Watchonista’s Complete Guide To Cigar-Inspired Watches, Part One
Today, Watchonista presents part one of a two-part series about the niche category of cigar-inspired watches.
Watch collectors tend to be cigar enthusiasts, and – perhaps even more so – the converse is true. It’s akin to the way watch collectors and cigar aficionados gravitate toward wines, whiskeys, Michelin-starred eateries, bespoke suits, slippers with cheeky embroidery, and vicuña scarves: If that person sounds familiar, it should, because it’s likely you.
And you, my friend, are a member of a group that possesses a polymath’s approach to connoisseurship, with a keen appreciation for the finest of creature comforts. These intersecting interests, happily, prompt collaborations, especially in the case of partnerships between watches and cigars. Such pairings have been around since the 1930s, when “Tobacco Specialist” Alfred Dunhill of London sold various luxury goods, including wristwatches, side-by-side with his famed “tailored” and standard pipe-tobacco mixtures, as well as fine Havana cigars.
This two-part series will survey the world of cigar-inspired watches. But perhaps it’s best to start with the LVMH Swiss watch brand Zenith – which has lately taken center stage within this niche watch category thanks to its current partnership with Habanos S.A., the Cuban cigar export-and-marketing entity.
Zenith X Habanos (Cohiba, Trinidad, Romeo y Julieta)
In 2016, Zenith and Habanos kicked off their (relatively) long-running and, candidly, somewhat surprising affiliation with the debut of the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Cohiba Edition at that year’s El Festival del Habano – the Cuban-cigar equivalent of Watches & Wonders – with a gala dinner and auction capping off the annual festivities.
Timed to celebrate the marca’s fiftieth anniversary, the El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Cohiba Edition was a 42mm chronograph with a tobacco-brown dial that featured the Cohiba livery in two vertical stripes down the right side. Powered by the Zenith El Primero caliber 4061 automatic movement and its 50-hour power reserve, it was limited to 50 pieces for the 18K rose gold case and 500 examples of the stainless steel version. But that was only the start.
This past month saw the debut of the Zenith Chronomaster Open Cohiba 55th Anniversary Edition at a virtual version of the all-things-Cuban cigar fête Habanos World Days (which is thematically similar to the festival mentioned above).
This 2021 iteration, which simply screams “Cohiba,” comes in steel only. And this 42mm chronograph is powered by the El Primero 4061 automatic movement and will be available at Zenith boutiques and select retailers in October. But to ensure that one fully appreciates the epicurean connection, each watch will come with a set of five Cohiba cigars in a co-branded porcelain jar. With only 55 timepieces offered with the cigars, this version will likely sell out before its actual delivery date.
The 2016 El Primero was followed a year later by the El Primero Chronomaster 1966 Legend of Cohiba Edition. Sequentially thereafter came the 45mm rose-gold-cased Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Cohiba-Maduro 5 Edition with an extra-large crown (2018); the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Trinidad Edition in rose, yellow, and white gold (2019); and the 2020 Romeo y Julieta Elite Moonphase – a his and hers timepiece pair celebrating the 145th anniversary of the Shakespeare-inspired marca.
Despite how impressive these sub-collections are, the Zenith X Habanos limited-edition timepieces were far from the first to boast a cigar association. For the origins of cigar-inspired watches, one must look much further back.
As previously noted, watches and cigars were sold together at Alfred Dunhill Tobacco Specialist, at 30 Duke Street in London’s posh St. James’s District, as far back as 1932 – the year Alfred Dunhill Ltd. patented its first wristwatch. (Dunhill pocket watches had debuted in 1903; watches and clocks set into cigar and pipe lighters followed soon after.)
Dunhill continued to sell timepieces into the 2000s. Lamentably, however, its horological heritage – which included partnerships with Universal Genève in the 1940s and Jaeger-LeCoultre in the 1960s – came to an inauspicious end in the autumn of 2012. That was when, with little pomp or circumstance, the men’s luxury and fashion house quit offering watches altogether. (It had begun to phase out of cigars a few years earlier.)
Cuervo y Sobrinos
What Cartier was to Paris, Bulgari to Rome, and Tiffany to New York, Cuervo y Sobrinos was to pre-revolution Havana. As the city’s top purveyor of fine jewelry and timepieces – Churchill, Hemingway, and Clark Gable were all said to be clients – Cuervo y Sobrinos worked with a number of fine Swiss watchmakers (Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Universal Genève among them) to produce both double-signature and private-label timepieces.
Located in Havana’s Old Town, Cuervo y Sobrinos enjoyed close corporate-gift relations with the real fábrica de tabacos. And it commissioned Cuervo y Sobrinos countless custom-dial watches with logos, such as the classic Partagas script, to be given away as executive and retirement gifts. Vintage Cuervo y Sobrinos, mostly from the 1950s, pop up often on auction sites.
Today, the modern incarnation of Cuervo y Sobrinos names its models after cigar vitolas, and many of its watches are presented in a humidor. Since 2009, CyS has operated a mono-brand boutique, El Reloj Cuervo y Sobrinos, on Calle Muralla in the heart, once more, of Habana Viejo.
Davidoff X IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN X SMH
In the 1980s, another notable tobacconist, Davidoff of Geneva, partnered with IWC Schaffhausen and SMH (Société de Microélectronique et d’Horlogerie, now the Swatch Group) to produce a small capsule collection of watches evocative of very early Hublots and Porsche Design timepieces of the period.
It was a curious arrangement. IWC was said to have designed and manufactured the cases (in 18K yellow gold, two-tone, and all titanium) and straps. But the watches were powered by the hand-wound, ultrathin F. Piguet Cal. 21 (a.k.a. a Blancpain 21) movement, with a custom bridge assembled by SMH.
Finding an example of these early Davidoffs is a challenge, but they occasionally crop up at auction and on sites such as Chrono24. Today, Zino Davidoff, a spinoff luxury watches-and-accessories brand originally created to skirt draconian European Union regulations governing tobacco promotion, carries on the tradition set forth by Davidoff of Geneva’s initial horological effort
Stay tuned for part two of Watchonista’s Guide To Cigar-Inspired Watches to learn more about post-Cuban embargo collaborations aimed at the American market.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)