Zino Davidoff (1906–94)

Zino Davidoff established himself as one of Europe’s principal suppliers of cigars, and his name remains one of the most powerful brands in the field of luxury products. He was born to a Jewish family in Novhorod-Siverskyi, which in 1906 was part of the Russian Empire but is now in Ukraine. His father had a tobacco business in Kiev but in 1911 the family migrated to Geneva, where they opened a small tobacco shop.

In 1924 Zino Davidoff travelled in Argentina, Brazil and Cuba, where he spent two years gaining experience of the cigar trade. He returned to Switzerland taking control of the family shop about 1930. He is credited with inventing a desktop humidifier in which cigars could be kept at the same degree of humidity and temperature as in Cuba. His business expanded during the Second World War where, when trade of all kinds was disrupted, he provided one of the few channels through which leaders on both sides of the conflict could obtain quality cigars.

In 1970 the business was taken over by the Max Oettinger company, established in 1875 which had first imported Havana cigars into Europe of Havana cigars, but Zino Davidoff remained as ambassador. The company had been approached in 1968 by the state tobacco monopoly established in Cuba by Fidel Castro’s government, and terms were agreed on which Davidoff imported cigars made at the factory that produced those that Castro himself smoked. For some years this proved a profitable partnership and new lines and brands appeared year by year, but in 1989 the relationship with the monopoly broke down, and Davidoff cigars were thereafter sourced from the Dominican Republic.

The company was acquired by Imperial Tobacco in 2006, and still produces a range of products under the Davidoff brand, including not just cigars but pipes, humidors and male fragrances.