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James Suckling

Toys for Boys

Posted: Jul 11, 2008 2:20pm ET
I was in Switzerland last week for a few days visiting various watch factories including Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, and International Watch Company. All are part of the Richemont Group. My friend Alain Li, regional chief executive for Richemont Asia Pacific Limited in Hong Kong, organized the trip.

It was a car rally of sorts as well. There was no competition, but it was a test for many to find their way to different watch factories, restaurants and hotels. The TomToms and other GPS machines seemed to be giving a lot of bad information last week! We drove from Geneva to Le Sentir to Neuchatel to Schaffausen to Zurich over four days with stops in the watch factories with lots of good food, wine and cigars as well. Many cars got lost.

There were a number of beautiful cars on the tour including a Lamborgini Mura SV (one of the sexiest cars I have ever seen), 275 GTB Ferrari, 250 GT Ferrari Spyder California LWD, Dino Ferrari, Bentley S1, Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, Jaguar Convertible E type, Austin Healey, and two new 599 GTB Ferrais, among others.

As impressive as the cars were (check out the video),

I was in awe over the watch making. Great watches truly are hand-made products. Their craftsmanship is second to none. In fact, the parallels to cigar making are incredible. Here are a few common points that strike me.

• Each factory has its own personality, whether producing watches or cigars. For instance, Vacheron Constantin is traditional and staid in nature, hand-making watches in the old-fashioned way while Panerai combines classical watch making with 21st Century assistance and precision from computers and other high tech machinery. Like Vacheron, the same could be said of the traditional cigar making methods of the Partagas factory in Havana with its centuries-old rolling room while H. Upmann (more like
Panerai) respresents new cigar making on the island with a well lighted and temperature controlled environment.

• The quality of raw materials is essential to a great watch as well as cigar. Whether all the components of a watch were made themselves, such as at Jaeger-LeCoultre, or tobacco is bought from key growers in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic as well as their own farms such as at Arturo Fuente, assuring the materials used to make a watch or a cigar is the best quality leads to making both exceptional products.

•Making a top cigar or watch is more artisanal than industrial. When you view a watchmaker or a cigar maker at his or her worktable doing their craft, you understand quickly how a cigar and watch are truly handmade products. It’s rare to find such products today in our highly industrial and high-tech world.

•Each brand, whether a high quality watch or cigar, has its own style and character. For example, Piaget focuses more on its expertise and design as a jeweler with its watches while IWC bases its watch line on his long heritage for functional and instrumental timepieces. Meanwhile, Padrón bases its quality on its various plantations in the heart of Nicaragua and C.A.O. emphasizes it ability to blend tobaccos from around the world to create fascinating and flavorful smokes.

• Finally, smoking a certain cigar or wearing a particular watch is extremely personal and it reflects our own personalities, tastes and preferences. More, they are manly objects -- some of the few products that have not become unisex in nature. In other words, you are what you smoke and you seem what you wear in a watch.

Near the end of the trip, I was driving with my friend Chip Connor from Hong Kong in his 1955 Bentely S1 Convertible, which is a gorgeous, opulent and comfortable vintage car. Riding inside the hand made coach of the car was like being an aged Cuban cigar in an antique Dunhill humidor from the ‘50s. But Chip made a good comment as we floated along the highway towards another cigar factory. “Men who are into vintage cars are also into fine wine and great watches as well as cigars,” he said with a big smile on his face. “What is better than that?”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s all part of the good life for a man, and more.

Sadly, the first day of the trip when we visited and lunched at Vacheron Constantin (check out the end of the video) was the last day a man could smoke in public places in the region of Geneva, arguably one of the greatest areas for buying and smoking cigars. The regional government banned smoking in public places. I smoked my Hoyo de Monterry Epicure No. 2 with a Vacheron Constantin label with some sadness that day despite all the glorious watches and cars.


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