• Conversation with Neil Jagger

    The double edge safety razor (DE) has come far from King Camp Gillette’s days, serving in three wars, as well as shaving millions of civilians. Yet the changes in the DE have been mostly functional and cosmetic, but the principle idea remains the same. The distance between the 1904 Gillette and the current crop of DE razors is about that of yesterday’s shave and today’s. The old Gillettes are still preferred by some shavers. Then again, who can resist the gorgeous Edwin Jagger DE razors? I haven’t been able to. I have several models and am currently considering several more. You can never have too much of a good thing, is what I say. These days every time I shave with an Edwin Jagger DE, which is often, I send silent thanks to Neil Jagger, who founded the company in Sheffield, England, in 1988, and designed and produced this marvelous razor.

    Obie: You named the company in honor of your grandfather. Did you have a special relationship with him, a particularly special bond?

    Neil: No, regrettably I was not fortunate enough to meet my grandfather. He died before my father married. As I was christened Neil Ernst Edwin Jagger, both middle names from my grandfathers, I felt that naming my business after Edwin Jagger was a natural decision, referencing and crediting our family generation before me.

    Obie: When you started the company, shaving with the double edge safety razor was not exactly booming. It was almost on its last breath as the plastic cartridge razor flooded the world. What prompted you to create the Edwin Jagger DE?

    Neil: By 1997, the Edwin Jagger Company was already supplying two razor blade options. In those days it was the Gillette® Sensor® alongside with the Gillette® Sensor® Excel and followed by the New Gillette Mach 3. It wasn’t until 1999 that the DE safety razor head option became the focus of our attention for two reasons: I wanted to offer traditional wet shaving blade options that were mentioned in the Sheffield manufacturing heritage records. I also was made aware of the fact that the price of razor blades could determine the popularity of some razors.

    Obie: Did you feel it was an uphill battle or did you shrug the challenge and kept your focus and determination?

    Neil: When you believe so strongly in something you have created, you don’t immediately identify “a struggle and hard work” as the “uphill” battle. But, yes, looking back, I suppose it was tough. I found it really quite difficult to identify stock lists, or who would readily buy and sell what was perceived to be the “out-of-date” razor blade system. We heard everything from “people don’t really use those razors any more do they?” to “I didn’t know anyone still made those old fashioned things.” It was probably a mixture of personal determination and my stubbornness to keep illustrating the DE razors in our brochures that kept the DE blade option alive for Edwin Jagger.

    Obie: Did you have a clear view of the type of double edge you wanted to create?

    Neil: No, not really. At first it was just a case of going with what everyone else was using — Merkur heads.

    Obie: Obviously the razor had to be a good shaver. And look good. What were some of the more subtle requirements for this razor?

    Neil: I liked the idea of having a product that reflected craftsmanship, even though many of its component parts would have to be machine made. Clean straight lines coupled with good old-fashioned simplicity would help to create an impression of real class, hopefully without being too showy-offy. Chrome plating was an absolute must, but as Edwin Jagger had never been involved in the manufacture and selling of nickel plated items until 2003, that was relatively straight forward. I also wanted the design to have longevity. Easy cleaning was always in mind.

    Obie: How long did research and development take?

    Neil: I suppose I could be accused of thinking too long and hard about a design before committing it to paper or a CAD program. To me, it’s never too long. I couldn’t even begin to guess how long it takes me to research and design a product. Sometimes it may take years, or the shape and the design might just flow through the pencil onto the paper in minutes without any second thoughts. When it feels right, it just seems to happen. The connections between shapes, components and everything that contributes to a pleasing design to my eye simply fall into place.

    Obie: What were some of your trials and errors, if any?

    Neil: Actually, I’ve never really suffered the anxiety and disappointment that seems to go hand in hand with trial or error. I play around with a design in my head until I think it will work and it is ready to commit to paper. The first step is the sketch, usually converted into a line drawing during the same session of scribbling. I am very lucky. Most times I can see and feel in 3D as I complete my pencil drawings, even though my first illustration is just a simple line illustration.

    Obie: Did you pattern the Edwin Jagger razor after a specific vintage model?

