If you’d kept up with our social media last month, you might have caught us hanging out in Havana, Cuba, sipping cheap and good rum and living it up. We were there at the invitation of Zenith Watches‘ CEO Aldo Magada, for the launch of a secret collaboration that we had no clue to, right up till a day or two before the trip. As it turns out, that partnership was with Cuban cigar label Cohiba.


The obligatory #Cuban #driving experience in a vintage @pontiac to the Casa #Cohiba. We will be releasing more information on the upcoming partnership between @zenithwatches and @cohibahabana later today. #watch #travel #travelgasm #travelogue #travelgram #instatravel #watchmaking

A video posted by AUGUST MAN (@augustman) on May 24, 2016 at 4:02pm PDT

Cohiba is probably one of the most lauded cigar labels from Cuba and this year marks their 50th. Commercial director Javier Terres was looking to create something special this year to mark this important date in the history books of the brand and so asked his Israeli distributor to suggest a brand to partner with. That Israeli distributor ended up contacting Jean-Claude Biver, head of the LVMH watch and jewellery division, and that’s how Magada ended up meeting Terres two weeks later at a restaurant in Madrid to discuss this collaboration. 

“At the time when we were emailing each other, I had no idea that we were talking about Cohiba,” professed Magada, himself a cigar aficionado. “It was only when we met that I realised this was the brand we were talking about.” Two cigars, one long dinner and three hours later, the two had outlined the initial agreement to create something that would celebrate the Cohiba brand. 

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Image from Cigar Aficionado

Cohiba and Castro
To appreciate Cohiba, there is one name that you cannot ignore and that is Fidel Castro. After all, he was the man who was behind its founding. Though the beginnings of the brand had started in 1962, in 1966, if you wanted a Cohiba you had to know Castro personally. The blend, made in secret and incorporating a third fermentation that’s done close doors in the Cohiba manufacture itself, was only available to his friends and cronies, guests of Cuba and a diplomatic gift for those lucky enough to receive one. 

Say what you like about Castro, but his use of Cohiba cigars as a soft power indication of Cuba’s influence on the rest of the world was genius. Cohiba cigars became synonymous with Cuban cigar quality, and everyone coveted one. 

For Castro, however, there was a more personal reason for wanting a private label of his own. It was known at the time that the CIA was experimenting with exploding cigars in order to assassinate important personages, and given Castro’s attitudes, he certainly didn’t want to be anywhere near an exploding cigar. It sounds like a bad joke out of MAD magazine and it did make a cover of the title in 1963, but this was a real thing. 

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At any rate, Castro didn’t just found a new cigar label, but also a school for training cigar rollers, particularly women cigar rollers. Up till then, the skill had been mostly taught to men, and Castro reasoned that this would be a great way to increase output and empower the female population, expanding the economic prowess of the island. Today, the school still churns out students many of whom are employed by Cohiba and its competitors. 

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Cohiba and Zenith
What does cigar rolling and watchmaking have to do with each other at all? As it turns out, a lot, specifically with Zenith Watches. The first point of connection with Zenith and cigars is one gentleman, and in fact the man who actually discovered Cuba for the rest of the world: Christopher Columbus

Columbus had spent the better part of the 15th century looking for an alternative route to the East Indies, where European colonisation was ongoing. The route he’d suggested was by going West. He came across the Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean, and also discovered Cuba. The strategic location of the island led the Spanish to establish Havana in 1515. 

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More importantly, Columbus had come across natives that were smoking bundled dried leaves that gave off a pungent and fragrant smoke. A woodcut by Columbis’ cartographer depicts this. There was perhaps suspicion that this was the work of devils. Nevertheless, they studied the effects of the leaves and eventually exported it to Europe. This was the start of the cigar industry. 

At the same time, Zenith has a watch collection, the Christophe Colomb, dedicated to the explorer in recognition of his work in discovering the Americas. Based on a patented gimbal based escapement, the Christophe Colomb series has won numerous awards for its innovation and inventiveness in ensuring precision. 

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An edition of the Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb

The two gents discovered this shared persona only after the agreement, and it was only natural that a jubilee project should incorporate the Christophe Colomb. The five-piece special model of the watch comes with a gimbal-style escapement and a dial that’s designed to reflect the tobacco leaf that makes Cohiba. 

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The watch is presented in a humidor-styled case that’s specially produced for Cohiba. Price is as yet undisclosed, but pre-orders are in place. Check out the two other commercial pieces for this special collaboration in the July issue of AUGUSTMAN

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