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Bidding frenzy for World War I Cartier Tonneau sees it sell for $21,000 at auction

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Enthusiasm for vintage watches with history and provenance is spreading beyond Rolex and Patek Philippe for auctioneers and collectors.

A Cartier Tonneau watch that belonged to a WWI Captain who fought on the Western Front has sold for £15,312 ($21,000) at UK-based Fellows, breaking the house record at the auctioneer for the highest price ever achieved for a Cartier watch.

The 107-year-old timepiece, named Tonneau due to its barrel shape, still works and contains scuffs likely to have been picked up from the war.

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It sparked a bidding war in Fellows Luxury Watch Sale this week, which took place online, and smashed its estimate of £6,000 – £8,000.

Included with the lot were medals belonging to the WWI Captain, an authentication document from Cartier and a later watch box.

The Cartier timepiece has inscribed on the back: “A.D. Thomson, 152 Inf Bde., 51st High Div., 1/5/15”. Thomson served as Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the war. The 51st Highland Division fought on the Western Front in France from 1915 – 1918. The Division was rushed to the Western Front in May 1915, the same month that A.D. Thomson received the watch. He was gifted the Cartier watch from the military. It is likely that it was gifted to him before he was sent out to fight on the Western Front.

Michael Jagiela, senior specialist from the watch department at Fellows Auctioneers, says: “We are extremely proud to have achieved our highest ever auction price for a Cartier watch. This is a truly phenomenal timepiece, with a fascinating backstory that relates to a decorated WWI Captain. With Thomson’s medals and an authentication document also included with the lot, we expected many bidders on this item so it was not a surprise to see it sell for a high price. It was thrilling experience to watch the bidding war take place. The buyer of this watch has purchased a piece of timepiece history.”

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