Cigar Hunter: Rich Londoners spend $507k at high-end cigar auction

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Editor’s note: The next Cigar Hunter prize giveaway is upon us. Make sure you’re at least 18 years old and sign up here to win a 10-cigar travel humidor from Corona Cigar co. And we’ll start you off with six of Corona’s 10th Anniversary Double Phatty Habano cigars. These are 7″ x 60 monsters, and they’re all Dominican.

Charlotte Metcalf reports from London today. She previously wrote about the Davidoff ladies’ cigar masterclass.

Wealthy cigar collectors ponied up £316,006 — that’s $507,750 — for rare cigars., mostly Cubans, at a London auction on Nov. 26.

The top lot, 155 Cuban Partagas cigars in a custom-made humidor, sold for £8,800 — about $14,100. The winner will have to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, to retrieve the cigars from the climate-controlled vault at the headquarters of Davidoff.

The biggest splurge, however, made that auction seem like child’s play: a partial box of six — just six — Dunhill cigars made in the 1980s. For that rare treat, someone paid £4,000. That’s more than $1,000 per smoke.

“I usually bid on at least 15 lots, and I’ve never lost a bid but the price was stupid,” moaned Ashwan Chander, a Nottingham-based lace manufacturer and property magnate who is reputed to have bought the most expensive cigar ever sold at auction and reportedly owns one of Britain’s largest private cigar collections.

On the bleak, cold Monday night in London, guests drank aged Balvenie single malt and ate mini haggises on a cigar terrace at Boisdale, overlooked by the glowering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

The restaurant, specializing in Scottish food and drink, first opened in Belgravia in 1988. Its sister branch, which opened in 2002, is now a City institution. It was one of the first establishments to provide a comfortable, heated terrace for smokers in the wake of the UK smoking ban in 2007.

Over the course of two hours, we watched one man spend more than £136,000 on 104 lots of vintage, rare and mature cigars — including the giant Partagas treasure chest. Occasionally, a man next to him leaned over and whispered instructions, encouragement or both. Later we found out that this was the father of Formula One racing star Lewis Hamilton.

As the mystery bidder left the auction room, I stopped him to offer congratulations, and he launched into a stemwinder about his lucky auction-paddle number, 129. It was something to do with the birthday of his twins, April 1988 and the Year of the Dragon — but he cut himself off in mid-sentence and rushed off when I told him I was writing about the auction for a press outlet.

C.Gars Ltd. puts on the only independent cigar auctions in Britain, twice each year. Founder and Havana cigar specialist Mitch Orchant dispensed cigars and exuded optimism after the final gavel, clearly delighted by sale prices that were higher than pre-auction estimates.

In contrast, four of Orchant’s Orthodox Jewish friends from North London grumbled, angrily exhaling smoke. They were priced out of auction after auction by the mystery bidder. “There wasn’t any point even starting,” said one.

A single bidder spending £136,000 on cigars is extravagant, even by London standards. By comparison, £135,000 could buy a flat in East London, one of the world’s most expensive capital cities. It could also purchase a 2012 Bentley 6000 cc Continental Supersports Convertible, or a Jean Schlumberger diamond flower pendant in 18 karat gold and platinum from Tiffany.

Even the most expensive bottle of wine in the world, a limited edition Australian “ampoule” of Penfold’s Cabernet Sauvignon, sells for a mere £105,000.

Auctioneer Brian Ebbesen, formerly of Christie’s, said he couldn’t identify the deep-pocketed bidder. “I’ve never seen him before,” he said. Ebbesen addedthat he was accustomed to seeing the same old faces at cigar auctions.

Vintage cigars, he added, represented a niche market that can command huge sums of money.

“There are about two to 300 people ’round the world who regularly buy them,” he explained. “The market’s hard to grow, as cigars like this have not been produced since 1989 when Cuba kicked out Davidoff and Dunhill and all the main producers. The supply is literally drying up.”

“Producers are coming up with nice limited editions like the 2003 double coronas or the 2001 pyramids, but sourcing good vintage cigars is increasingly hard, and you need a good network.”

Some Americans tried their hand at bidding, notably four from California — residents from Pebble Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Franciso, who regularly travel together to go cigar hunting. But they said they were so frustrated with the anonymous bidder that they bid less than usual this time around.

Valeri Krasnopjorov from St. Petersburg, another regular at cigar auctions, only bought three lots because of what he called “crazy” prices. He said he was unimpressed by the private collection, bought mainly between 2001 and 2004 from Christie’s.

Thirty-nine of the auction lots, it turned out, had been kept in Davidoff’s vault, stored in a single connoisseur’s state-of-the-art humidor. “Only one or two lots were really worth it,” Valeri said.

Rumors swirled that the unnamed connoisseur and his wife were divorcing, and that it was the wife selling off his precious collection, including the £8,800 top Partagas prize. The soon-to-be divorcee, whoever she is, walked away with £52,000, minus the auctioneer’s fee.

Not bad for two hours’ work.

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Today’s photogenic guest smoker is Spanish golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez, who posed with his trophy — and his cigar — after winning the UBS Hong Kong open on November 18. No idea what he was smoking, or if he had it lit on the course. 

Tags : cigars
Charlotte Metcalf