Crafting Cigar Boxes & Bands
The origin of cigar bands is suffused with a rich mythos. One story posits that the paper bands were first used on Habanos (Havana cigars) exported to England since gentlemen of the day were reticent to stain their elegant white gloves. While fantastic tales like these are impossible to truly investigate, most modern cigar historians trace the band as far back as the 1860s, crediting Don Gustavo Bock with the invention. Gustavo had come from Europe to La Habana to make his fortune in the cigar business. It is no mystery why the bands quickly proliferated – they made it easier to differentiate between brands and thwarted the production of fakes and shoddy reproductions.
Nowadays, the bands on Habanos are some of the most iconic symbols in the industry, attracting collectors and imitators alike. Like every other part of a Habano, the cigar bands are carefully and individually applied by hand. The cigars are then nestled into their part-dressed box in a very particular manner — Habanos must follow the same exact order, from left to right, in each box, with their bands perfectly aligned and the same face upwards.
The cigar box is also a product of Cuban history and artistry. First introduced by Cuba in the mid-19th century, cigar boxes with colorful lithographic labels have become as important to the tradition of Habanos as the skilled artisans and the unmatchable tobacco. The beautiful and detailed labels, or habilitaciones, are all applied by hand before the box is filled. The top of a cigar box is known as the cubierta. It is a nod to the time when makers’ names were literally branded onto the box using a hot iron. Below the cubierta is the tapaclavo, an embellished seal placed over the nail that fastens some boxes; this is not to be confused with the papeleta, which is the rectangular or oval seal affixed to the box’s shorter side. The filete also acts as a seal, yet this extravagant trimming runs along the box’s hinge. The sides of the box are covered with decorative panels often displaying the cigar’s size name.
On the inside of the box, you will see the vista, an unabashed celebration of the brand’s eminence and success, replete with ornate embossing and much gilding. The vista may depict evocative historical images, medals that the brand has won, royal patrons’ coats of arms and brand notes. It is accompanied by the bofeton, the leaf of paper that protects the finished cigars.
Prior to the box being closed, sealed and sent into the eager arms of adult cigar fans, the inspectors, or revisadores, conduct one final examination to make sure every single band and box appears as they should. With discerning eyes and high standards, the revisadores check everything, including whether the colors match and if the bands are properly applied. If a single cigar fails to make the grade, it is placed upside down and the entire box is handed back. All of this is done to ensure that the unmarred reputation of Habanos will live on forever.