Battle of the Boxes
There are fewer humidors on today's market and that's good news for consumers
Things have come full circle in the business of humidors. Ten years ago, a few well-respected brands dominated the market. Five years later, there were dozens, many of dubious quality. Today, the market has thinned and resembles the 1992 market, with the addition of some venerable new boxes.
In our first humidor review, featured in the Winter 1992/93 issue of Cigar Aficionado, we surveyed 11 boxes. Our second test, conducted in the boom year of 1997, featured a veritable fleet of 42. Many proved to be inept at the considerably difficult art of maintaining humidity, and most of those boxes have since fallen by the wayside. This time we focused on a collection of 14 humidors. The personality of this group is that of a seasoned veteran, enduring where the boom boxes could not. We found many pieces of fine quality, and the overall performance of the group suggests that the market has stabilized. The best of these boxes continue to set the standard in the craft of humidor making.
We began the review by treating the humidors according to the manufacturers' instructions and allowing them to acclimate over one week. Next, we added cigars to each humidor. We tested the humidity regularly, using the same digital hygrometer throughout the testing period. If the humidity rose too high, we added cigars; if it was considerably high, we also added cedar strips. If the humidity was too low, we refilled the humidification system. Our intention was to keep the humidity between 65 percent and 70 percent, the desired range for storing premium cigars. All humidors were kept in the same room, under the same temperatures, for the length of the test.
After six weeks of testing, we brought each humidor before a panel of judges for discussion and rating, factoring in humidification performance over the test period, the construction of each piece, cost and appearance. The humidors were evaluated and scored using an alphabetical scale. Each humidor was judged on its own merit.
Daniel Marshall Limited Edition 20th Anniversary Treasure Chest
Veneer: Vavona burl; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 150 cigars; Humidification: Daniel Marshall System (one unit); Details: 24-karat gold fixtures, lock and key, magnetic cutter holder, magnetic refill calendar, digital hygrometer; comes with Daniel Marshall stainless steel guillotine cutter and 20 Daniel Marshall private-label cigars; Cost: $895; Contact: (800) 923-2889; Score: A
A celebrated veteran of the humidor business, California craftsman Daniel Marshall finds himself again at the top of the ratings with this large, stylish humidor. It is a great buy, given the accoutrements, size of the box and quality of its construction. The smoky, striking hazel veneer has a shimmering undertone. The humidor includes some nice extras: a magnet to hold a cigar cutter, a second magnetic system that serves as a calendar to remind you when it's time to refill the humidification device, as well as a cedar grate over the top of the humidifier, which dresses up the inside lid, giving it uniformity and balance. There is plenty of room for smokes, and the arched lid safeguards against scratches that might come from a flat top (should someone decide your humidor should double as a coaster or, say, a base for a doll collection). The humidor functioned very well; it didn't need a refill, never fell below 65 percent humidity and never rose above 70. It was still going strong at the review's end.
Davidoff No. 7
Veneer: Rosewood; Interior: Okume; Capacity: 75 cigars; Humidification: Davidoff System (one unit); Details: Magnet for cutter storage, refill calendar, dividers; Cost: $820; Contact: (203) 323-5811; Score: A-
Davidoffs are benchmark humidors, though this particular box is a bit unconventional, looking almost like a Cubist sculpture or some sort of fancified chopping block. This one has a simplicity of design, with a lower price than the usual Davidoff. It certainly performed like a Davidoff: it was one of the easiest boxes to use. Unlike typical humidors, this Davidoff has little lacquer coating; running your hands over the top allows you to feel the grain of the rosewood, which has rich, natural orange, yellow and rose colors. Perhaps most impressive is the complexity of the grain and the skill demonstrated by its maker in matching the lines between lid and box. When closing the top, the seam between the lid and the box is practically invisible. The Okume interior, which is polished and solid, does not produce the fragrant aroma of Spanish cedar. The humidity stayed fairly even throughout the test and the device did not need to be refilled.
Dunhill Thuya Humidor
Veneer: Thuya burl; Interior: Mahogany; Capacity: 50 cigars; Humidification: Dunhill Humidity Control System (one unit); Details: Nickel-plated fixtures, dividers, lock and key; Cost: $1,010; Contact: (800) 860-8362; Score: A-
A marriage of quality components such as Thuya burl and nickel-plated hardware, the understated Dunhill says class without having to shout it. Similar models rated in our earlier tests did very well, and this latest model performed up to the Dunhill standard, keeping it near the top of the group. Sleek and elegant, with sharp edges and pointed corners, this model features nickel-plated fixtures and an exotic, dark burl veneer reminiscent of a leopard pattern. The design is simple, not employing fancy marquetry. The humidor is a breeze to use. The humidification system comes sealed in plastic, already treated with a chemical solution. Filled up once, it lasted for the duration of the test. The humidity started off a bit high at 73 percent, but it evened out nicely by the second week -- which was before the recommended four-week break-in period. It is expensive for its size and may not be as visually arresting as some of the other boxes, but the Dunhill is well-made and a reliable choice.
