When i first got the invitation to attend the dinner several weeks ago, i was very impressed by the magnitude of the event. A Royal auction is not something that happens every day, and the fact that all proceeds were going to the education of underprivileged children made the even all the more special. Looking at the price for attendance made me sigh in disappointment – RM1,000 per head was beyond what i could afford.

But suddenly, a few days ago, i was informed that i may have a chance to attend as Naresh’s guest; when i received the call late yesterday afternoon confirming this invitation, i was overjoyed. I promised myself that my attendance would not be in vain, and i would share the experience with cigar lovers everywhere when i returned.

In short, the event, the dinner, the auction – it was an outstanding, unprecedented success.

Upon arrival, fruit cocktail in hand, i rubbed shoulders with captains of industry, and fortunately found myself with Mr Dag Holmboe, the CEO of Pacific Cigar Company, the sole distributor of Habanos in the Asia Pacific region. In the brief few minutes i had with him, we chatted about cigars and about how he got into the business. Like me, he used to work for an oil company, Castrol, selling lubricants in Cuba. Eventually, his passion for cigars became his job.

Next, i surveyed the humidors to be auctioned. Each were works of art, collector’s items of unique value, proudly entrusted with the Royal crest of Negri Sembilan. Famed humidor makers Michel Perrenoud of Switzerland and Humid’oc of France provided the humidors which were each filled by specially commissioned cigars from the most prestigious brands in the industry. The cigars from Hoyo de Monterrey, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Partagas, Cohiba and, the extra-special, Trinidad, were individually banded with the royal crest of Negri Sembilan, the first time this has ever been done in recent memory. In fact, the last time such cigars have been banded by the royal crest of any royal family in the world was in the 19th Century.

If that wasn’t enough to make this collection of cigars unique, its also important to note that some of the rarest cigars in the world were among those on auction. The almost-impossible-to-find Romeo y Julieta Exhibition No. 2, and the not-commercially-available Trinidad Robusto Especial were jewels that i’ll probably not lay eyes on again for years, if ever. Since most of the 400 plus attendees last night would not be able to sample the cigars on auction, small boxes of cigars were also being sold for RM500. These boxes, specially commissioned and designed by Naresh’s wife, held 5 sticks of a limited edition banded Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1. Normally, these cigars are sold unbanded in cedar cabinets, so these cigars are unique in their presentation. I managed to sample one stick; the organizers were gracious enough to give each attendee a single cigar. It was magnificent, and it brought back memories of my first Epicure No. 2.

The event kicked off in ernest with the arrival of DYMM Tuanku Ja’afar, the patron of the event and person after whom the Tuanku Ja’afar Education Fund is named. Usually, speeches can be a boring affair, but the speeches delivered that night by Naresh, first, and followed by YAM Tunku Naquiyuddin, were witty, funny and informative. Upon conclusion of these speeches, the MC, Raymond Goh, invited us to feast on a wonderful dinner, prepared by the Executive Chef of Shang-ri La, Glen Ballis.

It started with a refreshing concotion of shrimp, followed by a spicy, thick soup with hints of curry. By the time the main course arrived, my tastebuds were tantalized – stuffed chicken breast with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and potatoe. Dessert was a creative fusion of choccolate, banana cream brulee and fruity ice cream.

By the time dessert was served, the auction was underway. The 6th lot, a Corus watch donated by the joint organizers, The Hour Glass, fetched a princely RM16,000. But that proved to be warm-up for things to come. The humidors were up next.

Lot 5, a Michel Perrenoud pyramid humidor, was filled to the brim with 150 sticks of the finest assortment of Cuban brands. It went for RM35,000.

Lot 4, a Michel Perrenoud, housed 150 sticks of one of Cuba’s most celebrated brands, Romeo y Julieta. Packed in assorted vitolas, including the limited edition Hermosos No. 1, this lot went for RM60,000.

Lot 3, a Michel Perrenoud, was something truly special to behold. It held 150 of the finest cigars Cuba had to offer, the Trinidad brand. These are the cigars that replaced Cohiba as the diplomatic gift of choice, reserved for heads of state and dignititaries of the highest order; these are the cigars that Dr Fidel Castro gives out when he presents cigar gifts to his guests. It is a mark of its quality and limited distribution that the Trinidad brand was made commercial available only 5 years ago. What made this selection unique was that it included a vitola that can’t be bought in any store any where in the world: the Robusto Especial. This humidor wasa steal last night for RM70,000.

Lot 2, by Humid’oc of France – the Rolls-Royce of cigar humidors, held 300 cigars of one of Cuba’s most venerable brands: Hoyo de Monterrey. Prized by aficianados for its thick, creamy body, the Hoyo brand is truly unique in its class – while Cohiba and Montecristo are renowned for typical Cuban-esque spicy forte, the Hoyo never fails to provide a smooth smoke. This humidor went for RM115,000 after some incredibly heated bidding between two bidders who seemed hell bent on winning the prize.

Lot 1, by Humid’oc of France, was the piece de resistance for the night. A grand, multi-drawered humidor with an electronic humidifier housing 500 of Cuba’s most significant and prestigious brand of cigars: Cohiba. From a slow start, more frantic bidding ensued, quickly pushing the price of this humidor beyond the RM100k mark. Eventually, it went to the gentleman who had lost out on Lot 2 – he was not about to be outbid once again for such a prize. This humidor was sold for a remarkable RM130,000.

After the applause died down when the last humidor was sold, my heartbeat began to slow too – i don’t think i’ve ever witnessed a greater display of wealth and buying power in one place in such a short span of time. For the night, from the sales of the seats in the hall, to the special donations from the sponsors of the event, and the humidors sold, the event raised RM782,000 for charity.

Who said smoking was bad for your health – a community of cigar lovers got together last night and raised a truly significant sum of money that will go a long way in developing the young minds of this country.