Rolex Rippers are using more violence with stolen watches safer and more lucrative to sell than drugs

6 December 2023, 07:37

Rolex Rippers are using more violence with stolen watches safer and more lucrative to sell than drugs
Rolex Rippers are using more violence with stolen watches safer and more lucrative to sell than drugs. Picture: LBC/Alamy
Katya Hills

By Katya Hills

  • Katya is the Managing Director at The Watch Register, which holds the world’s largest and most established international database of lost and stolen watches

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 continue to rise – both in the capital and across the UK.

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We are now seeing two extremely worrying trends.

Firstly, a dramatic increase in the frequency of watch thefts – Metropolitan Police data shows more than 6,000 watches were stolen in London last year, and around 11,035 across England and Wales.

And secondly, an increase in the level of violence being used by criminals to obtain luxury watches.

Thieves and criminal gangs are operating in affluent areas and tourist hotspots, scouting for luxury watch owners to target. Robberies are occurring in watch owners’ cars, homes and on the street, often in broad daylight. It's the visibility, portability and high resale value of these prestige timepieces that is increasingly attracting the attention of criminal networks within the UK and internationally.

Rolex watches in particular have become a currency for thieves.

We now have around 80,000 watches registered as stolen or missing on The Watch Register database, whose total value amounts to over £1 billion.

The number of luxury watches registered with us has been increasing year on year. In 2022, we saw 6,815 watches newly recorded on our database as missing or stolen, which was a 60% increase on 2021.

Around 90% of watches on The Watch Register’s databases are men’s models, whose higher retail value make them an attractive target for thieves.

From the models of watches that are commonly targeted in street robberies and smash-and-grabs, it is clear that thieves are increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable about the watches that have long waiting lists on the primary market and will sell on the pre-owned market for the highest price.

In terms of the most popular brand of high-end watches registered on The Watch Register’s database, Rolex accounts for 44% of all stolen or lost watches.

This is followed by Omega (7%), Breitling (6%) and Tag Heuer (5%).

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

Only watches reported with serial numbers can be registered on the database and recovered.

We encourage watch owners to stay alert and have their wits about them – many thieves use distraction techniques and work in pairs.

Owners should keep their watches entirely hidden from sight when in public spaces by keeping sleeves rolled down and car windows shut.

The advice for anyone confronted by a thief willing to use violence must be to hand over the watch and rely on recovery services provided by The Watch Register to help them get their watch back.

The Watch Register actively searches for lost and stolen watches on the global pre-owned market until they are recovered. The database is used by watch dealers, jewellers, pawnbrokers and auction houses to identify stolen watches prior to transactions. From the moment a stolen watch is located, our specialist recoveries team steps in to secure the watch and remove it from circulation.

We find 3-4 lost and stolen watches per day for victims of theft. 50% of watches we find are located within a year of the theft and 35% within 6 months.

Watches are turning up quicker than ever before, so we urge watch owners to report losses to us without delay to ensure the best chance of recovery.