A very special timepiece, 1 of 4, will be auctioned this fall.
Known as the Cartier Cheich, the rare watch was awarded to Belgian motocross racer Gaston Rahier for winning the Paris-Dakar rally in 1985. The grueling race began in 1979, demanding riders cover a 6,200 mile course from France to Senegal via the Sahara desert. The watch, with its striking gold case, was made in 1983 as an extraordinary prize for the winners of the race’s Cartier challenge, which required riders to win the Paris-Dakar rally two years in a row in the same automobile category. .
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This high-stakes challenge was born out of a collaboration between the event’s founder, Theirry Sabine, and Alain Dominique Perrin, then CEO of Cartier. Shortly after the challenge was announced, Rahier – a 125cc motocross world champion – shocked the world by claiming victory on the 1984 and 1985 circuits. Today, nearly 40 years after the creation of the Cartier Cheich of the driver, it will be auctioned for the first time by Sotheby’s in Paris next September.
The watch case, designed by Jacques Diltoer, was created to reflect the race logo. The logo represents the silhouette of the face of a Tuareg nomad wearing a “cheich” (or “chèche” in French). The traditional cloth blanket was worn around the head to protect against the sun. This unique dial shape did not allow Cartier to fit screw bars through the lugs to attach its straps. Instead, the rear of the main case is sculpted to accommodate a device that holds the straps in place.
At the time, rally winners usually received a more traditional watch with an engraving on the back. The case of this limited edition, however, stood out on the dial side. A rectangular track with baton and Roman hour markers covers the watch face in classic Cartier Paris fashion. The Cartier Cheich is also one of the rare models of watches from the Swiss manufacture to display the “Three Golds” or trinity of gold that adorn certain jewels of the house. The case is crafted in white, yellow and rose gold to symbolize love, friendship and fidelity.
The Cartier Challenge ended in 1986. Two additional models of the watch were created for potential winners and the fourth was given to Sabine by Perrin. According to Sotheby’s, the watch would rather have ended up in the hands of Hubert Auriol, a famous French motorcycle pilot. But unless its whereabouts are confirmed, it is considered lost.
Rahier’s piece is however currently on display at the auction house’s Monegasque Gallery as part of a multi-category exhibition until Sunday July 17. It will also be on display in Paris before arriving at auction on September 30, where it is estimated to have sold for between €200,000 and €400,000 with its original box adorned with Cartier’s signature red and gold details.
“As a true horological masterpiece, and for its association with the triumph and tragedy of the legendary Cartier Challenge, it has achieved near-mythical status and the market eagerly awaits its first appearance at auction,” says Benoît Colson , International Watch Specialist at Sotheby’s in a press release. “Nothing like it would ever be done again, and its re-emergence now from the family of the great champion to whom it was bestowed, like a Holy Grail, is the dream of any serious watch collector.”
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