Just as you might want to upgrade your mega-boosted surround-sound system with ceiling speakers, so might you add certain amenities that are designed to make your cigar smoking more enjoyable. They can be novel, luxurious, or even superfluous, but some accessories are absolutely essential. Like a good cigar cutter, for example.
In most circles, it is not considered de rigueur to chomp off the end of a cigar with your teeth and spit it across the table hoping to make a slam dunk in your date’s martini glass. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was certainly aware of this commonsense bit of etiquette when he wrote these lines in his 1912 classic, The Lost World: “… We re-entered the room which we had left so tumultuously ten minutes before. The Professor closed the door carefully behind us, motioned me into an arm-chair, and pushed a cigar-box under my nose. ‘Real San Juan Colorado,’ he said. ‘Excitable people like you are the better for narcotics. Heavens! don’t bite it! Cut—and cut with reverence!’”
Nor is the sometimes-condoned technique of trimming a cigar with your thumbnail considered genteel, even though it is often done by the cigar makers themselves. But what might be customary in the tobacco fields and cigar factories is very likely to be frowned upon at a social gathering. What is needed is a civilized method of making the four basic types of cuts.
1. Cigar Cutter
The most easily encountered and least expensive cutter will be the pocket-size plastic devices that have a finger loop at one end and are often given away as premiums by some of the cigar companies. And if you prefer to have one that is not embossed with a logo, they are one of the most inexpensive items you can buy in a tobacco shop. The blade is basically a razor, and as such, it is not good for a great many close shaves with your cigars, as it will get dull quickly. If you use this type of cutter regularly, the average lifespan will be about six months, but most people will lose theirs before they wear them out. Slightly more practical is the Klipit 2000. Not the prettiest cigar cutter in the world (it looks like a cockroach), it nonetheless features a stainless steel blade, a positive safety lock, a large enough hole to accommodate a 54-ring cigar, and is very inexpensive. Even better is the Pocket Scissors Cutter by Credo, which will cut up to a 70-ring cigar and comes in a variety of colors. Slightly upscale in design and price is the twin-bladed cutter from Pléiades and similar models that feature a hole on either side of the blade for your thumb and index finger.
The Credo pocket scissors cutter can handle a 60-ring gauge cigar as well as a pyramid shape (note the separate “hole” cutter on top). Plus it is relatively inexpensive and comes in a variety of colors.
Big-ringed cigars demand a cutter that can handle the job, like this double-bladed Xikar guillotine. The Dunhill “Tinder Box” table lighter uses liquid fuel and dates from the 1950s.
Some popular cigar cutters (l. to r.) antique-styled cigar scissors, two-fingered Guillotine cutter, and a stag-handled V-cutter. Shown with an S.T. Dupont L2 Palladium butane lighter.
A significant step up in price and appearance is the excellent Donatus guillotine-type cutter from Germany, which sports a Solingen steel blade. It is available in a great number of case styles, including two of the most popular, brushed steel with contrasting gold and as a briar-paneled version from firms such as Savinelli. Some of the latest guillotine cutters are made by the American firm of Xikar (pronounced “Zeye-kar”), which produces a rather muscular-looking “butterfly” cutter with two metal “wings” that lock closed when not in use. The German HRC 58 stainless blades won’t rust and are self sharpening. Xikar cutters come with a variety of designs on their “wings,” including cigar bands, carbon fiber, and mammoth ivory. Although a bit heavy in the pocket, they will cut up to a 64-ring gauge cigar. Two of their newest innovations is a two-fingered cutter that magnetically adheres to a Xikar lighter, and their X875 double guillotine cutter that can slice a 75 ring cigar, should one ever be made (and I suspect it’s only a matter of time). And for something even more dramatic, a company called Room 101 in Hollywood, California, designs sterling silver versions of the Xikar cutter affixed to a heavy silver belt chain and embellished with skulls and other motifs.
By far the most versatile pocket-sized guillotine cutter is the Zino Cigar Cutter by Davidoff. It is one of the few cutters capable of facing up to a 56 ring gauge without shirking its responsibilities. Although its modern polymer construction makes it slightly heavier than some other versions, the Zino has excellent surgically sharp twin blades, so that equal pressure from two sides is automatically applied to the cigar head; the cut is made from the outside perimeters straight through to the center, as opposed to starting from one end and slicing across. This enables the fingers to apply far greater leverage for a faster, surer cut. Because of its unique design, the polished stainless steel blades are self-sharpening like the Xikar, which means that this cutter will probably last indefinitely. I have two that I have been using alternately for over fifteen years. Available in black, brown, red, green, gray white, and the new translucent green, the Zino, while not inexpensive, is far from being the costliest cutter on the market. Considering its practicality and versatility, it is one of the best values available today.