    Neil: Yes, I was very taken with the old King Camp Gillette safety razors, particularly the length of the handle and the fact that they were relatively simple designs, yet sturdy and somehow elegant. I used to ask local antique and bric-a–brac shops to save me old DE safety razors they bought at auctions. There were plenty of Gillette® design products on the second hand market in those days.

    Obie: What was your first Edwin Jagger razor ready for the market?

    Neil: An Edwin Jagger premium handmade razor — “Chatsworth” design. It was my first design that incorporated line and form, that elegant curve. I first produced it with a Gillette Sensor blade system before introducing the Mach 3 and finally the DE option.

    Obie: What determined that the razor was ready?

    Neil: Me. I just made the first one from hand turned or lathe machined metal components, then assembled it and took it straight home for testing. If I loved it, it was ready. I don’t actually remember ever having to go back to the drawing board and starting again. I think that must have been luck as much as anything.

    Obie: Did you produce the entire razor or did you assemble the parts created for you by other manufacturers? When I became acquainted with the Edwin Jagger razors, the German Merkur made the shave head. You confirmed that for me earlier that it was the Merkur shave head.

    Neil: In the early days, I didn’t have machine workshops, so I would visit the Sheffield University engineering workshops that were full of the latest machine lathes and milling machines. In the early days, contract machinists were unwilling to set aside time and resources to machine prototypes, so I did as much as I could myself. The DE head I selected and enjoyed using was the Merkur head, mainly because it was of design and construction that appeared to be strong and reliable. Plus it was German engineered.

    Obie: The story going around is that the German Muhle makes the Edwin Jagger razor shave head. Is this correct or is it just falacy?

    Neil: Actually we hear this a lot. This is not correct at all. It was Andreas Muller — new to the Muhle Company at the time — and myself who teamed up to search for potential contract manufacturers before we started to design a two-part head that suited both company’s needs. It was a very exciting time as we exchanged numerous sketches and CAD drawings with alteration after alteration. Ultimately my determination to keep improving the underside of the DE base plate — clean and uncluttered — allowed us to agree on a new design that was really quite different from anything else we had seen already on the market. Once we had approved the drawings we both committed to prototyping costs and shared the complicated tooling costs, which were at that time considerable.

    Obie: This then, once and for all, erases the currently held belief that Muhle designs and produces the Edwin Jagger shave head.

    Neil: Having actively been involved in the design, trialing and final prototyping, just like Andreas, I view the DE head as part Edwin Jagger design. We do not rely on Muhle for supplies to fulfill our growing sales. Our components come direct from our tools and we determine availability, our own production runs and Edwin Jagger quality control.

    Obie: And the Merkur shave head of the early Edwin Jagger days?

    Neil: Merkur has never been involved in any part of the Edwin Jagger DE razor head design process or requirements. Originally we simply bought what Merkur had to offer, a sort of off-the-shelf agreement. Now Edwin Jagger has designed its own DE two-part head systems and owns its own tools, producing exclusively manufactured components to our exacting specifications. Edwin Jagger no longer uses any other DE head.

    Obie: How do you test the shaving capability of an Edwin Jagger razor?

    Neil: I always test my own new design razors, testing in the morning, evening, after a couple of days rest, always on myself and as often as I can. To me this is the only way I can test my razors. The first tests of the new DE razors were a little nerve wrecking. I enjoy a close shave, but with a DE head system I had never seen or handled before, I was quite apprehensive.

    Obie: At one point did you stop experimenting with the razor and gave it a nod?

    Neil: I think we got it right the third time round. I remember the final adjustments were more cosmetic than anything. I wanted the underside of the plate to be smooth and easy to clean, without those protruding locating pins.

    Obie: The workmanship on the Edwin Jagger is exquisite. Can you share the general process and the materials you use in creating these beautiful razors?

    Neil: My career background was in the design and manufacture of Sheffield silver cutlery, dinner services, candelabra and all those old fashioned pieces of silver that adorned the tables of the wealthy royal families, rich and sometimes famous. So my early years of learning were spent engrossed in the wonderful world of handmade silverware, working with apprenticeship trained craftsmen who specialized in skills dating back hundreds of years. I couldn’t have imagined how exciting I found it to watch and sometimes roll my sleeves up and work with silversmiths, buffers, polishers, saw piercers, engravers, all amazingly skilled in their use of artisan hand production techniques still used to manufacture totally hand made products.

