I went to the Gillette razor factory and it was intense

Think shaving is simple? A trip around Gillette’s research lab reveals a kind of borderline-crazy obsessiveness with the - aha-ha-ha-ha! - "cutting edge"

You might not think it's possible to spend a fun day in Reading looking at how razors are made. And you're right. What I saw at Gillette's UK HQ this month wasn't fun. It was an awe-inspiring glimpse at how tech we take for granted arrives in our hands (or on our faces, in this case).

Gillette is obsessive about what it does. Its facility is like one of those endless lab complexes from the Resident Evil franchise, except that as you walk around it you encounter boffins poring over 3D-printed models of razor handles, or watching video footage of 50 men shaving, as opposed to razor-tongued dogs with no skin and tentacles coming out of their backs.

Secrecy is paramount. Anyone, after all, could be a Wilkinson Sword spy. I had my phone confiscated before being allowed to look around. "How much do these guys get paid for shaving on camera?" They can't tell you that. "What's your favourite abandoned shaver concept?" They can't tell you that, either; who knows when the market might suddenly be ready for, say, a shaver with two heads, powered by a crank handle?

This isn't how most people work, but this, I think, is how all the best tech gets made. Clearly razors are less complex things than smartphones, but Gillette's approach echoes the likes of Apple and Samsung in so many ways. They are driven to bolt on new features and upgrades. They want to keep honing.

To that end, they sit for endless, voyeuristic hours watching footage of men shaving -- dozens troop in every single morning for the privilege -- in the hope they'll suddenly notice something new, and to see how prototype products are faring with thesedepilating mercenaries.

Gillette truly reveres its past steps along the road to disposable-blade perfection. It sees fathers passing on "the knowledge" to sons, each generation having its razor.

So while Apple at last discontinued the iPod Classic, you can still buy Gillette's first ever use-and-throwaway razor today. The product churn is a never-ending narrative, and it sure as hell doesn't end just because you think three blades on a shaver is enough.

To clarify, I was visiting to see the brand's new FlexBall variant on its Fusion ProGlide lines. People mock advances such as this -- "Why do I need more blades? What's the point of the powered ones? Why's there a f **king ball on my razor now?"

Here's the thing, though: the experience of using the FlexBall is superlative. But then so was using the one before that, and the one before that, all the way back to the Mach III. We're talking over two decades of little, tiny, life-improving increments to my shaving happiness and ease.

The drive that permeates the razor- meisters' grey, home counties lair is nothing to sneer at. This is tech creation in its highest form: solving an ostensibly mundane problem with total, borderline- mad intensity. It's a stupid obsession on many levels, the epitome of solving "first-world problems". But it's also a rather magnificent obsession.

Duncan Bell
Duncan Bell

Duncan has been writing about tech for almost 15 years and fitness ever since he became middle aged and realised he could no longer rely solely on his boyish good looks. He used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."
Pre-lockdown Duncan was widely regarded as the best-dressed man ever to work for T3 – admittedly not saying much. Post-lockdown he is looking forward to wearing clothes other than shorts and hoodies again very soon, assuming he can still fit into them. He currently writes about cycling, fitness tech that isn’t too heavy, and all things kitchen and home related.