As I inspected more of the bands in my collection, I found even more fine points and wondered how often they must go completely unnoticed by us cigar smokers. The closer you look, the more you can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into cigar bands – maybe as much, or even more than the cigars themselves. (It helps to keep a magnifying glass around.)
Words like “hecho a mano,” (“made by hand”), “Imported,” the country of origin, or the year the brand was founded, like “1844” as on H. Upmann cigars, or “1845” as in the case of Partagas cigars, are common, as are gold embossing and reproductions of various medals.
Since there are way too many cigar bands to list without dragging this article out to Health Care Bill-like proportions, I’ll limit myself to some neat things that have popped-out at me over the years.
The bands for Arturo Fuente cigars are essentially pretty standard in terms of their design. If I may digress, some cigars smokers don’t know that the red & green Fuente band is used on their “main line” like the Cuban Corona, 8-5-8 Flor Fina, etc. A red & black band is used on their more upmarket cigars like the Don Carlos and Hemingway, while their rare Añejo series bands are white.
La Aurora cigars always feature their mascot lion, but each line extension depicts a slightly different rendition. My favorite is the lion on the red band of their Preferidos selection, looking confident in his natural habitat, flanked by two crowns.
Macanudo, arguably among the biggest-selling cigars worldwide, has made gazillions of dollars for General Cigar. Ironically, its light green colors and fine black lettering even look like money. On the left is a sketch of The Dominican Republic. But have you ever actually read the inscription on the right side of the band? “This Macanudo cigar is made from only the finest aged tobaccos available. The quality of Macanudo cigars meets the standards of the most skilled craftsmen of the cigar maker’s art.”
La Aroma de Cuba’s band also tells a story. It’s one of the most ornate bands, too, reminiscent of the great old trademarks seen on many vintage Cuban cigar boxes. It depicts a woman in the center, flanked by two shields, one with three castles, the other with an anchor. In the left background is what looks like the factory, while on the right is a merchant ship docked in a harbor.
Another of my favorite ornate bands are those used in the Oliva Master Blends series. It’s a die-cut band, primarily green, dark brown and gold, but there’s so much more. Starting at the top are the letters “MB” set in a script typeface. Under the letters are the words “Oliva Family” in superfine print. That section is also flanked by two gold-embossed medals. Below that is a tropical scene of a verdant tobacco field. Centered below that is the numeral “3” flanked by what looks like two family crests. On the bottom left is a photo of the family patriarch, Gilberto Oliva, in an orange-tinted oval. On the right is a gold oval embossed with the Oliva logo that reads: “Hechos a mano en la tradicion Cubana.” (Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can figure that one out for yourself.) Finally, at the bottom are the words “Master Blends,” not to mention the little gold florets that decorate the arms of the band. Now, the Master Blends 2 (shown in the photo from my collection), now sadly obsolete, had the ultimate coup de grace. It wasn’t on the band, but on the cigar itself: an ornate design etched into the wrapper leaf itself with a laser.
I’m also attracted to bands that have retro or art-deco style designs. A great example of this are the bands on La Vieja Habana cigars by Drew Estate. They show two nude golden goddesses facing each other in a reclining position. Behind them is a silver star. The star has the words “La Vieja Habana” above it and is surrounded by a circle with little squares around the perimeter. Behind each goddess is some flora, and behind that, a series of three triangular shapes that represent mountains. The band virtually lights up with rich gold, orange, blue and grey colors. Drew Estate, who also makes ACID and Liga Privada cigars, are among the most creative companies when it comes to artwork, and it extends to their box designs as well.
When it comes to classic band designs, its hard not to think of the Arts Nouveau-inspired bands on La Gloria Cubana cigars. They still look pretty much the same as they did before the 1959 Cuban revolution, too. Speaking of which, one of my favorites is the Cuban Hoyo De Monterrey band, which is now used on the Honduran-made TradicÃon series. At a glance, the image in the center of the band looks a lot like a Chinese character, but it’s actually two crowns. The top crown looks like it’s being supported by either a torch or a flower. The bottom crown seems to have two ribbons flowing out from it. I also like the detail of the arrow-like shapes on the arms; on the left is “Jose,” while the right is “Gener.”
Some of the most understated, yet elegant cigar bands are on Avo cigars. The logo, which is used with different color schemes to differentiate its varied selections, always shows the “A” and “V” intersecting inside a large “O,” which also spells out the name Avo. They, too, have sort of a Hollywood vintage 1930s look to them. Compare them to the simpler, retro band design on Padron cigars that look so natural in contrast to the wrapper leaves.
Among the newer unique bands designed in recent years, is the Room 101 cigars band. Created by Matt Booth of Room 101 jewelry fame, and made by Camacho Cigars, the band looks like a piece of jewelry. Check out the monstrous faces that flank the Room 101 logo, too, which reminds me: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the band on Pete Johnson’s “The Face” cigars, on which he used a scrappy piece of Mexican tobacco for the band to emulate Leatherface’s mask from Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie fame.
Before I get too carried away, I’ll finish-up with a relevant little anecdote: Shortly after I started working in the cigar business, I was in a meeting with my colleagues and David Danziger, who at that time was Executive VP of Marketing and Sales at General Cigar. He was presenting the Partagas Black Label cigars to us. On the conference table was a nondescript, un-banded cigar. David placed a Partagas Black Label band over it, then held it up. Everyone noticed the obvious difference.
“Presentation is everything,” he said.
So before you peel off your next fancy cigar band, take a good close look at it. A lot of thought went into creating it.