    Obie: For my part, I can’t imagine a better start than you had. It obviously shows in the stunning Edwin Jagger razors.

    Neil: After leaving school, the silver industry shrouded me in the world of precious and semi-precious metals. Only ever worked with sterling silver, sometimes gold and nickel silver, an alloy, perfect for silver plating. Even today their properties, ideally suited to hand production, mirror polishing and electroplating coatings, still influence the materials I select for the Edwin Jagger range. High-grade brass, very similar to nickel silver, is perfect for precision machining, hand polishing and ultimately chrome or nickel plating.

    Obie: Might there have been other influences to enrich the Edwin Jagger designs and production?

    Neil: I also discovered dense polyester materials during a brief departure from metal design and production to the world of buttons, beautiful mother of pearls, woods that resisted water and polyester materials that could be sourced in any thickness, color and diameter, all of which we love to work with in the Edwin Jagger factory today.

    Obie: What determines the style of the razor you create? Say the “Chatsworth” series, the Bulbous, the new barley. Is there extensive market research? How do you do it?

    Neil: We are always looking around us and taking in shape, line and form. Consciously or sub-consciously, we log what we like and discard or forget the rest. I love architecture, modern and classic design and those ridiculously complicated — fussily ornate — decorated works of art. It could be a car, a piece of furniture, elegant pens, amazingly detailed watches, buildings that take your breath away, sleek trains, sculptures — they all get you thinking. These are my sources of inspiration.

    Obie: The English composer Sir Edward Elgar said, “There’s music in the air, music all around us. The world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.” I would imagine your creative world parallels Sir Edward’s.

    Neil: Anything that catches my eye is studied, dissected, absorbed and — who knows? — ultimately reconstructed into a razor or a shaving brush. Today I still sketch in my old A4 hard covered sketch book purchased in August 1988. Actually, that might be wrong. I think it was one of my Dad’s old unused schoolbooks. I don’t remember paying for it. I am really very lucky. I simply draw a line, draw an improved version next to it and then another and then one that is thicker, stronger and bold enough to highlight the line, form and shape I am looking for. I just draw what I see and refine it until I can offer it up for CAD programming. It may be a little selfish, but I draw what I like and design what I want to own.

    Obie: I don’t think I have ever seen an Edwin Jagger open comb. Muhle’s new open comb is hit or miss with shavers. Some like it and some fear it. You have never gone the route of the open comb, at least to my knowledge. Why is that?

    Neil: The Muhle open comb razor is a great razor, but as you suggest, it’s not for everyone. I have tried a couple of open comb razors and didn’t enjoy the shaving process. While I love the Muhle design, I would have to admit it doesn’t offer me what I am looking for. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s too aggressive. It’s just not for me. Over the last year or so I have had a few ideas that I am thinking over, which may culminate in an EJ open comb razor — something a little more versatile. For now, I play around with the designs in my head, pigeon-hole them away and then revisit them when I am either in the mood or, more importantly, a little more confident to push forward a design that I would like to use.

    Obie: With the recent models, you have gone to heavier shave heads. What compelled you to make this revision in design? I must admit I love this slightly heavier shave head.

    Neil: Balance coupled with weight is very important. Confident manipulation of your tool of the trade is always going to improve your wet shaving technique. Personally I think something heavier evokes the sensations of solid, robust, strong and confident. I like the weight of Edwin Jagger DE razors balanced slightly towards the head. It’s a bit like using a fine quality sterling silver dinner knife. A lot of the weight is in the stainless steel blade, improving its cutting ability.

    Obie: I have read countless comments on various shaving forums that acclaim the Edwin Jagger razor. I don’t think I have ever read a negative comment on these razors. I can’t say enough about how much I love these Edwin Jagger razors. You must be pleased with your creation.

