Imperiali Genève unveils the Emperador cigar chest – A marriage of cutting-edge technology, mechanics and 100% Swiss savoir-faire.
It’s taken thousands of hours of work, several international patents, 2,675 high-quality components, complex mechanics and the introduction of state-of-the-art technology to make the extraordinary Emperador cigar chest. The chest is much more than a luxury product; it is an experience for all five senses and available to all but a privileged few, as only twelve numbered pieces will be produced each year. For that extra special added touch of luxury, the Emperador features a tourbillon, this utterly unique object marries the age-old art of Swiss watchmaking with the skills of the best experts from 27 different trades.
Behind the Emperador, the most prestigious cigar chest in the world, there are two men, two old friends – David Pasciuto and Stéphane Nazzal, the founders of Imperiali Genève. Their philosophy: to innovate, enrich and amaze by bringing to life objects imagined in their wildest dreams, to conceive the inconceivable, to achieve the unachievable…
Diligence and boldness were required to envisage such a project, combined with a touch of folly. To design this exceptional chest measuring 70 cm long, 45 cm wide and 30 cm high, David Pasciuto and Stéphane Nazzal surrounded themselves with the very best – the best engineers, the best craftsmen and the best manufacturers in French-speaking Switzerland, with the aim of creating a perfect marriage of precision mechanics, exceptional materials, fine watchmaking and state-of-the-art electronics.
For the production of this unparalleled object, they brought together the exceptional skills of 27 different trades, all essential in order to assemble its 2,675 components. This dream team was masterfully managed by the two founders of Imperiali Genève with the assistance of a dozen engineers and designers. All of these contributors worked in partnership for over two years to develop the chest and its three accessories: a cigar cutter, a table lighter and an ashtray. Every stage required painstaking attention to detail and deep reflection. An original solution had to be devised for every feature and the design was reworked and improved almost continually.
“No one can achieve the impossible,” goes the expression. Yet all those who participated in the development of this project have proved the saying wrong.
Beauty enhanced by state-of-the-art technology
The watchword throughout the development of the Emperador was ‘interdisciplinarity’. This approach proved essential in surmounting the challenges that arose, be they in terms of heat exchange, temperature regulation between the outside of the cigar chest and the section housing the cigars, selecting the various materials and insulators, integrating the electronics undetectably into the mechanics, the original design of the accessories, or indeed the pure watchmaking section, which showcases an original tourbillon watch. All this without forgetting an essential characteristic, without which the magic would not have operated: the notion of pleasure. From the feasibility study to the final product, everyone displayed unwavering faith, and each invested not just their skill in the project, but their heart and soul.
Regulating temperature and humidity: a seemingly impossible challenge
Like a luxurious safe, the heart of the chest conceals two secure, climate-controlled compartments reserved for the 24 cigars each wrapped in four leaves of fine gold, protected by glass tubes and placed in a radial arrangement. Achieving the ideal storage conditions is a complex technical matter. To do so, the temperature and humidity levels must be controllable. The recommended values for the two variables are 70% humidity, and a temperature of 16 to 18°C, but these values can be modified according to the needs and wishes of the consumer. How can this be achieved in such a small space, and given the potential variations in external temperature? To meet these requirements, the designers of the Emperador chose to use a very special type of cell: thermoelectric cooling cells. These are small modules that create heat displacement upon receiving an electrical current. This causes a temperature increase on one side, and cooling, with the formation of liquid condensation, on the other. Two of these modules were installed: one to humidify the cigar compartments, the other to control the temperature. The whole system is regulated by an intelligent combination of three air flows designed to ensure the passive cooling of the entire unit. Also of note is the presence of a condenser within the same compartment, in the form of a small vertical tube which allows the humidity level to be reduced if required.
But that is not all. In order for the entire device to function satisfactorily, even in the toughest atmospheric conditions, thought had to be given to its insulation. After numerous tests, the Imperiali team finally selected the solution of a compartment machined from solid aluminium.
Ensuring the system operates correctly requires a brain – more specifically an electronic unit. First and foremost, the firmware enables the condenser and its thermoelectric cell to be controlled in order to reach the desired dew point. The regulation system controls the radiators and the cells by measuring the temperature and humidity of each cigar compartment once per minute. In short, it gives orders to all the functional components. Finally, three dials fitted with hands enable the owner to check the key parameters: the temperature and humidity of the compartments (two hands on one dial), the remaining supply of cigars in each compartment (two hands on one dial) and the battery power reserve (one hand on one dial). None of these operations requires human intervention – the Emperador is able to manage them by itself.
