High quality chef's knives are an excellent gift without a doubt. The difference between professional quality knives and "department store" knives is unbelievable - both from out-of-box sharpness and edge retention.
Basically, kitchen cutlery can be split into two basic groups: stamped and forged. Stamped knives are built for a market which is more price conscious (and typically used in professional kitchens as they are lighted, less expensive, and can be safely dishwashed and come in anti-microbial versions). These knives are stamped (think cut out with a huge cookie cutter) from a single piece of high carbon stainless steel, heat treated, tempered, ground, sharpened, polished and have handles added.
Forged knives are built for the high end user and those who desire the finer things. These knives are made through a process of heat treating and moulding (forging). This process results in a denser, harder knife which aids in edge retention. Further, these knives are more balanced and aesthetically appealing (albeit a bit heavier.)
Based upon what you are looking for I would go with a forged set. RH Forschner produces knives which have received numerous awards for the quality they provide for the price. Here is a link to some: http://www.oregonknifeshop.com/forschner-knife.html