Now we start getting into the realm of luxury-class guillotine cutters, which I find to be surprisingly limited. Perhaps the best variety for a single design can be found with the stainless steel blade vest pocket versions from The White Spot (formerly Dunhill). These British-made works of art are available in a number of finishes, including polished steel, steel and gold, silver plate, sterling silver, gold plate and 18-carat gold. Elegant enough for formal wear, each cutter comes with a protective leather pouch and a “shackle” for attachment to a watch chain. This is one cutter you definitely won’t want to lose!
From France, S. T. Dupont makes a distinctive rectangular-shaped pocket cutter in different finishes, including Chinese red-and-black lacquer, silver, and gold plate. And Cartier offers their Santos-styled cutter with multiple screws, to match their Santos watch. Definitely not a pocket cutter and more in the line of a desktop accessory is the stainless steel, hand-forged Davidoff Cigar Scissors, which is also available with gold plated handles. Employing the same principle as their Zino cutter, this double-bladed cutter is one of the easiest to use in terms of gauging the size of the cut to the ring size of the cigar. It is my at-home go-to cutter, although similar designs are marketed by other firms as well.
In the punch cut, wherein a round sharpened cylinder is rotated into the cigar head and a hole is plucked out of the cigar, you can run the price gamut from an inexpensive cutter that looks like a .44 Magnum bullet (in fact, that is what it is called) all the way up to the elegant Davidoff Round Cutter, which comes in a variety of finishes, including gold, silver and gold, and lacquered.
This is really one of the best, as it sports three different diameter-cutting cylinders so you can match the proper cut to the ring size of the cigar. Otherwise, too small a hole will have the same effect as the pierce: acidic tobacco juices will gradually condense along the cut and eventually ruin the taste of your cigar. Too large a hole is just like making too wide a guillotine cut and you run the risk of taking in too much air and hyperventilating (and you thought that dizzy feeling was from the tobacco!). And Elie Bleu makes an elegant two-piece punch cutter with a choice of ebony, rosewood, or snakewood veneers. Both a pocket model and a stand-up desk version are offered.
Almost all of the V-type cutters are made by the German firm Donatus, and are sold under a variety of brands. Their tabletop cutter has an elongated handle, usually with side panels of wood, staghorn, or precious metal, and features a small notch in the rounded end for removing the nail from the cigar box. The rounded lip of the cutter is used to pry open the lid. Although this style is called a “V” cutter, it also has two guillotine-type slicing holes on either side, with a small hole on one side for European dry cigars, and a slightly larger hole (around a 33 ring) on the opposite side. Unfortunately, while these cutters are nostalgic and attractive (I often use them in photographs) I have never found that their side blades work very well. This same style of cutter is also available in a much smaller vest pocket size, which does not have a return spring on the blade, a handy feature only found on the larger versions. By far the best of the breed of the “V” cutters are the silver-plated hallmarked versions from The White Spot. Both their tabletop and vest pocket V-cutters are attractively gift boxed.
Cigar piercers, or “drills,” are no longer in vogue, although a few can still be found in shops where traditions die hard. There are only two cigar piercers that have some deviation from the norm. One is a sterling silver golf tee that twists like a mechanical pencil to produce a silver drill. It would seem to be the perfect accessory for the duffer who literally wants to make a hole in one. Substantially less expensive is The Trilogy, a small key-ringed metal rod in which the lower part unscrews to reveal a slender drill point. This is designed to be used to pierce three holes, each at a forty-five-degree angle, in the head of a cigar. Thus, the tars and juices do not condense at a single hole in the center and the smoke is directed away from the tip of the tongue. One thing in favor of piercers: along with the punch and a few of the newer models of guillotines, they can be used to handle huge cigars like the 66 ring gauge Nub by Oliva or the massive 5¾x66 Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Super Gordo. I will admit to occasionally carrying a piercer on my key ring in case I forget or lose my guillotine pocket cutter, and it does make a handy (but sharp!) emergency toothpick.