The watch: an exceptional flying tourbillon
The Emperador is a cigar chest above all else, made complete with a number of equally luxurious accessories. Yet it conceals many other wonders, as the chest also contains exceptional horological riches. At its centre, the locking mechanism houses a 100% Swiss-made watch integrating a grande complication: a manually wound tourbillon entirely custom-designed and developed by a Manufacture in the Franches-Montagnes district. Its movement operates at 21,600 vib/h and offers a guaranteed power reserve of 80 hours. The tourbillon carriage makes one rotation per minute, in accordance with tradition, while the hours and minutes are indicated by two central hands. As befits such a creation, the watch was entirely hand-produced by a master watchmaker in the Swiss Jura and its finishes and embellishments meet the most stringent requirements of fine watchmaking, illustrated by the black lacquered dial with its delicate ‘Clous de Paris’ guilloché decoration.
As everything within the chest is entirely unprecedented, the watch too presents several original features, relating in particular to its winding system. Since it is located at the heart of an object that remains immobile most of the time, the tourbillon could not be fitted with an automatic calibre – hence the choice of a manually-wound movement. But how then could the Emperador’s designers ensure that the movement never stops, even when, for example, its owner is absent for a long period of time? Their ingenious answer lay in replacing the action of the human hand with a clever system that operates the crown. Another interesting detail is that the watch’s winding stem is not external, but rather positioned underneath the chest, integrated into a reduction stage in contact with the aforementioned device. The electronically-driven system is programmed to limit the torque that can be applied to the winding mechanism. It is activated regularly to guarantee a sufficient power reserve at all times.
The choice of materials: from aerogel to rhodium
As has been already established, every aspect of the Emperador’s design and production is original. A solution had to be found and existing materials adapted for every part of the chest. These materials are both numerous and varied: glass, Alucobond®, Alucore® with laser-welded inserts, composite fibers, aged aluminium alloy, high-resistance aluminium-zinc-copper alloy, expanded polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, Flexathene®, antibacterial and antifungal materials, not forgetting aerogel. This last material is used in particular by NASA to protect spacesuits and Mars rovers. But this list is not exhaustive, and does not include the surface treatments on all the metallic elements: anodising, plating with gold, nickel-palladium and rhodium, polishing and mechanical engraving with black lacquer.
Given the complexity of the object, the constraints proved challenging at every stage. Taking the example of the lock, the positioning of each part had to be ensured with extreme accuracy, taking into account the extra thickness added by the surface treatment. In other words, the components were machined smaller so they would reach the desired size once they had been plated with gold or nickel-palladium – an adjustment accurate to one thousandth of a millimetre. Another example concerns the design of the Emperador’s cover. The main concern was that its structure had to be both very rigid and particularly light, in order to reduce the burden on the motor
that opens and closes the chest. This constraint was remedied by using plates made of Alucore®, a composite material comprised of an aluminium honeycomb structure sandwiched between two thin sheets of metal. All this is bonded together, in a procedure commonly used in the aerospace industry, particularly in the production of flooring.
The final example concerns the insulation of the cigar compartments. So that this part of the chest could operate faultlessly in external temperatures above 28°C, the team had to find a more efficient material than the foam initially chosen for the prototype. Finally, they opted for aerogel, a material with exceptional insulating properties, used by NASA to protect Mars rovers from extreme heat. Its only flaw is that it is relatively rigid and very volatile, meaning that it cannot be used in the production of complex 3D shapes.
Mechatronics: the perfect partnership
Luxurious and refined down to the tiniest detail, the Emperador conceals a number of secrets. In the folds of its fine black and gold exterior, the chest cultivates an air of mystery. While the main mechanical elements, such as the lock and the tourbillon watch, are visible, no electric or electronic components can be detected. The same applies to the sensors, which are all hidden under touch buttons. All the subassemblies that comprise it are subtly integrated to achieve a coherent overall design.
First of all, the structure and mechanics: the chest is comprised of a load-bearing metal frame capable of incorporating all the other elements and bearing all the strain generated by the moving parts. Within this frame, another structure made of aluminium houses the drawer and its moving mechanism, the cigar compartments and the mechanism that opens the cover. During the production process, these various elements are assembled before positioning the chassis made of a composite material (fibre and copper alloy). The original idea of using precious wood was abandoned along the way due to its high sensitivity to the effects of temperature and humidity. Any warping could have caused detrimental expansion in the most sensitive parts of the chest.
The construction of the three-dimensional puzzle can now continue with the successive installation of the three gauges with hands, the cover, whose casing encloses the electronic control system, and the upper section featuring the touch buttons spelling the company name, ‘Imperiali’. These buttons are connected to the electronic module; to open the chest, the owner must enter the rest of his code by touching each of the letters, which are also numbered from 1 to 9. Finally, the lock and the watch are placed on majestic display on the top of the chest. At the same time, the LEDs illuminating the lock and the thermoelectric module are connected to the printed circuit of the cigar section.
This harmonious marriage of mechanics and electronics would not have been possible without the assistance of microprocessors. The chest features 33 of them, 21 of which control the motors. Their data can be modified at any time using the reprogramming stick given to each chest owner. This stick takes the form of an elegant Gold-plated tube incorporating a printed circuit, a 3.5 mm jack, a cap and an activation button. It is connected underneath the chest, on the front right-hand side, next to the main switch and the diagnostic port. All of these slots are invisible when the object is standing on its base, so that absolutely nothing can impinge on its aesthetics.
