When it comes to razors, the sky’s the limit for quality these days. You no longer need to settle for the lame plastic disposable option. You can subscribe to a blade service or go the Sweeney Todd route with a dramatic straight razor. Then again, you can treat yourself to a fine double-edge safety razor. If you want to go all-out on that route, two of the finest products on the market are the Merkur 34c and the Edwin Jagger De89.
Without a doubt, both these models are best in class, with unparalleled craftsmanship. If you’re looking to enter the world of chrome-plated safety razors, either one will work. Still, in a matchup of Merkur 34c vs Edwin Jagger De89, we would say that Merkur, for the lack of a better term, has the edge.
We’re all about putting in the work to explain our decision, though. Before you plonk down some hefty coin on one of these bad boys, let’s explore what to look for in a safety razor and talk about the finer points of the Edwin Jagger De89 and the Merkur 34c.
Advantages of a Safety Razor
In the last decade, guys have decided to take their grooming more seriously. They have embraced traditional shaving methods. Gone are the aerosol foams. Back are the shaving soaps and boar’s hair brushes.
With this return to our grandfathers’ way of shaving, the safety razor has made a comeback. And rightly so!
For one, these razors will give you a closer shave. It might take a few tries to master the technique, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be accomplishing a closer shear with one blade than you ever did with a three-blade disposable.
That brings us to another clear advantage. Reducing the number of blades crossing your face will reduce the risk of razor burn or other irritation.
On average, safety razors are much less expensive. We might be discussing some high-end, relatively pricy models in this post, but the amount of cash you will save buying dirt cheap replacement blades means even a luxury chrome razor will pay itself off quickly.
We also believe there is an intangible value to having a good safety razor. Much like the benefit of a good beard oil or mustache wax, a quality razor just makes shaving more enjoyable. Without the joy of a well-curated razor and fine shaving products, shaving is kind of a chore. It’s just something you need to do to be presentable in society, like flossing.
When you have good tools and deluxe unguents at your disposal, however, it becomes a ritual. Something to savor.
Origins of the Safety Razor
To an extent, the safety razor was the disposable razor of the early 20th century. Before Gillette released its patented safety razor, shavers needed to take their straight blades to the knife sharpener when they got dull. This was both time-consuming and expensive.
The safety razor was a game-changer, making at-home shaving much easier and cheaper. It remained the preferred men’s razor until the 1960s when the fully-disposable razor came out. This model – and the cartridge razor that came out at the end of the 1990s – relegated safety razors to archival references in old movies and 1984.
The Three Styles
Yet there is cause for rejoicing: the safety razor has made its triumphant return!
These days, you can find countless safety razor heads and handles in groceries, department stores, pharmacies, and online. The tyranny of the Bic disposable is over.
You might wonder what you should consider when shopping for a safety razor. We’re glad you asked. Let’s start by considering the different types:
On average, the myriad safety razors on the market are composed of only two parts: a head and a handle. Design differences are mostly cosmetic. However, we can divide safety razors into three functional groups:
- Butterfly Models – These razors have no detachable parts. All you have to do is twist a mechanism on the handle, and the top of the head opens like two hinged butterfly wings. Then you can load a blade.
- Two-Piece Models – This type of razor is similar to the three-piece model. The only difference is that the bottom of the head is attached to the handle permanently. Only the top will pop off when you unscrew the head to replace your blade.
- Three-Piece Models – On these razors, the handle and head are all detachable. The head comes in two parts. To load a blade, you would unscrew the handle from the head, and then sandwich the blade between the head’s top and bottom.
If you want a sense of how each type of safety razor works, check out these videos on how the open and load the different models:
What to Look for in Your First Safety Razor
If you’re just starting out with a safety razor, we recommend you consider the following factors when selecting your first handle and head combo:
- The butterfly design is the safest option for beginners. You can open it without moving your fingers around the blade.
- Make sure that you choose a product with a long enough handle. It will take some practice to get used to shaving with your safety razor. The learning curve will be worse if you can’t get a good grip.
