The increased targeting of luxury replica watches by ruthless street robbers and smash and grab gangs has led to a dramatic rise in the number of stolen timepieces being registered with a crime prevention database.
The surge in thefts – which has seen more than £1m of watches stolen in central London in the first quarter of this year alone – has led to a rush of owners using the Watch Register in a bid to trace their items.
The register, an offshoot of the Arts Loss Register – set up in 1990 to locate stolen works of art – allows dealers to check whether a watch brought to them for sale has been stolen.
It also allows police, insurers, individual owners and jewelry shops to search for stolen watches being sold on elsewhere.
With a surge in scooter gangs snatching replica designer watches from passers-by or breaking into high end jewelry shops to steal fashionable brands, 10,000 stolen watches have been added to the Watch Register in the past 12 months.
That compares to the 60,000 registered with the Arts Loss Register in the whole period between 1990 and 2014, when the Watch Register was set up as a separate database.
There has also been a significant increase the number of stolen watches recovered as a result of the register being searched, with brands such as replica Omega, Rolex, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Cartier and Patek Philippe found and returned to their rightful owners..
In 2016 at least 45 stolen watches were recovered, though the number is likely to be higher with other stolen watches found by police as a result of the search.
By last year that figure had nearly doubled to at least 85. That number seems likely to be exceeded this year, with 44 already recovered in the first five months of 2018.
Katya Hills, the director of the Watch Register, said: “The increase in the number of watches on our database is certainly in part due to the increase in the number of thefts from smash and grab raids on jewellers and street snatches.
“The fact that luxury watches are being targeted will have led more people to use our services in an attempt to combat that increase in thefts.”
In a striking success for the Watch Register Nadeem Malik, a London-based dealer, was last year jailed for 18 months on two counts of “concealing and converting criminal property” after he tried to sell a Rolex worth £13,500 to a trader in the Hatton Garden jewellery quarter.
When the trader checked the watch against the Watch Register it showed the Rolex had been stolen from shop in Mayfair in 2016 as part of a smash and grab robbery by a moped gang.
Scotland Yard says the rise in watch thefts has been partly fuelled by the growing popularity if luxury watches with a high resale value.
Detective Constable Kevin Parley of the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad, told the Financial Times: “There has been a huge explosion in watch crime in recent years, much of it due to the fact that there are now many, many more dealers specialising in pre-owned models, but also because of increased brand awareness — for a long time, Rolex was the only name many people recognised.”
In a separate move a 20-year-old student whose family run a luxury watch business in San Remo, Italy, last year set up a service to reunite owners with their missing watches.
Fabio Giannone’s MyStolenWatch.com currently holds the details of around 30,000 watches lost and stolen worldwide.