About Town With: Ahmed Rahman in London, UK
Here at A Collected Man, we’re always seeking-out the best experiences in all things we do. Be it travel, art, literature or just a simple coffee made properly, we strive to find the finest; because why suffer less. In light of this, we will be producing an ongoing series of articles making recommendations of this nature, from some of our closest friends and fellow collectors. The first instalment is with the exceptional Ahmed Rahman, though some of you might know him better by his Instagram handle @time_mechanic. His collection of watches, including a salmon-dialled Patek Philippe 5970, reflect his personality perfectly. We sat down for coffee, following a day of visiting three of his favourite London-based locations.
Let’s talk about London…
What is your relationship to the city of London?
I was born in Bangladesh, and I moved to the United Kingdom when I was thirteen years old for school. I then stayed on for university and worked in London briefly before moving back to Bangladesh to work for the family business. After some time, I moved back to run our marketing office from here, in London and that’s what I’m doing full-time now.
Personally speaking, you seem quite taken by London in particular…
Well, yes, London has always been something of a second-home to me. As a family, we would always spend our summer holidays here, and then after I got married and had my own family, I decided to make it my home more permanently. I say permanently, but I seem to travel constantly for work, visiting clients in Europe, the United States and then I’m often back to Bangladesh, but this is home.
Would you say that London has a special character to it?
Yes, London is very much one of the true cosmopolitan cities of the world, I think it is, in many ways, the best example of that. I say this, not only because it has a good mix of cultures and people, but there is a level of blending which you don’t see as much in other cities around the world.
A cosmopolitan city is defined by how international it is, and there are a great many of those, you know, Hong Kong, New York, Milan, but I feel that London has a unique ability to mix cultures, which makes a big difference. It’s a place where everybody can feel at home, it’s just big enough but also small enough, to have that homely feel. That was something that was very important to me when choosing where to make my main base.
What sorts of things were you getting up to as a teenager in the city?
Oh, the usual I would say. It was a time when mobile phones and the internet were only just coming into play, social-media just wasn’t around, which made it a very fun time with hindsight. I’d go to the cinema, museums, galleries, that kind of thing. London is blessed with some of the best museums and galleries in the world, so I took advantage of that.
You’re quite interested in art, right?
I mean, I enjoy art, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m very interested in it. I enjoy it from a personal pleasure point of view, but I’m a long-shot from what you might call a collector. I’m a huge fan of the surrealists, I love Salvador Dali, I love Magritte, they’re just so unusual.
You own the Magritte Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, don’t you?
I do, yes. I absolutely love that watch for that reason, it’s great to have such a great artist featured on the watch case. It’s a similar approach for watches too, because I derive a certain pleasure from owning and admiring these things.
Speaking of watches, how did you become interested in them?
I was a huge James Bond fan as a kid, and this was right around the time that Pierce Brosnan had taken up the role for Goldeneye, and they had selected a blue Omega Seamaster for him. I just had to have it, I fell in love with it. This was before I knew about the Bond connections with other brands like Rolex and Breitling, but this was a beautiful watch and I needed to have it. It was my 16th birthday approaching and I requested that my parents buy this for me, and fortunately for me, they did.
A nice start to collecting…
It wasn’t all good, because a close friend of mine was looking at the watch with a bit of a puzzled expression on his face and he asked me why my parents had bought me the quartz version [laughs].
I didn’t even know what a quartz watch was, but he continued to explain to me that the mechanical version was the one to have. I was devastated, but obviously I hadn’t specified to my parents, and they certainly didn’t know. I actually went back to the shop it was bought from and requested that they trade it for the one I actually wanted and somehow, after a lot of persuasion, they agreed. I still have the watch actually.
After that initial step into the watch world, where did it go from there?
The next watch was a Heuer Monaco, the one Steve McQueen had worn in the film Le Mans, which I managed to find with a dealer in London, who had a new old stock example with all the papers and everything. I bought it and as he was handing the watch over to me he said, “Listen, you’ve got the disease…”
"Well, you don’t know it yet, but you have the watch collecting disease."
