Traditional cigar shapes, or formats, vary greatly in size from brand to brand, so it’s important to describe cigars by their dimensions -length and diameter – as well as by their shape. In the U.S., the U.K. and Cuba, length is measured in inches and diameter is designated in “ring gauge” – a measurement divided into 64ths of an inch. A cigar with a ring gauge of 42, for example, has a diameter of 42/64ths of an inch. (In other countries, length is given in centimeters and diameter in millimeters.) Fine cigars are not weighed, except for quality control purposes in the factory.
Despite certain myths, there is no correspondence between the size of a cigar and its strength. Large cigars made with mild tobaccos are mellow, while small cigars made with strong-flavored tobaccos are powerful. On top of that, there is no consistency from brand to brand: one company’s Lonsdale is likely to taste very different from another’s.
Coronas have traditionally been the benchmark against which all other cigar formats are measured. They generally have an open “foot” for lighting and a closed, rounded “head” which you cut before smoking.
This short corona is usually only 4 1/2 inches, with a ring gauge of 40 to 42.
The traditional dimensions are 5 1/2 to 6 inches with a ring gauge of 42 to 44.
A large corona format. The traditional dimensions are 7 inches by a 48 ring gauge.
A short Churchill format that is growing in popularity. The traditional size is 5 to 5 1/2 inches by a stocky 50 ring gauge.
This long robusto format could be called a robusto extra, although its popularity preceeds that of robustos. The traditional measurements are 5 5/8 inches by a 46 ring gauge.
The standard dimensions are 7 1/2 to 8 inches by a 49 to 52 ring gauge.
Shaped like a longer, thinner corona, panetelas were more popular in years past than they are today. This format varies in length from 5 to 7 1/2 inches and has a ring gauge of 34 to 38.
A lonsdale if generally thicker than a panetela, but longer than a corona. The classic size is 6 3/4 inches by a 42 to 44 ring gauge.
Although most cigars are straight-sided cylinders with one rounded end, there are a number of traditional cigar formats with more novel shapes – the figurados. Different manufacturers have interpreted these names differently, so you might, for example, find a cigar that fits the description below of a pyramid, but is called a belicoso. There is no perfect consensus, but generally here’s what the figurados look like:
A sharply tapered and closed-headed cigar with a wider open foot. These cigars are between 6 and 7 inches with a ring gauge of around 40 at the head that widens to 52 to 54 at the foot.
Traditionally, a belicoso was a short pyramid, 5 or 5 1/2 inches in length with a shorter, more rounded taper at the head and a ring gauge generally of 50 or less. Today, “belicosos” are frequently coronas or corona gordas with a tapered head.
A torpedo has a closed foot, a pointed head and a bulge in the middle.
Like a torpedo, the perfecto has a closed foot with a bulge in the middle. The difference is that the head is rounded rather than pointed. Perfectos can vary greatly in length, from 4 1/2 to 9 inches, and can have a ring gauge between 38 and 48.
This exotic shape, made up of three panetelas braided together and banded as one cigar, makes it clear why cigars have sometimes been called “ropes”. The three parts are unbraided and smoked separately. They are usually 5 to 6 inches in length, most often with a 38 ring gauge. Culebras are relatively rare these days. If you acquire one, you might consider finding two other cigar aficionados and turning the smoking of your culebra into an occasion!
A big cigar – 8 inches or longer. The head is closed and tapered, with a ring gauge of 40 while the foot, which can be open, or closed like a perfecto, is a hefty 52 ring gauge, or larger.