For watch aficionados seeking something rare, Sotheby’s this month is scheduled to auction the Cartier Cheich, a timepiece with a back story of adventure, endurance and human endeavor.
The watch is linked to what now is called the Dakar, an annual event founded in 1978 as a 10,000-kilometer (6,214-mile) race between Paris and Dakar, Senegal, open to cars, trucks and motorcycles. The race once took 20 days, with participants racing under the blazing sun during the day and camping in freezing temperatures at night. (As a result of safety concerns, the race has had different routes in recent years; the next one is scheduled to begin in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 31.)
In 1983 Cartier and Thierry Sabine, a motorcyclist and the founder of the race, created the Cartier Challenge: Any rider who won for two consecutive years, regardless of the kind of vehicle, would receive a special trophy watch. Two were produced — a men’s model and a smaller, diamond-set women’s style — from a design inspired by the rally’s logo: the head and shoulders of a Tuareg, from the ethnic group that primarily lives in the Sahara, wearing a cheich, a piece of cloth traditionally worn around the head for protection.
The folds and general shape of a cheich, while worn, were reimagined as the watch’s case in white, yellow and rose golds, a nod to Cartier’s Trinity collection that showcases the three golds. The design also incorporated other brand signatures: an asymmetrical case, rail-track detailing 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 Mr. Sabine was killed in 1986 in a helicopter crash in Mali. (Mr. Rahier won the Junior Belgian title at 16, and more than 1,000 races overall, before he died in 2005, at 58, of cancer.)
It is Mr. Rahier’s watch, not seen in public for almost 40 years, that is being offered for auction by his family. Both the original women’s model and a third piece, made in 1985 in the men’s size, are in Cartier’s archives. A fourth watch was made for Mr. Sabine, according to Benoît Colson, an international watch specialist at Sotheby’s, but he said it is considered to be lost.
The timepiece has a sale estimate of 200,000 euros to 400,000 euros ($200,013 to $400,026), but Mr. Colson said it was particularly hard to price. “There has never been one on the market before — you don’t know where it will land,” he said. “So, it really is for the market to decide.”
Another element that made it difficult to estimate the value: Prices for vintage Cartier timepieces have been soaring. In November, Sotheby’s sold a 1970 Cartier Crash for 806,500 Swiss francs ($833,013), but that record for the Crash was topped in May when the online auction site Loupe This hammered down a 1967 Cartier Crash for $1.5 million.