Vintage Gear Exploration: Gem 1912 Open Comb

Posted: November 20, 2016 in Shaving Articles


I’ve had a GEM razor in the stable for a while. I have respected the design, but…but I haven’t had the very best luck with it. In general, I’ve had a bit of difficulty getting the ideal shaves from the GEM and the Schick Injector I have. I tend to irritate my neck with them, as the heavier blade stock tends to be more unforgiving in my trouble spots. This has all be documented in earlier reviews.

A great friend of mine, Chris, is aware of my weird fixation with old razors, and I’ve done my best to corrupt him, as well. He drive trucks professionally, and this takes him all around the country. He returned from one of his trips and, to my great surprise, brought me back some old razors he found in an antique shop.

One of those was a fairly beat-up looking GEM, one of the original style that came out in 1912. Now, I don’t know how to go about determining the date for a GEM, so I went ahead and didn’t do it. Because…laziness?

In any case, I took a look at the razor and wondered if it could be fully made presentable, or if it would be pretty cobby looking beneath the verdigris. I was so corroded that I wasn’t sure if I was looking at brass or some other coating. It resembled copper, to be honest.

But I love a challenge. Into the ultrasonic cleaner it went, with the rest of the haul that Chris kindly brought to me. It was much improved, but still pretty rough looking at that point. We went on to soak it in alcohol and lemon oil, as is my preference for disinfectant and also for displacing any remainder of water.

Then…then came the magic of Semichrome. And magic it was. Several patches of cloth went totally black. My hands were dark as a coal miner’s. But the razor was back to beautiful, almost unrecognizable as the same thing. Chris was there to witness the transformation, and was tickled. We were moved to take the old shaver out for a voyage, just to see.

In the past, I’ve complained about the sharpness of the GEM style single edge blades. Not quite as sharp as I would like, has been my refrain. Well…perhaps I just needed to put the blade in the right razor, because it was smooth, effective, and gave a damn fine shave in the old 1912 GEM.

I have, in the interim, realized that, for me, going against the grain is just not a bright idea for me with some razors. GEMs are among those. I do my “safe” two pass shave, with an across-the-grain pass on my cheeks/jawline and two with-the-grain passes on the neck.

This week, I’ve been having some difficulty with irritation here and there. This was a result of a few iffy choices on my part, as irritation usually is. I’m happy to report that the old GEM did not further this irritation, and I still got good shaves.

A word about good shaves. You have to be realistic with what you’re going to get with regard to closeness when you don’t do a full-tilt shave. There will be some roughness if you go against the grain afterward. Stubble will come back more quickly. It’s just a function of the closeness of the shave. There are no miracle machines out there. These tools are only able to achieve a certain amount of closeness without using them to their fullest advantage.

All of that said, the GEM provided a very comfortable and efficient shave. The best of anything I’ve experienced from a single edge razor. I really like the open comb, as it allows the soap’s slickness to stick around a little better if you’re going over the skin multiple times. The audible feedback on this razor is amazing. Loud and deep and coarse. It sounds as if it would be terribly rough, but it’s just the acoustics of the razor head.

In any case, this old beast changed my mind about GEM razors. It’s great. It can go punch for punch with my big Merkur in terms of maintenance shaves goes. It’s beautiful. It has great handling dynamics. The handle has good grip. It’s awesome. Great thanks go to Chris for the wonderful gift.


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