Cigars & Watches: The Stateman’s Pursuits

The old adage holds that men who are mechanical wristwatch, cufflink and fountain-pen men are also fond of supercall spirits, hand-rolled cigars and automobiles. And while polymath gents with an appreciation for the finer things might not covet, collect or even appreciate all these things, as a psychographic profile, it stands up pretty well.

Consider the right honorable Sir Winston Churchill: Havana cigar lover, Scotch whisky imbiber (Johnnie Walker Red), Cognac tippler (Hine) and Swiss watch collector. His holdings of the latter included a “hand-me-down” Breguet Rattrapante Minute Repeater pocket watch (a.k.a. the “Turnip”) originally commissioned by his grandfather John-Spencer Churchill, the seventh Duke of Marlborough; a Louis Cottie World Time pocket watch (which sold at Sotheby’s in 2005 for $630,000); a Day-Date “President” Rolex; and a Cuervos y Sobrinos wristwatch. What if there had been a watch in Churchill’s day that married his ardor for both cigars and timepieces. That would’ve given even the great statesman pause.

Since the 1980s, though, there have indeed been a number of cigar-inspired and collaboration watches, and technically even a handful earlier than that. Let’s explore the history.

Cigars and wristwatches have been sold side-by-side since 1932, the year tobacconist and haberdasher Alfred Dunhill Ltd. patented its first wristwatch. (Dunhill pocket watches debuted in 1903; watches and clocks set into cigar and pipe lighters followed soon after.) Alfred Dunhill, now a Richemont company, was far more a gentleman’s tobacconist up through the 2000s than the modern English men’s fashion house it has become over the last handful of years. And although they weren’t cigar-inspired timepieces per se, a man could get a pocket- or wristwatch while picking up a box of Montecristos or Romeo y Julietas. (There are still Dunhill cigars — Dominicans — made under license today, as well as the exceptional Dunhill flagship cigar shop at 1A St. James Street in London, with a lounge and cigar “keeps,” or climate-controlled lockers for one’s cigar collection and the odd bottle of brandy.)

Then there was Cuervo y Sobrinos. What Cartier was to Paris, BVLGARI to Rome, and Tiffany & Co. to New York, Cuervo y Sobrinos was to (pre-Revolution) Havana. As the city’s top purveyor of jewelry and timepieces—clients included Churchill, Hemingway and Clark Gable—CyS worked with a number of Swiss watchmakers (Rolex, Patek Philippe, Universal Genève) that produced both double-signature and private-label timepieces. It was located in Havana’s Old Town, and as such corporate real fábrica de tabacos clientele commissioned custom-dial watches with logos like the classic Partagas script for executive and retirement gifts. Vintage Cuervo y Sobrinos, mostly from the 1950s, pop up regularly. The modern incarnation of CyS today names its models after cigar vitolas (a measure that combines length, girth and shape), and most of them come in a humidor, not just any old box.

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