When selecting a cutter, I opt for the less expensive razor-blade varieties to always keep handy in my coat pocket and the glove compartment of my car. In fact, I literally have one in every coat I own, so that even if I forget my Zino or Dunhill at home, I never suffer the awkwardness (not to mention embarrassment, as a professional cigar writer) of being without a cutter. When these cheaper cutters become dull (as they most definitely will) or lost (as they most certainly do), it is a simple matter to get a new one at little or no cost. However, if you smoke quality cigars, you will eventually want a quality cutter.
For home use I keep a Zino and my Davidoff cigar scissors by my smoking table at all times, so that they are always at hand when I am near my cigars. Likewise, I keep a tabletop cutter by my chair in the den for emergency use when the Zino is not reachable. When venturing out into society, I carry a gold Dunhill cutter in its leather pouch; it is an impressive way to clip your cigar and that of a friend. Being a collector of cigar cutters, I will sometimes carry one of my antique clippers on a chain in my vest, although these are mainly for show, as they are not capable of handling the larger 50 to 54 ring gauges that I usually smoke. Likewise, Winston Churchill always made a great display of wearing a cigar cutter attached to his watch chain, but he rarely used it, preferring to pierce his cigars with a wooden match.
No matter what type of cutter you select, the most important criterion should be the blade. It must be sharp. Otherwise, you won’t be slicing the cap of your cigar, you will be crushing it, thereby hampering the draw and negating all of the handiwork the cigar maker put into making the bunch. A sharp penknife is far superior to a dull cigar cutter. But in the cigar factories, you will often see a cigar maker simply using his thumbnail to make a circular cut in the cap of his cigar, rather than using a cutter. After all, a thumbnail is something you are rarely without.
Just as a cutter is the most useful accessory you can buy, acquiring a quality humidor will be the best investment you will ever make for your cigars. A good humidor doesn’t have to be overly expensive. But it can be. However, as we discovered in the last chapter, it can be as unpretentious as a tightly sealed plastic container. Or as convenient as the cigar boxes that come with their own humidifying agents. But what do you do when you and your Significant Other invite a few couples over for dinner and as it happens, cigars are offered at the end of the meal, when everyone retires to the patio or den? Bringing out your Vintage Macanudos or Cohiba Esplendidos on a cookie sheet or a dinner plate is not the best way to make a presentation. You might as well light your cigars against the hot exhaust pipe of a Harley Davidson. No, there will come a time when you and your cigars will demand something better.
Whether or not anyone else ever sees it, a humidor reflects what you think about the cigars you smoke. It embodies pride of ownership and, in many cases, adds a distinctive touch to your home or office decor. Not only does it make a statement that a cigar smoker is there, but it can also say something very personal about what kind of a cigar smoker you are. Some humidors can even become heirlooms, passed down through the generations. This is an especially effective rationale for cigar smokers with young children or grandchildren. Or, like some of us, you might decide to take your humidor with you when you go to that Great Smoking Room In The Sky.
While on the subject of humidors, this might be a good time to discuss humidifiers. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the old brass-and-clay moisturizer that Dunhill used back then was one of the best, as were some of the blotting paper devices that were sandwiched in between a perforated metal holder affixed to the inside top of the lid. It was a simple concept: soak some water into an absorbent material and let it permeate the inside of a closed box, checking it every few days to make sure it had not dried out. That same basic principle applies today, only now we use everything from organic sponges to sophisticated devices that have been patented by some of our most respected firms. The Davidoff internal self-regulator is not available separately, but The White Spot Humidity Control System is.
There is another humidifying device that I consider to be one of the best. It is the Credo Precision 70 or Onyx, so named because it maintains the moisture inside a humidor at a constant 70 percent, as long as the device is properly charged with distilled water or propylene glycol, which is sold separately. The Precision 70 can easily humidify seventy-five to 100 cigars, while the smaller Rondo can accommodate twenty-five to fifty cigars. There is even a thinner size for travel humidors but these require filling every week or so. The Credo system is what many of the top custom humidor makers use, and it is also the system selected by many cigar makers who put humidifiers in their cigar boxes. The Credo is available in black or gold, and comes with a magnetic mount for the inside of your humidor. It only needs to be rehumidified once a month, and its modest cost is a small price to pay for keeping your cigars healthy and fresh.
