I had known Gabriel for a lifetime. His own life was one of passion, energy, and above all, emotion: the same kind of emotion that lights up a child’s face when he discovers something new, or when an unexpected event illuminates his world. Tortella was like that: a 71-year-old child who invested every choice he made and every moment with this emotion that is at the source of pleasure and of dreams. As with all children, his most beautiful emotions were inspired by the playthings he loved and that he really cared about, the important toys that were rich in spirit, personality and passion.
These were, first of all, his magazine, La Tribune des Arts, created in 1979, through which Gabriel expressed his vibrant emotions with words that were always gracious toward everyone. He had that infallible talent of a true dowser that enabled him to divine where the good and the beautiful were hidden and to flush them out. Whatever was ugly, he kept to himself. The creation of the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève ten years ago was an initiative Gabriel wanted very much and vigorously defended. And if, from time to time, he let his subjectivity win out over an objective viewpoint, he was always forgiven.
Secondly, the beautiful things he loved, but never hoarded jealously for himself. He was not a collector. In that way as well, Gabriel was above all a diviner or one of those legendary antique dealers who knew and recognised beautiful things, bought them, sold them, traded them, kept them in circulation, like a good child who lovingly cares for his toys but is happy to trade them.
Thirdly, his cooking. He was a talented chef of Mediterranean cuisine, especially Italian, with a few touches of Spain, where he had recently been drawn.
Fourthly, his most beautiful treasure, his adored wife Paloma, whom he always treated as his child, despite her great career as a concert musician.
His dinners with friends never, as someone once unkindly and unjustly intimated, followed the example of the “idiots’ dinner” presented in Francis Veber’s famous French comedy, Le Dîner de cons. They were extraordinarily convivial times, when no one talked about public relations, but rather about real things, true, and wise and often funny things that came up spontaneously between two courses that Gabriel prepared and presented after having personally selected the freshest ingredients in season at the market, like all great chefs.
That is how I always saw him, like a child who laughed or cried as his feelings dictated: states of mind that were as changeable as the quickly moving clouds in the sky. But in his child’s heart, I always recognised the quick and clever intelligence of a true professional. Gabriel was one of the greatest experts of haute horlogerie, a discoverer of talents, people and products. With time, sadly, this aspect tends to be forgotten, but that is how I want to remember him.
Ciao, Gabriel: to me, you were as wise, surprising, and unpredictable as a child. But to all of us you were also a great man. Even more so, a great spirit.