The ‘Cheich,’ one of the rarest, and most storied watches Cartier has ever made, sold for more than $1.1 million at Sotheby’s Paris Fine Watches auction Friday, setting a record for any watch by Cartier to sell at auction in Europe. It smashed its $400,000 high estimate.
The watch was created specifically for the person who won two consecutive Paris-Dakar races, in what was known as the Cartier challenge. It was considered impossible until Belgian motorcycle racer, Gaston Rahier, won the 6,200-mile race in 1984 and in 1985, making him the first and only winner of the Cartier Challenge. His reward was being the sole recipient of the uniquely designed Cartier Cheich watch celebrating his achievement.
The Cartier Cheich owned by Rahier was not seen in public for 40 years until Sotheby’s exhibition and sale.
Cartier made its mark in fine watchmaking by specializing in case designs, and the Cartier Cheich is one of its most celebrated and unique creations by the luxury brand.
The Cartier Cheich was designed by Jacques Diltoer, former creative director of Cartier and Alain-Dominique Perrin, Cartier president at the time. The design was inspired by the rally’s logo featuring the silhouetted face of a Tuareg (a native of the Sahara Desert) wearing a “cheich,” a traditional piece of cloth worn around the head as protection against the sun.
Cartier created four models of the Cheich, each one unique. The original two watches were designed in 1983, for a male and female winner. The male timepiece was awarded to Rahier. The smaller female watch was never awarded because there was no other consecutive winner of the race. A third was created in 1985 for another possible future champion. A fourth piece was offered by Perrin to Thierry Sabine, who founded the race. However, it’s believed that this watch may have been given to Hubert Auriol, a famous French motorbike race driver, but it is now considered lost. Production of the Cartier Cheich ended in 1986. The two remaining Cartier Cheich watches are in Cartier’s collection. This makes the Cheich that just sold the only one available on the market.
Among the unique features of this watch is a curved triangular shape surrounded by the elaborate cheich design in yellow, rose and white gold, the “trinity,” which represent the Cartier symbol of love, friendship and fidelity. The unique shape of the case meant that traditional lugs could not be used for attaching the leather strap. Instead, the back of the case was carved to allow the strap to slide through the case. Inside, the lid is marked Trophée Paris Alger Dakar under the Cartier signature. The dial is in the traditional Cartier signature style, with a center rail and baton and Roman Numerals as hour markers.
The Cartier Cheich was the top lot in the auction that achieved just over $3 million in sales with 95.5% of the 109 lots sold. It is the largest fine watch sale Christie’s ever staged in Paris and now its most successful.
Patek Philippe timepieces dominated overall, with the next six highest priced lots. The number two lot was the Patek Philippe Chronograph à Rattrapante, reference 5370P-011, which sold for $213,750.