I said, “What do you mean?” he said, “Well, you don’t know it yet, but you have the watch collecting disease.” I certainly didn’t think that was the case, I thought I was happy with those two watches, but…
[Laughs] Famous last words. You seem very driven by aesthetics, is that fair to say?
Well, that’s partly true. I would say there are three things I look for in watches I’m considering buying, one is its aesthetics, the look is very important, a classic or good design can be so timeless, and that can be true of any brand. The second is history, if the watch has a rich DNA, I tend to become very attached. The last thing I look for is what’s inside, that’s crucial, and I think it’s more relevant to collectors than ever because watchmakers are putting a lot more effort into their movements, the quality and finishing. I would say these are the main considerations for me.
Does the connection to a person attached to the watch play much of a role, because your first watch was after Bond, your second McQueen…
You’re right, though I’ve definitely graduated from that approach. That made a good starting point, and don’t get me wrong, I still love James Bond, but I’ve moved on from that school of thinking. I’m someone who collects watches purely because I like wearing them, and if I haven’t worn one in a long period of time, then it has to go. There’s also something fun about learning about these things, I call myself an amateur, because I’m always learning something new.
Now, let’s talk about our day experiencing a handful of places that you frequent. The first stop was Mark’s Club on Charles St., Mayfair, tell us a bit about the club…
Mark’s club is a very, very civilised place, you know, London in many ways is the capital of clubland, and when I say clubs I don’t mean nightclubs, I mean old-school gentleman's clubs, some of which have existed for 200 years or so.
It’s one of the great quirks of British culture that I took to, and found very interesting growing-up. I joined the Mark’s club around ten or twelve years ago. It’s actually one of the more recent clubs to pop-up in London, started by Mark Birley in the early ’70s, if I’m not mistaken.
It’s a place to meet friends, have a nice meal, a good conversation or, if you’re like me, sit out on their beautiful terrace and smoke a cigar. I do spend quite a bit of time in Mark’s, and they’re just wonderful people in there, it’s organised and run in a very efficient manner.
What do you feel a club like the Mark’s club has over a nice little cafe somewhere?
Well, there are loads of cafes and restaurants around, which is fine, but you go to these places with a specific purpose in mind. What I like about clubs, and the Mark’s club in particular is that you can go there without a specific purpose, to simply sit and read a newspaper in the drawing room, to smoke a cigar, you know, it’s much more relaxed.
Does the ongoing relationship with members plays a role in its appeal?
Yes, absolutely it does, it’s got a great membership of like-minded people, we all enjoy the same sorts of things. It’s really not as ‘clubby’ as one might think it to be, which is what I enjoy about it, it’s very modern in a lot of ways.
Do you find others to be the opposite?
Yes, certainly, a lot of clubs that I’ve been to can be quite stuffy, and when the main attraction of these places is the environment, it doesn’t make sense. There can be some funny rules and regulations which take the fun out of it all.
Take us through a typical visit to the club for you…
It’s usually quite varied, I don’t know if there’s a typical visit, as such. I often go for lunch with friends, or for a work-lunch, I would then likely stay on after for a coffee and a cigar on the terrace. In the evening, it would likely be for dinner, and following that we would sit and have a conversation, spend some time.
How about the dress codes, is this ever an issue, because it’s typically a very formal environment…
I think that’s part of what attracts me to it, I like dressing smart and being in the clothing trade, I’ve always had a thing for clothes. The Mark’s club is somewhere you can both dress-up, and down. People make an effort and I think that’s nice, it’s a nice culture to be a part of.
Speaking of clothing, the next stop is Turnbull & Asser on Bury Street, St James…
Yes, this is where I get most of my shirts made.
So, before we get on to Turnbull & Asser specifically, being someone in the trade, what are you looking for when you’re buying a piece of clothing?
I’m looking for a few things, the most important for me is the fit of the garment. The fit defines a piece of clothing, and so it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, because you can get very well fitted ready-to-wear clothing, but it’s important that it fits you well.
