Vintage Gear Exploration: British Gillette Rocket “Parat”

Posted: October 29, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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Just as the U.S. market had the fabled Superspeed, the European market had the British-made Gillette Rocket. While they were always quite similar, and each “era” of the Superspeed had a corresponding Rocket model, they are certainly not the same razor.

First, the similarities. Both razors are the same shape and size, being short, non-adjustable razors with twist-to-open blade loading. In each phase of the Superspeed’s evolution, the Rocket was sure to look similar and feature styling and color coding cues with the American counterpart. Thus, there are 40’s style, Flare tip, and color-coded Rockets. A Red-Tip Rocket will shave with a similar level of aggression as a Red-Tip Superspeed, for instance.

The differences, though…The Rocket’s most obvious external feature differences are the “Rocket gap”, and its solid bottom dial. When the Superspeed’s twist knob is rotated to open or close the butterfly doors, the knob doesn’t move up or down. The Rocket, however, will actually telescope in and out, showing a gap between the knob and the rest of the handle when closed.

The Superspeed razors always had a hollowed knob, such that you could look up inside and see a small “C” clamp that held the lifter rod in place. As you turn the dial, it extends or retracts that rod, pushing the center bar at the top of the razor and thereby opening or closing the doors. With a razor of this sort, you have to take care not to let any soap scum or nasty funk develop in this area, as it can be a health concern, or simply impede the good function of the razor.

With the Rocket, the dial or knob is a solid piece, so that there’s no room for gross junk to develop. Also, having a solid piece makes the razor have a slightly different balance than the Superspeed.

Finally, there’s a slight difference in the shape of the side plates, with the Rockets typically have a more pointed profile, rather than a round one.

Still and all, the 40s Superspeed and the 40s Rocket look very similar. Upon picking them up, however, their “action” when you manipulate the dial feels markedly different. The Rocket’s movement requires a bit more effort, and the butterfly doors don’t seem to make the sort of “tinny” noise that some Superspeeds do.

My Rocket is the “Parat” version of the 40s era Rockets, one that was sold in Europe and the U.K., and produced both in Britain and Germany. The “Parat” moniker comes from the ad campaign in Germany referring to them as an “apparatus”. The only real difference between the Parat and the standard rocket is that the Parat has a twist knob the exact same diameter as the handle, whereas the Rocket had a slightly larger diameter twist knob.

The British Gillettes don’t have date codes in the same way the American ones do, but they track to the same year ranges as their Superspeed cohorts. Thus, my 40s era Rocket will come from the late 40s or the earliest 50s.

I picked this razor up, as I have with my other vintage razors, at Jitterbug Antiques in Salt Lake City. Because this old fellow is a long way from home, I had to pay a bit more for it than my other non-adjustables. I cleaned it up with soap and a toothbrush initially, then oiled it with a high viscosity PTFE oil from Superlube. It took a bit of doing to get the action of this razor to smooth up. It had likely been sitting a long time. These things happen with vintage razors. Finally, I polished it up with semichrome polish, which I use when there is somewhat significant tarnishing on the metal. Semichrome is awesome stuff. Pseudo magical. Still, don’t use it too much, as it will begin to erode the plating. Get it polished, then use a gentler method to keep it shiny.

In action, I’ve found that the Rocket Parat shaves essentially the same way as the Superspeeds. I would say that the Parat is a little more aggressive than the Superspeed. After a good many shaves, I think that, on balance, I prefer the Superspeed to the Parat. I have noticed that the different internal mechanism yields a slighty different feel, with a very slight amount of flex being felt as the head contacts the face. This could be a function of this particular razor, however, as I don’t have any other Rockets with which to experiment.

All in all, I’m glad that I was able to pick up a British Gillette. That said, it is not so substantially different from the U.S. Superspeeds that I view the full catalog of Rockets as “must haves”, unless you have a particular rationale for that adjunct to your collection. If you’re from the British Isles, or an Anglophile, or simply must have all the Gillettes made anywhere on the planet Earth, please don’t let me dampen your enthusiasm.

The Rocket stands shoulder to shoulder with the Superspeed. They’re all good shavers. Mild but effective. Small but maneuverable. Perfectly viable after all these years. Enough razor for most of us. Very likely better than any twist to open razor being made by anyone today.

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