There are a number of electronic humidifiers available but I much prefer to keep things simple. In this respect, I am a big fan of those tiny round beads of water-absorbing crystals found in such devices as the Humi-Brick and Humi-Disk, both of which are packed with white gel crystals that can absorb up to 100 times their weight in water. Simply pour water into the device until the crystals change from white to clear. They will slowly begin to release moisture over a period of weeks. When the crystals start turning white again, it is time to rehumidify them. Daniel Marshall uses a similar system for his humidors with his new polymer bead system that keeps humidity levels in a very precise range, as long as the beads are not allowed to dry out and “go white.”
But no matter what type of humidifying device you use (the ready-to-go Humidipak notwithstanding), fill it only with distilled water. Tap water has a tendency to cause mold. We may think tap water is okay to drink, but you certainly don’t want to expose your cigars to the stuff. If your humidor is cedar lined, it is always a good idea to pre-humidify it for a couple of days before you place your cigars in it. Being absorbent, cedar will compete with your cigar for moisture unless it is already moist. In addition, moist cedar acts as a mini-humidifier itself, releasing a greater amount of its moist aroma into the air surrounding your cigars. Of course, there is no reason to pre-humidify non-cedar humidors, as the interiors are hand-lacquered to a hard, nonabsorbent finish. Speaking of finishes, make sure your humidor stays out of the sunlight, as those fancy veneers can fade. The warmth of the sun isn’t exactly good for your cigars either.
Because tobacco leaves are so highly absorbent and sensitive to moisture, the more cigars you put into your humidor, the more moisture will be required, and you will have to replenish the water in your humidifier more often. The best way to tell if your cigars are not drying out is to feel them. Unfortunately, the hygrometers that come with most humidors are rarely factory set for anything resembling accuracy. To correct this almost universal oversight, take your hygrometer out of the humidor and wrap it in a damp washcloth for an hour. Then take a look. If it is not registering 100 per cent humidity, adjust the spring-loaded needle on the back with a pencil so it is pointing at the 100 mark. The best bet, of course, is to invest in a digital hygrometer, such as the excellent model made by Western Humidor and others.
I make every effort to check my humidors once a week, but find that the D. Marshall, Davidoff, Zino, Elie Bleu (some of the most attractively inlaid humidors on the market), and Dunhill/The White Spot products need replenishing only about once every six to eight weeks. With humidors, you really do get what you pay for. On the other hand, if you should come across an antique humidor that you wish to put back into service (make sure it’s not warped before you buy it), you may want to replace the older moisturizing unit with a Credo, or simply put a shot glass of distilled water in with the cigars. But be careful; if the humidity level reaches 85 percent or more, mold will start to form, especially on those cigars nearest the humidifying unit. And before putting cigars into any antique humidor, clean every inch of its interior with alcohol and let it air out for a few days. Who knows who kept what in there before you bought it. And finally, there are small pocket humidors by firms such as Csonka and Vinotemp—with many models containing their own humidifier and some even with a hygrometer—that can accommodate two to three of many of today’s popular cigar sizes, thus insuring your favorite cigars will always be fresh, wherever you go.
Lighters are another viable commodity that no cigar smoker should be without. Some of the most novel lighters are those that incorporate both a cigar clipper and a butane lighter in one slim design, such as those made by Colibri with electro-quartz ignition and a stainless steel blade.
Colibri also makes a waterproof all-weather lighter that uses no flame—just an adjustable mini-blast of blue-hot heat. I have lit cigars in a rainstorm with this lighter, as well as on the bow of a ship, as wind doesn’t seem to affect it either. Personally, I prefer the 90-degree pipe lighters such as the Quantum Pipe and the Pipette, as this angle enables me to “paint” the end of my cigar with the glowing heat without burning my fingers.
The Colibri Pacific has a 90-degree flame that works equally as well. And for many years I have also been using the gas jet “torches” that look as if they could be used for cutting through a bank vault, but which really are superb for lighting the biggest ring gauges in any kind of weather. But one of the most innovative developments is the advent of the wide-flame, double-flame, and triple flame lighters, such as found on lighters by S. T. Dupont, The White Spot, and Davidoff, which utilize multiple burners for effortless firing up of the biggest ringed Robusto. In fact, The Colibri Astoria uses a triple-jet butane flame and features a foldout cutter that will handle a 59-ring cigar. And for those who enjoy the retro look, The White Spot Unique (an Alfred Dunhill design stemming from the early twentieth century and the first lighter designed to be used with one hand) and their Rollagas lighters can be ordered with a modern wide cigar flame.