And then made to measure…
Made-to-measure is of course something nice to do, because the garment is made specifically to fit you. When I’m looking for something on that level, I’m looking at materials, the details involved. I don’t necessarily conform to specific styles or trends, but have developed something of a style over the years which is very much defined by how comfortable I feel.
Your first experience with Turnbull & Asser, how did you come to choose them as your shirtmaker?
Well, Turnbull is one of the most famous shirt-makers in the world...
I was introduced to Turnbull by my father, who has been a customer of theirs for a very long time, so it’s sort of a generational thing for me. When I was a student, I came here with my father to get my very first Turnbull & Asser shirts, and it was a love affair from that point. You’ll laugh, but I found out that Turnbull was the shirt-maker for James Bond [Laughs].
[Laughs] Right, so that was what it was…
So, it all ties in. That was a bonus, and they’re great, you know, they’re a family-run business and I’ve been having my shirts made with them for well over twenty years now, like my father before me.
Continuing the tradition…
Absolutely, I think it’s really nice because it’s a historically-steeped brand, very traditional, but then you can find these interesting and modern fabrics. It’s a very special and fulfilling process to go from the start to finish. And their collection of ties and pocket squares are also to die for...
Do you enjoy the collaborative nature of it all?
Yeah, I would say so, it’s very interactive and it takes you back to a time when people used to go and visit their tailors for everything. The other part which is useful is that the staff at Turnbull are very well versed in their profession, obviously, and they’re very good at advising you on what might work, versus what might not.
I’ve always appreciated that relationship that you build-up over a long period of time. It’s the same thing as the relationship you might have with a hairdresser or a doctor, they get to know you.
Take us through a typical visit to Turnbull & Asser for you…
These days it’s a very straight-forward process because they have all of my measurements on file, but from what I recall from the first time, it was quite interesting, where they measure you up completely, before anything else. You would then select what they would describe as a test fabric, with which they would first make you a 'test' shirt, which you wear at home, wash it a few times and bring it back to them for final adjustments. Once you are completely satisfied with the fit of the test shirt, only then would Turnbull proceed with making your final order in your chosen selection of fabrics.
This is to see how the garment actually wears and then they make changes directly to my paper pattern based on that. This can change any number of times depending on whether you lose or gain weight over time. These days, as I said, it’s quite straight forward, they’ll show me a bunch of fabric swatches and you maybe choose two or three, tell them if you would like a monogram on your shirt, what colour that should be, so yeah, it’s a fun collaboration.
What would you recommend for a first time visitor?
I would suggest giving their ready-to-wear collection a try first, they have a fantastic business with that, and they will adjust those for you. They don’t just have shirts, they also have beautiful handmade jackets with nice fabrics made in Italy or the UK. That’s a good place to start, try a few things, see if you like the fit or the style as that can be a lot more cost-effective, but then if you feel the ready-to-wear doesn’t fit you quite well enough, then talk to them about making something bespoke.
And this is quite a straightforward thing for someone to request?
Yes, absolutely. A lot of people might think that it’s an intimidating experience, but it’s really the opposite. The staff are very friendly and relaxed, and you can have a chat with these shirt-makers who are a piece of history within themselves.
[Laughs] Right, because they’ve made shirts for all sorts of people…
Exactly, Stephen Quinn is a master shirt-maker, and he can just look at you and know exactly how you would measure up. These are skills which are learned over a great many years. Someone could practice for years and still not be good at it, you have to have an eye for it, and the guys at Turnbull certainly do.
Do you have a particular appreciation for these, for lack of a better phrase, ‘dying hand crafts’?
I think that it certainly has its appeal, for example, the hand-sewn buttonholes or the hand-sewn monogram, it’s a special feeling to know that has been done by hand, by a great craftsperson. Turnbull is a mixture of both, and they really do a great job of both their bespoke and ready-to-wear. There is a certain level of quality and finishing that is to be expected, and that is very much well-reflected in the price point; I would never describe them as exorbitant, I think they’re fairly priced. It could be described as a dying art in many ways, not because people don’t want to do it, but it’s just that there are less people going into it.
