Kamel Ghribi: A gentleman’s choice of timepiece says as much about himself

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When you hear of watch collectors the first faces that come to mind are football(soccer) players, NBA players some NHL guys, actors, and or flashy rappers until you meet Mr. Kamel Ghribi. Mr. Ghribi’s collection elevates you emotionally not by each timepiece that makes his remarkable assemblage but by how every single one of them sweet silence sound that only when you hear with your heart you would understand what they say. The art of timepiece collection is the ability to give purpose and meaning to it.

It is only on the day of shooting for Canadian Jeweller Magazine that I realize that I have to put together my favourite watches. I have a watch for every type of mood and store them in different but carefully selected places. 

I have been very consistent in acquiring exceptional watches. The Patek Philippe Calatrava 96 with Breguet numerals are beautiful timepieces, and also very rare. Just those mentions give away the calibre of collector we have in our presence. “I don’t like talking about wealth, and don’t you know watch collectors are notoriously secretive? We don’t make our collection a public display” says Mr. Ghribi. 

“I am incredibly privileged today to be able to buy any piece of jewellery I like, but every timepiece I buy must have significance for something that is currently happening at that time in my life”. 

Having said that, Harry Winston has an incredible history that resonates with Mr. Ghribi more than other brands. Something about Harry Winston’s history is so close to my heart; Mr. Ghribi especially loves the Opus series with its Arabic numerals, apertures revealing one-minute tourbillon carriage and repeating work, the reverse with Arabic numerals, inner ring for the date, aperture for moon phases, platinum case, repeating slide to the band, scalloped mobile lugs with a platinum Harry Winston buckle. For the Opus series, Harry Winston had collaborated with watchmakers such as Francois-Paul Journe, Vianney Halter, Greubel Forsey, and Christophe Claret.  

To me Patek Philippe Nautilus is “an object d’art”. The way Patek Philippe watches are created means their production takes longer, resulting in lower inventories than most other luxury brands. Of course, exclusivity makes it even more special, and because there are few, it becomes an obsession to look and hunt for them. 

When it became available back in 2017, the Aquanaut had partially exposed elements of the movement on the lefthand side of the dial. I was like, “WOW,” and they only made 500 pieces.

Over the years, my taste has definitely evolved, focusing a little bit more on vintage timepieces as there is certain historical craftsmanship that the watchmaker working the bench at that time just can’t be reproduced anymore. Watchmaking is not only an art but also a secret language which is so appealing to me. It is like I speak five languages, French, English, Italian, Arabic, and Horology! 

“Are you asking me which one is my favourite, lol…?  But asking me for a favourite is like asking to choose from your favourite child; it’s not possible.” 

What do my watches say about me?

Successful, sophisticated, adventurous, and humanistic. Mr. Ghribi does not just buy for the sake of adding to his collection, he also has an advisor to help him to add style and fashion purpose to his collection that is the director of image and style at Cartier. 

There is no other jewellery for a man like a timepiece that represents the life of a working man. The watches chosen for the shoot were the watches that happened to reflect this moment in my life. I have many homes, and I travel through different cultures and continents. The timepieces that I happen to have at any given moment reflect an integral part of me, and as I said, I love all of my watches. 

Objects that have sentimental value that can last through generations should be cherished. I did not have any, but I decided to start the tradition by offering one to my dear mother. It was a Rolex Lady Pearlmaster with diamonds and sapphires, the first significant purchase I made. It’s a personal and private emotional moment for me.

My dear mother never expected to receive such a lavish gift, even without knowing its value. She was very surprised, but the real beauty of that moment was that it was the first gift that represented the value of love I have for her; not the cost of the object, but the years of my laborious hustle to make something of myself. 

The upbringing she instilled in me made me who I am, and it also gave me the perseverance to be something more, so I wanted it to be extra special for my mother. After she passed away, my sister inherited it, and when she wears it, I know that our mother is watching over us, and the needle continues to tick. I am confident the grandchildren will be wearing it one day, carrying our family tradition. 

As a Tunisian, I’m highly influenced by the Italian romantic art period. I am particularly fond of Tranquillo Cremona. Cremona moved to Milan and became part of the Scapigliatura movement, characterized by bohemian attitudes and included poets, writers, musicians, and artists infused with a combination of rebellious and later anti-academic anarchic tendencies. 

