For watch fans looking for something rare, Sotheby’s is scheduled to auction the Cartier Cheich this month, a watch with a history of adventure, endurance and human effort.
The watch is linked to what is now called Dakar, an annual event founded in 1978 as a 10,000-kilometre (6,214-mile) race between Paris and Dakar, Senegal, open to cars, trucks and motorcycles. The race once took 20 days, with participants running in the scorching sun during the day and camping in sub-zero temperatures at night. (As a result of security concerns, the race has had different routes in recent years; the next one is scheduled to start in Saudi Arabia on December 31.)
In 1983, Cartier and Thierry Sabine, motorcyclist and founder of the race, created the Cartier Challenge: any cyclist who won for two consecutive years, regardless of the type of vehicle, would receive a special trophy watch. Two – a men’s model and a smaller diamond-set women’s style – were produced from a design inspired by the rally logo: the head and shoulders of a Tuareg, from the ethnic group that lives mainly in the Sahara, dressed in a cheich, a piece of cloth traditionally worn around the head for protection.
The folds and general shape of a cheich, while worn, have been reimagined as the watch case in white, yellow and rose gold, a nod to Cartier’s Trinity collection showcasing all three golds. The design also incorporated other brand signatures: an asymmetrical case, rail details on the dial, blue hands, and a combination of baton and Roman indexes.
Gaston Rahier, a Belgian motorcyclist, won the race in 1984 and 1985, taking what became the only Cartier Challenge title, because the program was discontinued after Sabine died in 1986 in a helicopter crash in Mali. (Mr. Rahier won the Belgian junior title at age 16 and over 1,000 races in total, before he died in 2005, aged 58, of cancer.)
It is Mr. Rahier’s watch, which has not been seen in public for nearly 40 years, that his family is offering up for auction. Both the original women’s model and a third piece, made in 1985 in men’s sizes, are in the Cartier archives. A fourth watch was made for Mr. Sabine, according to Benoît Colson, an international watch specialist at Sotheby’s, but said it is considered lost.
The watch has an estimated retail price of €200,000 to €400,000 ($200,013 to $400,026), but Colson said it was particularly difficult to put a price on. “There’s never been one on the market before, you don’t know where it’s going to land,” he said. “So it’s really up to the market to decide.”
Another element that made it difficult to estimate the value: the prices of vintage Cartier watches have skyrocketed. In November, Sotheby’s sold a 1970 Cartier Crash for CHF806,500 ($833,013), but that Crash record was broken in May when online auction site Loupe This auctioned off a 1967 Cartier Crash for CHF1.5 million. Dollars.