshops, to giants of the trade and famous museums and libraries, bought book collections and even to this day, collectors seek us out to fill that missing volume.
Through the early Eighties, visits to the States continued with the games and books featuring in famous department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman amongst others. A stunning centrepiece to Neiman Marcus’ premier Dallas store was Geoffrey’s Design Council award-winning solid Sterling silver-gilt chess set, made for the HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee – still available today retailing back then for $20,000!
Trips were then made to the Far East, taking in Hong Kong and Singapore where the Company’s skills were sought by luxury hotels, where Geoffrey Parker’s work was employed to create specialist menus, wine lists and VIP gift-giving requirements for hotel luminaries such as The Mandarin Hong Kong, the Intercontinental group, and famous clubs such as the Singapore Polo Club and The Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club. This style of work continued to thrive, working with Willard Hotel in Washington DC and Le Grenouille restaurant in New York, The Connaught, Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Mayfair and The White Elephant Club and Monaco’s Hotel de Paris Louis XV restaurant.
Towards the end of the Eighties, a concerted effort was made to offer our work to the corporate sector – commercial giants such as BP, Motorola, Condé Nast and many others commissioned the Company to make specialist items for chairman-to-chairman gift-giving and for company incentives. Ranges were also created for famous car marques such as Aston Martin Lagonda and Jaguar motors.
It was during this time that Max gave the Company its first taste of retail, by opening a Geoffrey Parker store within the world famous “Golden Triangle” of luxury shopping in Beverly Hills. This gave the Company the invaluable inside knowledge gleaned from its customers, of what THEY actually wanted, not what stores wanted to sell them.
Many new items were subsequently introduced, none less important than the introduction of our first licensed game, Scrabble®.
During this period our bespoke service was gainfully employed on a number of important projects; from making a facsimile of George Washington’s campaign briefcase for the venerable Smithsonian Institute in DC, a casket for the regalia of an ancient London Livery Company, The Royal Vintners Company to replace the previous one which lasted 350 years; to two giant library tables covered in 8 full cow hides for the Royal Academy to a special photograph album for Her Majesty The Queen, celebrating the moment when The Mall was filled with golden Daffodils on her Golden Wedding Anniversary.
London’s famous gaming houses sought their “soft gaming” requirements from Geoffrey Parker as well as their VIP/high roller gift-giving needs. These great casino clubs included the world’s oldest gaming club Crockfords plus The Ritz, Aspinalls, Les Ambassadeurs and many others.
By now Geoffrey had passed the reins over to Max for the day to day running, whilst still contributing design knowledge. Due to Geoffrey’s “retirement,” Max decided to close the Beverly Hills store and concentrate on the core manufacturing business.
At this time new items were introduced including a luxury version of the eastern game of Mah Jong and iconic family board games such as Monopoly® & Trivial Pursuit®.
Special Commission Leatherwork
Dr. Aldo Gucci commissioned the Company to produce a range of games for his famous luxury design house – something of a coup for a non-Italian producer. Tiffany turned to us for a range of travel games, as did the most luxurious of travel, the celebrated Venice Simplon Orient Express train.
Many other special commissions followed, including the World’s most expensive Monopoly®, encrusted in jewels, bound in exotic Alligator with inlaid in precious metals and a special solid gold alongside a Diamond Backgammon for a private jet.
Recently Cluedo® (Clue® in the U.S.) has been added to our traditional game range. Even giant carpet dominoes and inlaid leather Frisbee® have added to an already amazing range of products.
Super Yacht Commissions
Super and giga-yacht owners seek Geoffrey Parker’s expertise to create games for their luxurious salons with our award winning 25 Game Cube a particular favourite. Alpine ski chalets look for items to amuse the Après-ski crowd. Formula One™ and its teams ordered items made in super-car leathers as did former World Champion, Michael Schumacher when seeking to send Christmas present to his personal and business contacts.
The Passing Of Geoffrey Parker
Geoffrey sadly passed away in December 2000, but his ethos, passion for perfectionism and his demand that each product is both elegant and excellent is instilled in each member of the Company. In a world which is ever obsessed with “throw away” items, it is a pleasure to continue a business which enables customers to proudly pass down their goods to a family member.
Of course at the core of the Company are the men and women who have learnt from the skills handed down by Geoffrey and subsequent members of his highly skilled team over the years. Some of our team have brought with them skills learnt elsewhere in the leather trade which has been shared and embellished further while working within our workshops.
All design work is undertaken “in-house”, the artwork is often digitally produced now, but many products still start with a sketch on the “back of an envelope” which is turned into something amazing.
Sometimes a new product can take months to develop while our team search for the best materials for the job.
Often, despite having a huge array of traditional skills at our fingertips from the 300 combined years of expertise within our workshops, we can find a better and more modern way of solving a design issue… never do we rest on our laurels if there is a new innovative way in which we can create a better result, for you the customer.
Once a design is established, which will often entail a number of prototypes, it is placed in the hands of our Workshop Manager who will see the order through the workshop, checking at every stage that the best materials for the job are used and all the intricate specifications often requested within a commission; are adhered to.
The first process is to select the leather skins, whether they are from our stock Dauphin calf leathers to exotic hides such as Alligator, Ostrich, Shagreen and Watersnake.
Like many of the processes within the workshops, to the uninformed may look easy. Every piece of leather is different – we are dealing with a natural material, so the grain, thickness, soft/hardness can be totally different across the same skin, depending on where the cut has been taken from.
There are of course many craftsmen and women who have been apprentices here over the years to whom we say a big “thank you” as they are much a part of the history of Geoffrey Parker as those who are proud to be current employees.
Although we don’t currently have a store we often welcome customers to our workshops, offering tours and enabling them to meet our dedicated team of craftsmen & women who work on your products.
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