The Emperador is woken gently by brushing a finger over one of the touch buttons on the cover. First of all, this illuminates the LCD display incorporated into the cover, which is invisible when the device is sleeping. To proceed further, the user must then unlock the opening process by entering his secret code, still using the golden touch buttons. If the correct sequence is entered, this is confirmed by a flashing light on the display. The process continues with the movement of the lock and the opening of the cover. Yet more treasures are concealed within the heart of the Emperador: three accessories designed and developed with the same attention to detail as the chest itself, combining mechanical elements and electronic management: a cigar cutter, a table lighter and an ashtray.
The cigar cutter: the client’s choice
Of the three accessories, the cigar cutter is the most technically complex. And rightly so, as it offers two operations: either it cuts the cigar using a guillotine mechanism, or it perforates it like a cigar punch – regardless of the size or diameter of the cigar. Three sizes of punch are available: 6, 10 or 14 millimetres. The clippings are ejected by a rotating cylinder. The mode is chosen using a small mechanical slider situated on the right-hand side of the central window. These two operations nevertheless require six different movements. The first is also the simplest: manually opening the side hatch so the cigar can be inserted. This action also triggers the system’s electronics. The second movement concerns the clamping of the cigar, to ensure it is held in the correct position without damaging the cigar or its wrap. Next is another delicate operation: the selection of guillotine or punch. The first mode is indicated by a white light, while a laser beam marks the length of the cut. The second mode is indicated by red LED lighting. Naturally, the small motors dedicated to each of the operations are controlled electronically. It is simplicity itself for the user, since all the stages can be managed using the golden touch pad, from capturing the pre-selected cigar to validating and executing the cutting or punching, and waking the accessory when it has not been used for a few minutes.
Like a mechanical watch, the intricate dance of the moving parts of the cigar cutter provides a fascinating spectacle that can be viewed through a window on the upper side of the object. All that remains is to remove the residue from the cutting process, which falls into a small tray that is extracted via a hatch located underneath the case. This same opening provides access to the blades for maintenance work.
The table lighter: the quest for the perfect flame
The second accessory is the table lighter. All cigar smokers will tell you that the lighting of the cigar constitutes a real ritual – one that is all the more significant and precise as it determines the quality of the smoking experience. Too short and it will prevent the cigar from releasing its full range of flavours; too intense and it will burn the leaves too quickly and kill the aromas – hence the need for a lighter with the perfect flame. This is the challenge that the designers of the object set themselves. But how does it work? To ignite the lighter, simply push up the slider, located to the right of the crown. In technical terms, it is lit by an electric motor which opens the gas valve and a spark which is produced above the three torch nozzles. To add a touch of soul, a second motor makes the ring revolve, displaying a rotating opening mechanism.
Particular attention was paid to the production of the stainless-steel gas reservoir, which takes up as much space as possible within the chest. This also includes a number of mechanical systems, such as the filling valve, and the nozzle supply and flow control valves. The volume of the reservoir is 25 ml – large enough to fuel an average flame for several dozen minutes.
Finally, the table lighter incorporates an optoelectronic measurement system enabling the level of the remaining gas supply to be displayed in addition to the battery level status of the other accessories. For lovers of technical details, the sensor operates using an infrared transceiver coupled with a special optic, enabling the level of liquefied gas to be detected due to the effect of refraction.
The ashtray: an intelligent response
Like its companions, the ashtray, the third and final accessory, is presented in a luxurious gilded and black lacquered case. This device also exudes its share of magic, as its diaphragm opening is motorised and illuminated by hidden LEDs. Better still, it is fitted with proximity sensors to detect cigars. These invisible sensors are incorporated into the heart of the mechanics and positioned around the diaphragm. Simply hold a cigar near the device and the mechanism will activate, opening the case, ready to collect the ash. This is what happens when a cigar moves towards the ashtray, but what if a single speck of ash lands on the sensor? The answer: the ashtray does not open, as the detection strategy was designed in order to prevent such inconveniences.
When the ash enters the ashtray, it falls into a removable reservoir held in place by a bayonet mechanism. This reservoir can be removed through the bottom of the chest. But how is the ashtray’s opening diaphragm operated? By a highly responsive mechanism whose activation commands admiration. Here once again, the precision and the aesthetics of the device demanded particular attention. This explains why the central crown is driven by the motor on its outer diameter, enabling all the vanes of the diaphragm to move at the same time.
The Emperador cigar is a premium product whose manufacture leaves nothing to chance. After 48 months of ageing, the leaves are carefully processed with the utmost respect to create an exceptional Grand Cru.
Imperiali Genève Emperador – How and where
Place Longemalle 19
Tel: +41 22 311 22 33