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: very special UK best replica Cartier “Cheich” watches 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 high quality Cartier fake watches 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 cheap Cartier replica 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 Swiss made Cartier copy watches 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.
This piece is estimated to sell somewhere in the range of €200,000 to €400,000 this fall, but auction houses typically understate the true value of a watch to gin up interest. And while the watch’s atypical shape will help get bidding going, its rarity will also play a massive role here. There are only four replica Cartier Cheich watches for sale in existence. One of them—rumored to have been awarded to Hubert Auriol in the early ‘80s, and now considered lost—is more myth than reality at this point. The other two belong to Cartier, which intends to keep them permanently in its collection. The watch up for auction, which comes straight from Rahier’s estate, is being touted as the only one a hopeful collector will ever have the chance of owning.
The reason for the watch’s extreme rarity is that the Cartier Challenge came to a swift and tragic end not long after it began. In 1986, the rally’s founder Sabine’s helicopter was caught in a sandstorm in Mali; he died in the resulting crash. Daniel Balavoine, a hugely popular French singer, also died in the crash along with three others. The Cartier Challenge was canceled, leaving this tiny group of 1:1 online Cartier super clone watches with no younger siblings. Mix the watch’s distinctive design, story, and scarcity together and you have a watch sure to blow through its auction estimate. “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 has been longingly waiting for its first appearance at auction,” Benoît Colson, an international watch specialist at Sotheby’s, said in a press release.
When it comes to watches, value is always helped along by what collectors romantically describe as “the life” a piece has lived. And yes, this watch tells one helluva story. But beyond that, the Cheich is a truly unique watch. (Even the other three models don’t feature this exact dial design.) It’s a real shame there aren’t more—this perfect China fake Cartier Cheich is one of the coolest watches ever made.