While on the hot topic of lighters, we must not forget the basic match, or more specifically, the cigar match, such as those put out by Davidoff, among others. Their extra length allows plenty of burning time and flame to properly toast even the largest ringed cigar without toasting your fingers. The cedar that is traditionally used for these specialized matches produces a faint hint of flavor during the initial few puffs, as an added bonus. Of course, if you wish to go completely “retro,” try a cedar “spill,” a long, thin strip of cedar (you can easily snap off a length from the cedar sheets that separate the two layers of cigars in most boxes, or they are also sold commercially by Commonwealth Cedar Spills) such as they do in the finest of private clubs. Simply light one end of the spill and use that to light your cigar for the purest essence of cedar and tobacco.
5. Cigar Cases
One of the biggest challenges for cigar smokers has always been finding a way to safely carry our smokes. But stuffing them in boots, belts, bullet loops, and pockets has never been able to supplant the cigar case. In the past, the most popular cases were those made of leather, metal, and wood. In fact, in my collection I have an engraved sterling silver three-cigar case that is hallmarked 1854, just to give you an idea of how long these have been popular. Just like cigar making, not much has changed through the years, because today the most popular cigar cases still are made of leather, metal, and wood, with leather being the most popular and practical.
Savinelli has a number of distinct styles of Italian-made leather cases that come in fluted and unfluted designs and are available in natural or Bordeaux, in both hard and soft leather. Dunhill—which is now known as The White Spot—has adopted a pedigree bulldog as its mascot and his handsome face is featured as an embossing on a number of their accessories, including a new series of two-, three-, and four-finger (i.e., cigar) cases in black, brown, and Royal Purple leather, all designed to hold corona or robusto shapes.
Of special note is their four-finger robusto case, which The White Spot had not previously offered before. And as an extra bit of trivia, the name of their bulldog mascot is Fab Diamond, who sadly passed away in 2011, but who lives on in this series of cigar accessories.
Not to be outdone, for the first time Davidoff has introduced full-quill Ostrich cigar cases with a matching ten-cigar travel humidor, while S. T. Dupont has introduced a limited edition Humphrey Bogart “Bogie Bag” from the 1940s that will easily transport three to four boxes of cigars. J. C. Newman, under their Craftsman brand, is one of the few companies offering leather cases that will handle larger 60-ring gauge cigars, while the St. James Collection of Andre Garcia features an elegant hard leather telescoping case with a zippered lid for easy access. And Nat Sherman and Arango in the USA both make handsome and handy leather cigar travel cases. For roughing it, there are also canvas cases with Velcro closures.
When buying a cigar case, it is always better to get one that is larger, rather than smaller. That way you are not limited by the size of the cigars you can put in it. It is a lot easier to slip a small cigar into a big case rather than the other way around. I always look for a sturdy case that will protect my cigars and will hold at least a 54-ring size. Admittedly, these are sometimes difficult to find.
By that same token, I have been fortunate in acquiring a number of vintage cigar cases, such as a 1920s alligator-skin case with an inside label from Desmond Sautter of Mount Street in Mayfair, London. It never fails to elicit comments whenever I take it from my inside coat pocket to enjoy a smoke. Very often a cigar case will cost as much or substantially more than a box of cigars, but it is an accessory that is eventually going to be seen. And more important than image or presentation, if you save one cracked wrapper a week because you carried your cigars in a case instead of unprotected in your pocket, the expense and lack of aggravation will be worth it.
6. Smoking Jackets
Cigar clothes, specifically smoking jackets, are also among the trends still being inspired by the ongoing interest in cigar smoking. Smoking jackets have been around since Victorian times, thanks to firms such as the now-defunct US brand Sulka and the still thriving Turnbull & Asser in London. Also in vogue are cigar ties by companies such as Polo, plus cigar band cuff links and money clips, when you can find them. At one point I even found a pair of cigar socks! And during the cigar boom in the US during the 1990s I designed a cigar smoker’s shirt, with special pockets for securely holding four Robustos. Nowadays, there is always the traditional Guayabera, a loose fitting, open collared, outside-the-pants short-sleeved shirt (long sleeve versions are for more formal occasions) that is traditionally worn by cigar makers in the Caribbean and Central America. I have purchased a number of customized versions from Berta Bravo, better known as The Guayabera Lady, in Miami, Florida.
You may find some of these accessories more applicable to your lifestyle than others, but they all have their place. Indeed, Man does not live by his cigars alone. Which, by coincidence, just happens to be the theme of the next blog post.