In 1985, motorcyclist Gaston Rahier, who measured just above five feet but rode a disproportionately (and comically) massive BMX bike, won the famous Paris-Dakar rally for the second year in a row. The grueling 6,200-mile race takes riders, who could choose to ride a motorcycle or series of off-road vehicles, through France and into the African desert. So brutal was the race that just a few years earlier Rahier’s accomplishment was considered virtually impossible. Accordingly, he took home a prize befitting his successive victories: a very special Cartier “Cheich” watch made for the race, with a case design that mimicked the cloth—or “cheich”—desert explorers wear to shield themselves from the sun. That watch—that design—has basically been totally absent for almost 40 years. Now, that watch is coming up for auction at Sotheby’s Paris in September.
The watch was the result of a partnership between Cartier’s then-CEO Alain Dominique Perrin and Thierry Sabine, the founder of Paris-Dakar (now known as The Dakar Rally). As the story goes, Perrin approached Sabine with the idea of creating a watch to award as a prize for his nascent race. But Perrin and Sabine added a diabolical twist: To win the watch, winners were required to win the race twice in a row using the same class of vehicle.
Watches are not unusual prizes for race winners. For over 30 years, Rolex has given winners of The 24 Hours of Daytona the watch named after the course. Winners of the Indy 500 have a special-edition Tag Heuer waiting for them after the checkered flag. However, those watches are typically branded with a logo, and not much else. Cartier took much more dramatic inspiration from the Paris-Dakar insignia.
Rather than engraving some branding onto the caseback, Cartier turned the entire watch into the race’s logo: a person wearing a cheich (the cloth wrapped around the head to guard against the sun and sand). Fitting for Cartier—which is known for its distinctive models and, as of late, auction house darlings like the Crash and Pebble—the watch is unlike anything else in existence. The Cheich features all the layers and folds of the headwear made out of a combination of white, yellow, and rose gold. If the Crash is beloved because of its liquid, gooey shape, the Cheich seems to dial that effect up to 100. The detailed folds appear as if they could suddenly start billowing in the wind. The watch has what collectors call “wrist presence” out the wazoo.