European record set for a Cartier watch and ‘ordinary’ vase achieves extraordinary price in Paris

The Cheich watch achieved more than double its estimate at over €1m, while the vase sold for almost €8m

One of the rarest and most historically important wristwatches ever produced – the Cartier Cheich – achieved a record price for a Cartier watch at a European auction, selling for over €1 million on September 30th through Sotheby’s in Paris.

The unique model, often called one of the world’s great watch unicorns, was a collaboration between the French jewellery house and one of the world’s most famous transnational races, the Paris-Dakar Rally (known today as simply the Dakar Rally). It was created for the Cartier Challenge.

To qualify as winner, the contender needed to win the race twice, in the same motoring category (motorbike, car or truck) over two consecutive years – a feat so extraordinary that it was deemed to be almost impossible. So it became the world’s ultimate racing challenge.

Gaston Rahier won the challenge in 1984 and in 1985, making him the first and only winner of the Cartier Challenge, becoming the sole recipient of the Cartier Cheich watch as the winning trophy celebrating his achievement.


The final price for the watch represents more than double its higher estimate. No doubt this is reflected in the fact that the watch is so rare. Only four models were ever produced; one is presumed lost, and two, including one produced for a female winner, are held by Cartier.

This leaves what is now termed the Rahier model as the only one in circulation. The fact that it was the only model awarded as a prize, and the other three models don’t feature this exact dial design, may have also influenced the sales price.

In terms of prices achieved for Cartier watches, earlier this year a new record was set for a vintage Cartier Crash watch, which achieved $1.5 million (€1.5m) through the online watch auction platform Loupe This.

Bidding began at $50 for the timepiece inspired by Salvador Dali’s iconic 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory, and rose to $1.5m (€1.65 with premium) over the course of a week.

Extraordinary price

Also in Paris this week, what was described as an “ordinary” Chinese vase and estimated to achieve between €1,500 and €2,000, sold for almost €8 million through Osenat after a ferocious bidding war.

According to The Guardian, 30 Chinese bidders fought for the 54cm tall blue and white tianqiuping-style porcelain vase decorated with dragons and clouds. Tianqiuping means “heavenly sphere” and refers to the shape of the vase.

Despite Cedric Laborde, of the French auction house Osenat, asserting that their experts still believe the vase is not old – stating they date it to be from the 20th century – the enormous interest saw the buyer pay €9.21 million after fees at the sale in Fontainebleau.

As proof of the extraordinary world of antiquities, the 59-year-old seller never saw the vase in person. She lives in a French overseas territory and was bequeathed it by her late mother, who lived in Brittany. She, in turn, inherited it from her mother, purported to be a Parisian collector.

Le Parisien reported that the purchaser, who paid almost 4,000 times the lower estimate for the vase, was Chinese and won the bid via telephone.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables