About the only thing to know about cigar bands is that they’re nice to look at. They really have little functional purpose beyond their looks. But they can definitely be handsome, and a good-looking cigar band has sold many a cigar.

There’s some dispute about when cigar bands actually came into being and who invented them (and why), but most credit one manufacturer--a Dutchman named Gustave Brock--who came up with the idea to differentiate his cigars from the others on the market. Once the other makers got a look at what Brock was doing, many of them quickly followed suit.

Today, most cigars--especially premium cigars--sport at least one band, and you’ll find a fair number of them with two bands--typically one near the head, the other at the foot, although some manufacturers place both bands near the head. It can definitely be a classy look--the ornate silver and black bands that dress the head and foot of the Camacho Triple Maduro fall into this category--and a band at the foot can actually serve a functional purpose that the other band does not, as it can provide additional protection to this part of the cigar, which can take some abuse that the other parts aren’t subjected to as much.

Leaving the band on or taking it off is entirely up to personal preference; there is no one “correct” way no matter what anyone might tell you. If part of your smoking experience includes enjoying how a cigar looks and feels, the band probably completes the picture so leave it on as long as you like--you’ll need to take it off eventually as it will interfere with how the cigar burns. If the set-dressing that a band provides doesn’t matter to you, remove away. If there’s a band at the foot of the cigar, you definitely want to take it off before lighting up.

Band removal can be a little tricky; if you wait until after you’ve smoked a little the heat from the cigar will loosen the glue on the band enough so it should come off easily. If it doesn’t, don’t force it--you might tear the wrapper when you do.

Some people like to save their cigar bands, often as a way to remember a new brand or simply because they enjoy the aesthetics of the bands. If you’re keeping a cigar dossier--notes on the cigars you’ve smoked and enjoyed (or not)--having the bands as a visual reference along with your notes makes a lot of sense, and you’ll build a nice record of your smoking pleasure over time.