So, when I was in Havana last November for the 2014 edition of the Encuentros Partagas, and with the assistance of good friend Jose Antonio Candia, I had the chance to go to the production studio for Ramon Iglesias Centeno, the man behind San Ramon Producciones. He’s been a photographer for many years, but for the past number of years, he’s also become more and more well-known for his custom ceramic jars.
A number of years ago, in 2011 or 2012, news and pictures came out about a series of antique-replica Partagas jars that were starting to be made by Ramon, in the classic “Sevilla-jar” / “Talavera” style in a blue-on-white motif, and with the ability to have the jar done with special script or a name on it.
I thought this was pretty cool. A number of us were fairly impressed with the end results of that new aspect of customization for Cuban cigars, and so in the summer/fall of 2013, ahead of that year’s Encuentros Partagas, I put together a group buy with Ramon for a special 20-jar run of custom cigars that Ramon did especially for our international group of trouble makers (including some Cuban friends). They’re a nice, classic, brown-coloured design done up just for us (they’re the jar that’s 3rd from the right in the featured image at the top of this page, with the Partagas factory image viewable on the backside of it, and the 3rd run of jars that Ramon did). However, as I had to unfortunately bow out from the November 2013 trip at the last minute, I was unable to go to personally meet Ramon and pick up my jar directly from him with a handshake, as other trip participants did.
Therefore, with this past November’s trip for the Encuentros Partagas, Jose assisted me in setting up a morning visit to Ramon’s studio, so would could meet each other (as he knew me as the Canadian schmuck that organized the group buy), and so that we could have a chance to talk relatively one-on-one about his current endeavours. Bringing my fellow Canadian traveller and trip-roommate John Reiner along, we were decently impressed. (NOTE – forgive me, but most of this is from memory, as though I created audio notes during this visit, a subsequent glitch during an iPhone sync caused me to inadvertently delete them.)
At about 9 am, we made our way into, if I recall this correctly, the Arroyo Naranjo borough of Havana, where Ramon’s studio is located. A fairly non-descript location, being a converted house, we were treated inside to some lovely articles and pieces of considerable artistic quality, considering the material constraints Cubans face. Ramon has been a professional photographer for some time. He’s worked on and off for Habanos S.A. for years, taking photographs at special events for them. He also does private photos, and his walls are bordered by numerous black-and-white pictures of dozens of beautiful Cuban ladies.
A few years ago now, he started with the Partagas replica jars. As he explained to us this day, Habanos gave him the okay/approval to move forward, and through a government licencing body regulating production artworks, he was granted the okay to produce 1000 jars. He showed us a giant ledger book, listing all the jars in numerical order, and the various particulars of their owners, and where everyone signs on the relevant numbered line when they pick up their jars. He was up to about jar number 580-something, so considering he was granted 1000 jars, it’s been moving along fairly decently for Ramon. These jars originally sold for only $60 CUC’s, but he currently sells them for $100 CUC on order – definitely capitalising on the popularity of jars by raising the pricing, but so be it.
Starting that jar line has opened up new doors for him, he told us. As the featured image at the top of the page shows, since he started these jars in 2011/2012, he now has 6 main lines of jars that he’s produced. First was the blue Partagas jars, a 1000 jar run (just over half-way through). Next up was a special release jar in 2012 for the Partagas LCDH’s 20th anniversary, which was a run of 100 jars I believe. Third in his production was our group’s special run of only 20 jars, which was planned out in the summer/fall of 2013. After that, 2013 and 2014 was busy for him, with his fourth jar series being a special batch of jars for Mitchell Orchant for some of his “Orchant Seleccion” stock, the fifth being an all-creamy-white / off-white jar for the tenth anniversary of the Melia Cohiba LCDH, and then the sixth and most recent being an imposing all-black one in honour of the three or four Guiness World Records that have now been earned by famed roller Jose Cueto. All of these last three series of jars was a 100-jar run.
He has also done a few other special runs of jars for various vendors. In 2013, he did variants of the blue Partagas jars for Cigar One (commemorating their 15th anniversary, and including Partagas 898 Unvarished’s from 1998), and if I recall correctly, he did a run of these blue Partagas-style jars, but with H. Upmann lettering, for a Spanish cigar vendor, and containing H. Upmann Magnum 46’s from 2005.