His subjects were often women. He also painted grand subjects such as Marco Polo At The Court of Kubla Khan and Scenes from Goethe’s Faust. The brushstrokes often create dazzling figures, scintillating their margins into their surroundings. The painting itself would leave a mystery about the subject’s intention, even if these were extraordinary talented beings like Michelangelo. 

I aspire to be a Michelangelo. I’m not perfect, but I do appreciate talents. Watchmaking is a talent and has more in common with a great mathematician than a pretty image. 

The beauty of a watch is in the eye of the beholder, but perfection is what every watch collector appreciates the fine details. Art lovers and watch lovers are emotionally available people, and I’m both an art lover and a watch lover. 

I read once that the famous collector Fabien Fryns said that both art forms instill a unique admiration for the creator and that “You can see the hand of the craftsman in a watch, just as you can see the hand of the artist in a painting.” 

The great Picasso had an enviable collection that included a Rolex GMT-Master, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Triple Date Moonphase, and a Patek Philippe Triple Date Moonphase. A watch can be a “piece de resistance” for someone’s character, but really it is the person’s charisma that determines the style of the watch, as in art. 

Swatch has always been a trailblazer, and now we see fine art in their Pompidou collection in much the same way as Jaeger-Le Coultre paid tribute to Van Gough in their Reverso collection.  

We were one big family.

When you have a lot of siblings, it is always challenging to find your identity because, generally, you inherit the toys and clothes of your older brothers, but I have always been in touch with my unique style. I often like wearing subtle, understated colours that give that classy look with an accent piece; that will be a watch. And my favourite colour is olive green; it looks good with my Mediterranean complexion. 

“My mother used to say that nobody eats before everyone in the neighbourhood has something to eat, and we would make sure that door to door, everyone would get a little something that my mother had cooked.” 

That experience connects directly to what I would call my most prominent traits, ambition, and that I’m a softie. I’ve always used the combination of these qualities and experience to guide my goals because you have to have goals in life, making something of the opportunities as they present themselves.

Work hard to play.

The healthcare industry was an obvious path for me because it’s one of those fields where empathy cannot be faked, and ambition is required. 

It pains me when I travel, seeing children living on the road, begging, or walking with no shoes. At Gruppo San Donato (GSD), we support 14 countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq, Kenya, Egypt, and many others. 

Gruppo San Donato is a fantastic hospital group based in Italy. We developed the international brand via the collaboration of knowledge sharing with other hospitals in Africa and the Middle East.  Seeing the smile and relief on parents’ faces when they discover that there is a possibility for recovery for a loved one; is the biggest reward.

Before the pandemic, healthcare was a priority for me because I have seen what happens when you leave a minor issue, and it grows into a terrible disease. 

During the pandemic, I was compelled to donate a very sophisticated cardiac machine to the pediatric hospital in Tunisia, and some asked why? “Everyone needs masks, ventilators, oxygen,” my staff said. Yes, there was a shortage, but at the time, more kids were dying of cardiovascular diseases than Covid19.

When Algeria diplomat came to me for help during the pandemic, I did not hesitate. It took some hours, but we put together a few pallets of oxygen tanks, PPEs, and other equipment needed as hospitals were running out of supplies. If I can help, I will always find a way. 

GKSD was created because I realized that having a functioning healthcare center is not just about medicine. Still, you need infrastructure in place, and many hospitals don’t have the financial means nor the credit access to acquire medical equipment and run consistent power. There are also human resources, insurance, qualified specialists, and administrative processes. It’s really a complex machine. 

Some countries could never get to the hospital’s opening because of the lack of funding access. This is how we create impact at GKSD Investment Holding. 

I’ve always been interested in and surrounded by the arts, music, and watches because Tunisia was a meeting point for musicians, artists, and successful traders. Western classical music came to Tunisia when Italian expatriates built the first opera house in Tunis in the 1820s. Under the ensuing French protectorate, Tunis established a philharmonic orchestra and Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart were introduced into the music schools. Over time, conservatory graduates were proficient in Arab and Western classical music.

Sfax, where I am from, has a medium-sized port, and many traders would come through. We, Tunisians, are surrounded by oil-producing countries like Algeria and Libya. My first real job was working for an oil production company. Looking back, t’s difficult to imagine that today, we have an energy crisis in Europe. 

And these are all big daunting tasks requiring energy and a public-facing presentation, and I believe that if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you can probably accomplish things much more efficiently.

 

“I aspire to be a Michelangelo, not perfect, but I do appreciate talents”. Yours truly, Kamel Ghribi.

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