    Neil: Thank you. Yes, I am pleased, but at first I was a little surprised. Postings on forums and websites came thick and fast and we weren’t quite sure what to make of all the generous comments. It’s good to get feedback, complimentary or not, and I do read most comments. Having read comments on the forums, I know and appreciate I am not an expert with the only opinion. I have learned to listen to others and take on board their comments and try to blend them with new shape and design ideas and my favorite lines and form.

    Obie: Yet, do you still look for the Holy Grail of double edge razors?

    Neil: Well, I don’t ever stop thinking about design and that extra special shape found within Edwin Jagger products. I very much enjoy what I do and really do appreciate the love and support of my family around me, as well as the fantastic team at the Edwin Jagger factory. It’s these people who afford me the luxury of time to search for my next idea. I’m not sure it’s going to be a Holy Grail, but if my friends and family catch me daydreaming, or worse still, not paying attention, they know where my mind is going.

    Obie: Is one of the Edwin Jagger razors particularly dear to your heart? Your baby, so to speak?

    Neil: Yes, “Chatsworth.” I love the flowing curves and the deceptive weight versus balance. I have two or three of them in my bathroom at home.

    Obie: How did you arrive at the name “Chatsworth”?

    Neil: I took the name from one of the most beautiful stately homes in England, close to Sheffield. Chatsworth House is the home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and is a place I have visited often. It’s crammed full of art, sculpture and furniture — and silverware — and surrounded by the most beautiful landscape and gardens.

    Obie: So then where does the Edwin Jagger safety razor go from here?

    Neil: Hmmm. I think I know what I would like to do next, but reinventing the wheel isn’t that easy and I am not qualified to do that. But I have ideas in my mind that will probably come out later this year. If I told you what I was thinking and what I am currently planning, that would be a first. I don’t discuss with anyone what I want to do next. When it happens, I hope it will be good. There is, however, one thing I can be sure of. The next Edwin Jagger DE razor we produce will be one I would love to own and use myself.

    Obie: May we expect any new models and designs?

    Neil: Oh yes. I don’t stop thinking about what I can draw next.

    Obie: How much of a growth do you see in the use of the double edge safety razor?

    Neil: The Edwin Jagger factory is a very proactive creator and manufacturer of new product. At the same time we are always looking for ways to grow, expand our international sales and increase production. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable of me to expect the sales of Edwin Jagger DE safety razors to grow. Hopefully wet shavers rediscover the luxury of a very close shave, using Edwin Jagger DE razors without the blade expense, as well as enjoying the design of the products we have to offer.

    Obie: Is there fair competition for the double edge from the plastic cartridge razor?

    Neil: Yes, I think so. We shouldn’t forget there are those who look for aspects of wet shaving that pay due consideration to very safe shaving, convenience and time limitations.

    Obie: If you were to try to convince the uninitiated of the gentleman’s way of wet shaving with the double edge razor, what would you say?

    Neil: You have to try it. If only once. Take your time, relax and regard it as a refined luxury. To be enjoyed every so often, at first. Maybe it isn’t so important to treat DE wet shaving as a replacement to cartridge blades. I would certainly suggest to the uninitiated that using a quality shaving brush and cream or soap is most important. I may suggest that Edwin Jagger shaving brushes, creams and soaps are worthy considerations.
    Hawkeye5, Joed, Batmang and 16 others like this.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. metalfab's Avatar
      metalfab -
      You're a great salesman Obie after reading the interview I of course had to buy one LOL. That razor is the best shaving most comfortable DE I own and I own 6. Then I had to buy another one just to prove to myself that they really do shave that well.
    1. certifiedbodyman's Avatar
      certifiedbodyman -
      makes me want to buy one...and I shave mostly with a straight razor...lol...great article
    1. lradke's Avatar
      lradke -
      WOW! Obie thank you for posting the interview with Mr. Jagger. Like so many others I was of the understanding that the company used the Muhle head, it is nice to know the real story behind the Jagger head now. I may need to get my hands on one noe to understand how it is different from my Muhle.
    1. Wayne1963's Avatar
      Wayne1963 -
      I love my straights and DE's, but my deserted island razor is my Edwin Jagger DE-89. It has never given an uncomfortable shave for me.