But so, onwards to the good stuff that we were there for…
Ramon is getting set to release two new series of jars. One will be for the “Baire” brand. The above pictures show a wooden humidor with the Baire logo painted on it, and this will be the main logo / design applied to this particular jar series. This brand was a pre-revolution brand which stopped production sometime in the 1920’s Ramon stated, and is a brand that Habanos S.A. doesn’t hold a patent / copyright on. It’s even a logo on some of Ramon’s older jar-box labels: if you look at older packaging boxes for the Partagas-replica jars, that wonderful drawing of the Baire logo is on the label affixed to them. Anyways, Ramon stated that this jar will likely be a cream-white / off-white jar, similar in shape and overall design to the Partagas-replica and similar jars. These will be for a run of 200 jars, if I recall correctly, and will be $150 CUC’s each.
Secondly, and more importantly for some, Ramon will be completing a run of jars in tribute to “La Patrona”. As the above pictures show, there was a framed print of the “La Patrona del Tabaco”, signed by Don Alejandro Robaina, and with a prayer medallion enclosed. As Ramon related to us in translation via Jose, La Patrona is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus, and was originally brought over as a shrine by the Spaniards. When they founded the area in the Vinales valley region of the Pinar del Rio province, and eventually built the cathedral in either the city of Pinar del Rio or the region of Vinales (forgive me, as I can’t 100% remember that particular detail), they built a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and brought over an ornate statue of her and blessed it in 1895 or so. With many tobacco plantations in the area, and the conversion of some Cubans over the previous decades to Christianity / Catholism, the farmers made her their own, re-christening her “La Patrona Del Tabaco”. There is also a shrine to La Patrona at Vegas Robaina, the Robaina’s finca “Cuchillas de Barbacoa”, in San Luis y Martinez, within Pinar del Rio province.
Ramon further elaborated to us that these jars would be probably in a run of only 120 jars, in honour of the 120th anniversary of her christening / arrival to bless the tobacco-rich western areas of Cuba. These jars apparently will be in a nearly identical dimension and curvy shape as the all-black Cueto jars as pictured above, and including some clay in the ceramic that was mined from the Vegas Robaina farm. The finish on the jars will be in a “virgin white” firing, and with the La Patrona artwork on one side (fairly similar to the framed card, and as Ramon’s business card also shows), and the other side will feature a representation of a harvest-time “farmer’s almanac” schedule to the planting/harvesting cycle which was apparently one of the recent ones hand-written by Don Alejandro himself and given to Ramon. These jars will be $150 CUC’s each as well, and when we were visiting, he was already pre-sold into jar number 66 or 67 out of the allotted 120-jar production run.
He did state to us that he was hoping that these two new jar productions would start to be ready for the 2015 Festival Habanos, happening later on this month (yes, I was originally wanting to do this blog entry back in December, but unfortunately I was sidetracked). He did say it was likely that the entire runs would not be done, but that he’d have the first few of each started, and would hope that at the very least, he’d have a prototype version of each design at the ready, so that Festival Habanos participants would be able to see it in the flesh. Fingers crossed for him for that.
Overall, it was a nice little visit. It was nice to also see the polished-copper Stinky ashtray that the various Canadian trip members (including myself, though I had to bow out last minute) signed and gifted to Ramon as thanks for helping with our special jar run in 2013. I noticed it sitting in his main room, with placement up on his fridge, ready for use with cigar-lovers visiting his business. He even gifted John and I with some of his private stock of custom cigars, which were nice but definitely moist and fresh (it was some very humid weather in Havana that week), and it was a nice visit overall. We even got to see one of the H. Upmann tree-trunk humidors that is a part of his personal collection, and I was able to pick up a wanted jar for another good friend.
The lone sour point was that the pricing has gone up on these jars, with the Partagas replicas originally $60 CUCs and now 100, and similarly with these new jars commanding $150 CUCs. But, he is running a business, and so be it – certain basic costs have definitely gone up recently, and even with that, he can only charge what people are willing to pay. I personally don’t disparage him that, as long as the quality is there (there have been issues in the past with a few jars here and there, which he has corrected for the most part, to the best of my knowledge). Those interested in ordering any jars from Ramon can contact him via his Facebook page, or via his e-mail (listed on the business card in the photos above).
But all in all, it was an interesting visit. It was capped off nicely by me being able to see my entry in the production-book pages for my custom jar, previously signed-for and picked up by a kind fellow-Canadian-traveller. An order was made for some of the La Patrona jars as well – obviously, this schmuck is willing to pay, LOL. I’m appreciative for him to allow us entry into his respectable little shop, and also grateful to Jose for him organizing it and hosting us to the studio, as well as in utilizing his translating skills (as my Spanish is nowhere good enough!)
So, fingers crossed that I’ll be able to see the finished products later on this month with these new jars. When and if I do, I’ll be sure to share the pictures and further details here.