Cuba, for someone who hasn’t yet had the opportunity to visit the island, seems to be renowned for four things. Its recently reconciled position with the USA, a bevy of 1950’s classic American cars – that half a century are still going strong – the work of the very talented “Buena Vista Social Club” and its World-dominant position in the making and selling of fine cigars.
For me, pre-eminent amongst the wonderful Cuban cigar brands, with their flamboyant cigar rings and sturdy packaging are the products of the Cuban state-owned tobacco, Habanos SA, that are marketed under the iconic name of “Montecristo.
Our featured image is the cigar ring of Montecristo that was revised in 2013. The Montecristo brand accounts for around 25% of Habanos SA’s world-wide sales. It is reported that by volume the Montecristo No. 4 is the World’s most popular cigar.
The name of the Montecristo was inspired by the novel “The Count of Montecristo”. It was first used in July 1935 when Alonso Menéndez bought a factory, which until then had made cigars under the Particulares and Byron brand names, he rebranded using the name of Montecristo. In 1936 Snr. Menéndez, with a new partner, founded Menéndez, García y Cía. The new business acquired the H. Upmann factory, from J Franau SA, in 1937 and consolidated production of the Montecristo and Upmann brands at the Upmann factory. The business was nationalised in 1961 following the Cuban Revolution.
The Montecristo logo (below) comprises a triangle of swords and a fleur-de-lis, was designed by John Hunter Morris and Elkan Co. Ltd., Montecristo’s UK distributor. J. Frankau continued as the sole distributor of the H. Upmann brand in the UK, until in 1963, the firms merged to become Hunters & Frankau. The resulting business is still the sole importer and distributor of all Cuban cigars in the UK.
Montecristo has grown its range of cigars over the years from an original five, plus a tubed cigar added in the 1940’s and further additions of five new sizes in the 1970’s and 80’s. In 2004, the Edmundo, a large robusto-sized cigar, was added. In 2009 a new range known “Open” was added that comprises a selection of slightly less densely flavoured cigars than the usual Montecristo. For me, the No 2 Montecristo, a Pirámide or torpedo shaped large cigar, continues to be a particular favourite.
A cursory study of cigars will show that aside from their range number and name it is usual that their ring size is given, to denoted their thickness. Over 22 years ago, and perhaps being slightly under-prepared, I asked my wife to marry me with a Montecristo No 1 cigar ring. Luckily, she said yes and I got a jeweller in Central London to make her an engagement ring that was stylised to look a little like the shape of the cigar ring with a central diamond and tapering to smaller diamonds around the band – it’s still beautiful ring.