- There are two types of safety heads: open comb and closed comb. Open comb razors have small teeth underneath the blade to allow for a closer shave. Closed comb razors have a safety bar. We suggest you start with a closed comb model. It will minimize the risk of accidental cuts.
- Pay attention to razor head width. If you need to shave around some tight spaces on your face, don’t get too wide of a head on your razor.
To Chrome or not to Chrome
One other variable that can flummox the new safety razor shaver is material.
As a general rule, most safety razors are made of stainless steel or zinc alloys. This makes sense, given the metal’s durability, weight, and resistance to rust. After all, razors are known to get wet from time to time.
Handles, on the other hand, vary widely in appearance and price. Some are steel, while others have a rubber grip. Some higher-end options include carved wood, porcelain, or animal bone finishes.
When considering what type of handle you want for your safety razor, you need to consider not only the cost and appearance but also the grip. Despite their name, safety razors can be treacherous if you aren’t careful. You need to find a razor handle with a decent grip.
This brings us to the material that many superior safety razors have: chrome plating. Both the Merkur 34c and the Edwin Jagger De89 are chrome plated. Nothing is quite as striking as a gleaming, spotless chrome safety razor. The chrome generally covers a razor body made from another metal.
While chrome is wonderful and sleek, it requires attention. You need to wipe it down and dry it to prevent spots and discoloration. As always, you should make sure your chrome handle has some texture on it to prevent slippage.
With these factors laid out, let’s turn our attention to the two safety razors we want to assess.
Two Storied Companies
The companies that make the Merkur 34c and Edwin Jagger De89 differ in their nationality, history, and ethos. Yet their safety razors are renowned for craftsmanship and performance.
Let’s take a moment to explore their storied reputations.
Merkur Stahlwaren of Solingen
Merkur Stahlwaren was founded by Emil Hermes in 1896. Hermes was from Solingen, Germany, where there were already knife and razor-makers of the same name. So, he named his company after the Roman messenger god Merkur, a counterpart to Hermes.
The company’s earlier personal razors looked like a modern open comb safety razor, but they came with a much thicker steel blade that resembled a straight razor. By the early 1900s, however, Hermes’ design had developed into something much closer to the 34c. These were among the first safety razors, the literal cutting edge!
By the 1950s, Merkur has expanded into then-trendy plastic safety razors. Yet they continued to produce the metal models that made them famous. The Hermes family continued running the company until the 1970s. In 1996, DOVO – a larger Solingen blade maker – acquired it and folded the brand into its portfolio.
Edwin Jagger of Sheffield
In 1988, about a decade after the Hermes family sold Merkur and about a decade before DOVO bought it, the Jagger family of Sheffield, England started their namesake grooming business. In the intervening three decades, Edwin Jagger has become a global standard-setter for men’s and women’s razors.
The company’s founder, Neil Jagger (Edwin was his grandfather) personally designs all their products. His first blades were handcrafted cartridges designed to fit the Gillette Mach 3 body. In 2009, Edwin Jagger introduced the De89 safety razor. It became an instant icon in men’s shaving.
Indeed, the Jagger De89 was so immediately lauded that skeptics speculated that its blade head was imported wholesale from the revered 75-year-old German blade company Mühle. Edwin Jagger vociferously denies this.
You can see, then, that both these companies have established reputations, but are the razors themselves worth the hype?
The Merkur Mystique
In terms of lineage, there’s no denying that the Merkur 34c is the big dog in this competition.
To begin, let’s discuss the specs of this safety razor:
- Two-piece design
- Constructed of dense pot metal with a chrome finish
- Double-edged, open comb
- 3.25 inches long
- 2.7 ounces
As you can see, this is a strong, substantial safety razor. However, it is neither bulky nor awkward. Lovers of the 34c – and they are legion – always point out how balanced its design is. The handle length is ample, and the head allows for an adaptable shave, fit for many sizes and shapes of faces.
We love the fine texturing on the handle. The tight mail pattern not only looks grand in a German constructivist kind of way, but it also guarantees that you won’t drop it while shaving.
