UK's Rolex Ripper crime wave tops £1bn for first time

Survey finds two thirds of watch wearers are more vigilant as crime surge hits London streets

Rolex accounts for 44 per cent of all stolen or lost watches in the UK. Bloomberg
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The value of luxury watches stolen in the UK has passed £1 billion ($1.3 billion) in a year for the first time, research shows.

Thousands of watches were stolen last year but only one in five were recovered.

The fear of having luxury watches ripped from their arms is forcing wearers to be more vigilant during a surge in thefts, the findings by pre-owned luxury watch specialist Watchfinder & Co show.

In recent years there has been an explosion in the market for luxury watches, new and second-hand, and it has attracted criminals as well as speculators.

Two thirds of watch owners say that the current crime wave is making them more vigilant when wearing their watch and 36 per cent are keen to do more to try to deter thieves, the survey found.

Of those whose watches were stolen, 68 per cent believe their timepiece has already been sold on.

The researchers found that only one in five stolen watches are ever recovered, meaning of the 100,000 stolen across the UK, 80,000 have yet to be returned to their rightful owner.

“These figures clearly show luxury watch owners are fearful of having them stolen,” Watchfinder chief executive Arjen van de Vall, told The National.

“That's hardly surprising given the startling rate at which robberies are being committed. We calculate there's one every 30 minutes. What's also worrying is that only a fifth of robbery victims believe they will get their beloved watches back.

“The crime wave is beginning to have an serious impact on luxury watch owners.”

A former detective chief superintendent, Steve Wilkins, said: “With watch crime having been particularly prevalent in the UK last year, it’s no wonder Britons want to do more to protect their possessions against thieves.”

Data provided to Watchfinder through a Freedom of Information request, shows 33 of the country’s 45 forces recorded a combined 11,035 thefts – up 41 per cent on the 7,821 reported in 2021.

If all forces had provided data, the annual total would be in the region of 15,000, equal to one theft every 30 minutes.

The increase in thefts has meant a demand for watchfinders who recover stolen timepieces, such as Art Recovery International, run by art student-turned-lawyer Christopher Marinello.

The Watch Register, which runs a database and also recovers watches, says it now has about 80,000 watches registered as stolen or missing with a total value of more than £1 billion ($1.3 billion).

Couple pulled to the ground and robbed of rare Rolex watch in London

Couple pulled to the ground and robbed of rare Rolex watch in London

At least 6,815 watches were newly recorded on its database as being missing or stolen in 2022, which was a 60 per cent increase on 2021.

About 90 per cent of watches on databases are men’s models, whose higher retail prices make them an attractive target for thieves, according to The Watch Register.

In terms of the most popular brand of high-end watches registered on The Watch Register’s database, Rolex accounts for 44 per cent of all stolen or lost watches, followed by Omega (7 per cent), Breitling (6 per cent) and Tag Heuer (5 per cent).

Its managing director Katya Hills said: “Given that trading in stolen luxury watches is lucrative and safer for criminals than dealing in drugs, we expect the level of luxury watch thefts to increase.”

The Watch Register advises owners to always insure luxury watches and keep pictures of watches, paperwork and serial numbers in case owners need to report a theft and prove their ownership.

Owners need to stay alert and have their wits about them because many thieves use distraction techniques and work in pairs, the organisation says.

They are advised to keep car windows shut when wearing a luxury watch and to keep sleeves rolled down with the watch under the cuff.

Do not talk about watch prices in public places, don’t post locations on social media, and only post after you have left a location, The Watch Register advises.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 1:28 PM