Elie Bleu Limited-Edition Vegas Collection
Veneer: Dyed-marble sycamore; Detailing: Mother-of-pearl; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 50 to 75 cigars; Humidification: Elie Bleu System (one unit); Details: Silver-plated fixtures, lock and key, analog hygrometer, two cedar trays; Cost: $2,700; Contact: 011-33-1-48-99-64-64; Score: A-
Part of an Elie Bleu special-edition line, this humidor would be ideal for any gambling man. It was, perhaps, the most unusual-looking humidor in the test. Crafted in the shape of a huge die, complete with mother-of-pearl inlays for the dots, the polished sycamore veneer exterior shines like a pane of ebony glass, with rounded edges and a seal that puffs like a soft kiss when closing. With a price tag approaching $3,000, this is a lot to spend on a humidor of such small size, but what is lost in capacity is made up for in material, style and reputation -- Elie Bleu is among the premier names in the business. The humidification system and hygrometer are plated in silver. The interior lines and angles of the wood are cut perfectly, fitting in silky, even seams. The pale Spanish cedar lining has a beautiful bouquet and is smooth as silk. Two trays separate the humidor into three levels. They are not very wide -- probably large enough for corona gordas at best. The humidity in the box remained fairly even early on, but the humidification device had to be refilled by the third week of testing, perhaps a week earlier than would be expected. The humidity at the bottom level was consistently about five percentage points below that of the top and middle. It could be a flaw in the design, or the perfect place for long-term aging of prized cigars for those who prefer their smokes at 65 percent humidity.
Prometheus Red Madrona Humidor
Veneer: Madrona; Interior: Mahogany; Capacity: 250 cigars; Humidification: Prometheus Optima System (four units); Details: Nickel-plated fixtures, lock and key, digital hygrometer, trays, dividers; Cost: $2,500; Contact: (323) 869-9200; Score: A-
This humidor performed better than any other in the test, keeping the humidity at a solid 70 percent for practically the entire duration of the review. "Big Red," as it came to be known, took a week to reach the proper levels of humidity, but once it got going, it just kept rolling without a hitch. The humidor's design is simple, though some may find the red a bit loud -- especially given the size of the piece -- and the color seems to obscure the fine grain of the wood. The marquetry on the borders does not line up at the corners. The inside is attractive, with cedar trimming the humidifiers and the hygrometer. A strange, fruity, banana-like smell was unmistakable when opening the lid. (It dissipated fairly quickly after opening.) It's a pricey humidor, but it's one of the biggest we tested, with a boasted capacity of 10 boxes of cigars.
Griffin's Eye Maple Yellow Marquetry
Veneer: Maple; Detailing: Sapele; Capacity: 120 cigars; Humidification: Griffin's System (one unit); Details: Gold-plated brass fixtures, lock and key, tray; Cost: $1,280; Contact: (800) 232-8436; Score: B+
This bright yellow piece with a black-and-white checkered border is suggestive of a 1950s New York City taxicab. It was a bit slow pulling out of the gates, staying stubbornly below the desired humidity level during seasoning. However, after about three weeks, it started to hum, never falling below 65 percent or going above 70 percent and showing no need for refilling at the end of the test. The humidor is functional and attractive, but does not include the little extras found in many top-end models. It also had a slight lacquer smell on the inside and seemed a little overpriced for what it offers, but it is from the Davidoff family, so it remains a good choice if you're looking for a basic humidor with a good reputation.
Manning Ebony Macassar Humidor
Veneer: Ebony Macassar; Interior: Spanish cedar; Capacity: 200 cigars; Humidification: Paradigm System (two units); Details: Gold-plated brass fixtures, lock and key, trays, dividers; Cost: $1,950; Contact: (800) 414-8522; Score: B+
The Manning descends from the hands of four generations of Irish cabinetmakers, but the humidor brand is somewhat new to the market. (Manning first appeared in our 1999 review.) The box has a soft seal and an attractively grained and fragrant interior, and it displays evidence of remarkable care and craftsmanship. The veneer is exquisite, with an exotic pattern, like tiger skin. The magnets that secure the humidification units are located behind a sheet of wood on the underside of the lid, hiding them from view. The humidor feels as sturdy as it looks and is well made. Tending to run a little dry, the humidor soaks up a lot of water and seems to need ample time for treating. (The instructions say only two days, but two weeks is more realistic.) The humidifiers had to be refilled twice during testing and a wet paper towel had to be added the first week to get the humidor up to speed. The humidity levels were not as predictable as for some of the other humidors in the test, but its performance hinted that it would improve over time.
Avo Rosewood Signature Model
Veneer: Rosewood/Palisander; Interior: Okume; Capacity: 50 cigars; Humidification: Cigar Master System (one unit); Details: Dividers; Cost: $950; Contact: (800) 232-8436; Score: B
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