And now finally, lets talk about cigars…
Yes, cigars, something again I got into through my father actually.
Wow, that seems unusual, because usually that’s the last thing parents want their kids doing…
[Laughs] My father would smoke cigars and I think I was attracted by the aroma. There’s something quite interesting about the way they smell, though I was never a smoker of cigarettes.
Do you remember the first time you smoked one?
It must have been ’97 or ’98 when I had finished my A level exams, myself and some friends had gone to celebrate in a very stereotypical fashion. We went to a London steakhouse, and in those days you could still smoke inside, so a friend of mine pulls out these tubed Montecristos after dinner, and we all lit up.
And it was love at first puff?
Not exactly. It was an enjoyable experience, we were having a nice chat, all very good, and then all of a sudden my head began to spin, and I had no clue what was going on [laughs].
I rushed to the bathroom when I got home and I think all that lovely steak went to waste, not to bore you with the details [laughs]
[Laughs] Got it…
All said and done, I still enjoyed the experience, and realised that there was a way of connecting and enjoying spending time with people with cigars. Smoking cigars is a very sociable experience, and it tends to connect like-minded people, in fact, that’s how I became friends with Eddie and Edward Sahakian of Davidoff, London.
Bringing us nicely to our third location, Davidoff cigars in St. James street…
Exactly, so the Davidoff cigar shop is run by father and son, Edward and Eddie Sahakian, and they are really two of the nicest people in the trade. I got to know them through frequenting the shop, but they have both become personal friends of mine whom I smoke with regularly. I’ve learned an awful lot from them when it comes to cigars, you know, I used to restrict myself to only smoking Cuban, but they introduced me to some quality non-Cubans, which allowed me to broaden my palate.
It was certainly useful information for when I was visiting the U.S. because, of course, Cuban cigars are unavailable there. It’s quite similar to enjoying new world wines, along with old world wines, you strike a balance of what you like and it’s the same with cigars. A lot of my socialising is done with a cigar in hand.
By comparison to a cigarette, what is the difference, taste aside…
I think a cigarette is more about instant gratification, it’s very short-lived, which is why I think you end-up with a lot of chain-smokers. Cigars are something to be enjoyed over a period of time, to be savoured and enjoyed among friends. That makes a big difference to the mentality while partaking, it’s a relaxed and slow experience which goes hand-in-hand with great conversation, a game of backgammon, or following a meal, it’s special.
So, the Davidoff store particularly, what is it that draws you in?
Well, the Davidoff store has become an institution for that kind of an experience, you walk in and you’re greeted by Eddie or Edward, or any of their great staff and they can recommend something for you with great accuracy.
They’ll listen to your description of what you enjoy flavour-wise, and even if you’ve never smoked before, they’ll be able to find something appropriate and enjoyable. Another thing that appeals to me is all of the accessories, beautiful lighters, cigar cases, humidors…
Uh oh, another collection…
[Laughs] These things all add charm to the experience, and Davidoff have a fantastic selection of these kinds of things.
If someone were making their first visit to the Davidoff store, what would you suggest they do?
Speak with any of the staff and just describe to them what you like because, I have to say, they always get it pretty much spot-on.
And that’s very much a unique skill, right?
Yes, definitely. That’s not something that happens overnight, it’s not like walking into a shop and they randomly choose something for you, and there are a lot of places like this that don’t really care what you buy.
That’s the main thing that appeals to me about Davidoff in particular, it’s, again, about experience. Even for myself, who has been smoking cigars for a long time, still, whenever I visit, I learn something new about a brand or a particular cigar that I didn’t know before.
There’s a pattern through all of these things that you enjoy…
Definitely, it’s experience and learning. Whether it’s ordering a shirt from Turnbull or buying a cigar from Davidoff, buying a watch, it’s all about the experience of it, the enjoyment you derive from it. That’s the key, and if you didn’t enjoy it enough, then I wouldn’t do it.
For membership enquiries please contact The Mark’s Club by clicking here.
For information regarding a visit Turnbull & Asser, please click here.
For more information regarding the Davidoff store, please click here.