Interestingly, the Merkur 34c looks like the original Gillette patent. We aren’t surprised that it’s considered a must-own for dedicated safety razor shavers.
Edwin Jagger’s Pride and Joy
We contend that the De89 safety razor is just about the coolest export Sheffield ever produced … with the possible exception of the band Pulp.
Here are the razor’s specs:
- Three-piece design
- Pot metal body with a chrome finish
- Double-edged, closed comb
- Between 2.9 and 3.5 inches long, depending on your handle selection
- Between 2.2 and 2.7 ounces, depending on your handle selection
Unlike with the Merkur, you can select which type of handle you want with the De89. This can lead to some variations in price. If you opt for full chrome coverage or rubber, you won’t see much of a premium. The 18-carat rose gold, and 23-carat gold versions are pricier, but not off the charts. Its ivory handle model is more than three times the cost of the standard short-handle.
As we have stated multiple times already, your primary concern when looking at handles is making sure you get a good grip and adequate length. The short-handle Edwin Jagger De89, for example, has a similar, grippy texture to the Merkur. Other models, like the aforementioned gold versions, are a bit smoother.
Many shavers note that the Edwin Jagger is top-heavy. As a general rule, this can be helpful when shaving because it naturally applies blade pressure to your face. Even so, it’s something that safety razor newbies need to be aware of.
In total, there is no denying that Edwin Jagger has made a beautiful, stylish razor. Additionally, its De89 has nearly universal acclaim. But is it as good as its turn-of-the-century German competition?
Merkur 34c Vs Edwin Jagger De89 – A Head to Head Matchup
To determine which safety razor is best for you, we are going to consider some design, usage, and safety concerns.
First, let’s acknowledge that both products have an excellent pedigree and sterling reviews from shavers. We can also take for granted that both of these are premium products. You should expect to pay more than you would for a disposable or cartridge razor. With that said, the Merkur 34c and the Edwin Jagger De89 (standard versions) are similarly priced.
If you want a well-regarded, less pricy safety razor, we suggest you consider the WEISHI Nostalgic Long Handle Butterfly Open Double Edge Safety Razor. Made from a stylish copper alloy with an easy butterfly design, this China-based company’s razor is quite affordable and well-liked. It even looks a bit like a Merkur 34c.
|Merkur 34c||Edwin Jagger De89|
|Design and Appearance||This is a classic. Full chrome coating, good handle texturing, and elegant simplicity. You can’t beat this level of old-world craft.||A bit more flash than the Merkur, some versions of this safety razor can feel ostentatious. Put some real thought into which handle you want.|
|Safety and Balance||Exquisitely balanced. A century of refinement and production leads to a calibrated safety razor. The two-piece structure and textured handle make for easy handling. Our only concern is its open comb head.||Notoriously top-heavy. This isn’t always a bad thing, but for beginners, it’s a definite con. While we like the closed comb design, the three-piece structure can be cumbersome for loading blades. Do your research when choosing a handle, and make sure it is long enough and has an adequate grip.|
|Shaving Capacity||Overall, this is a wonderfully adaptable shaver. Good for large and small faces, it can handle stubble from moderate to heavy.||The head might prove a little large for you. However, if the size is right, the shaving experience will be magnificent. The Edwin Jagger is known for a ruthlessly efficient shave, once you get the hang of it.|
|Maintenance Concerns||A full-chrome razor requires care. You will need to studiously wipe away spots and dry them to prevent tarnishing.||Depending on which product you choose, your maintenance woes will be very low or very high. Ivory and rubber will be cinches to maintain. Taking care of your expensive gold safety razor might give you an ulcer from stress.|
As you can see, both razors have their pros and cons. Which wins out?
The Final Decision
All things considered, we have to give the tip of the hat to the Merkur 34c. Its classic, elegant design is popular for good reason. We can guaranty that all wet shavers – both veterans and rookies – will fall in love with their Merkur.
While there is nothing wrong with the Edwin Jagger De89, it is probably a good option for long-time safety razor users who know exactly what they want.
By the way, if safety razors and straight razors are too tame for you, please check out our recent primer on shaving with a swiss army knife!