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The YouTube algorithm can take you into odd places, so it was with me and the London Watch. The watch collecting community is a global connected bunch of super passionate and and seriously nerdy people. It’s not the kind of stuff I would generally have bothered with. Watch collectors, particularly at the premium to luxury end of the scale have have started to talk about London (and by the implication, the rest of the UK) as hive of crime.
Watch community YouTubers often do a wrist check to show what timepiece they have on. Usually you will see a luxury or cult timepiece. But I have started to notice a few videos talking about the presenters empty wrist as a London Watch. You can see it on this live stream by Paul Thorpe just after the 9-minute mark. He was doing the video from right by the Oxford Circus shopping area in Central London.
The implication being that only going watchless or wearing a plain looking Casio is the right ‘watch to wear’ in Central London.
A random walk through Google News yielded these examples:
- Three arrests after dad died during ‘hammer robbery for luxury watch’ | LBC – this happened on March 16th, 2023. The victim was set upon by three people armed with at least one hammer and killed so they could steal the Rolex on his wrist
- In February 2023, Green Park – London Underground: Police hunt men after horror Tube station robbery leaves victim without coat, watch and passport | My LDN – the thieves didn’t bother with a getaway vehicle using public transport to escape instead
- At the end of January 2023, this article was published The London neighbourhood where crime is so bad ‘tourists have been robbed with a machete’ | My LDN. The same month a man was stabbed and slashed inside Harrods department store in what was believed to be an attempted watch robbery
- During Christmas 2022 ‘Extremely violent’ attempted watch robbery in Soho leaves man with facial injuries | Evening Standard
- In October 2022, Mayfair pub worker fought off two machete-wielding moped muggers on watch snatching spree | Evening Standard. The same month Dad robbed at knifepoint of £15k Rolex in Westfield London car park after muggers followed him and daughter, 14 | My LDN
- September 2022, a man was robbed for his TAG Heuer watch and received a broken eye socket during the robbery: Bayonne Park: Man suffers broken eye socket in violent watch robbery in Fulham | Evening Standard. Meanwhile the same month: ‘Two men on mopeds armed with a machete tried to steal my £70,000 watch’ | Evening Standard
- August 2022, Watch thieves strike again in Lawless London: Moment a brazen thug rips the watch from a man’s arm outside Mayfair restaurant | Mail Online. The story also mentions a second incident where a moped rider in the same area tried to attack a man for his watch by breaking his car window just a week earlier
- June 2022, a motorcycle pillion passenger uses the buzzer to gain access and goes into an apartment building and robs a man of his watch at knife point. The CCTV footage was widely shared on social media Bike thieves roam streets of lawless London: Video shows brazen thugs snatch watches and phones from unsuspecting victims in broad daylight in crime spree on streets of capital | Mail Online. In another case, a man was assaulted and robbed of his watch on a London bus: London night bus passenger brutally mugged for his £30,000 Rolex watch | Evening Standard
- May to July 2022, police believe that one gang committed 12 robberies alone in South London: Thieves ‘hit victims with objects before stealing watches’ in South London crime spree | My LDN When the article was published police were investigating 42 other similar cases
- In May 2022, Emmanuel Odunlami was killed for his watch. The robbers were in league with staff at the restaurant he had been attending: London man stabbed to death while celebrating his birthday in ‘plan to steal his £300k designer watch’ | My LDN
- Man admits driving getaway car in Amir Khan armed watch robbery in London | Evening Standard – Amir Khan is a former boxing world champion at different weights from 2009 to 2016. Mr Khan was robbed of his watch at gun point in April 2022
- In February 2022 Saul Murray was drugged and stabbed to death for his watch collection. East London trio convicted after man’s ‘horrific’ death | Hackney Gazette – describes how they befriended him to gain access to his home, drugged him so they could search the apartment and then stabbed him and left him to bleed out
- In January 2022, a man was robbed of his watch and left unconscious close to Embankment tube station Robber who stole £145,000 watch in central London jailed | Metropolitan Police news room
- November 2021, an American tourist and their friend were robbed of their watches by a stun gun wielding gang: Moment robbers use stun gun on US tourist to snatch £100k watch in Chelsea | Evening Standard
- October 2021 saw a man robbed of his watch and shoved into a shop window by a thief who got away on a moped scooter Police release CCTV image after ‘high value’ watch robbery in central London | ITV News
- London brothers jailed for 31 years after dressing up as pensioners to rob a jewellery shop | My LDN – while their latex masks gave the robbery a ‘Mission Impossible’ angle; they got into the shop using threats and being armed with a large knife and a hammer. This robbery happened in 2021
- Gang jailed after robbing man of Rolex watch and two diamond rings worth £43,000 in Mayfair | Evening Standard – the robbery happened right outside his hotel in November 2020
- Student murdered in watch robbery attempt near Harrods, court hears | BBC – Omani student Mohammed Al-Araimi was killed for his watch and died outside Harrods in 2019
- Gabriel Leung was robbed for a watch worth just £250 in July 2019 by a thief with a machete. Londoner describes ‘terrifying’ moment robber ‘jumped’ him from behind with a machete for a £250 watch | My LDN. The incident happened in Hampstead
It took seven years for YouTube celebrity Yianni to talk about having his watch taken in a violent robbery that occurred back in 2016
My list of robberies isn’t exhaustive, but the constant drip, drip, drip of this news helped drive the idea of the London Watch.
In October 2022, a luxury auction house ran a public safety campaign advising watch collectors to leave their pieces at home after they were alarmed by the Metropolitan Police’s own crime numbers. This came after the police tried and failed to assure Londoners and tourists over the summer. In April and May 2022, there was a 60 percent increase in high value watch robberies just in Central London with a 100 having been reported and investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
Watch crime has been happening in European tourist spots as well such as Barcelona and Paris, but the UK seems to be particularly blighted. London based watch crime has even attracted the attention of US watch collector hobbyist site Hodinkee who featured it heavily in an article on the international view.
Between January and July 2021 there were 377 reported watch thefts, according to the Met Police compared to 621 in the same period during 2022.Brazen watch robberies fuel shock rise in violent thefts in London ITV News
Police have attempted to stop some incidents in progress, but the scale of the problem seems to be beyond their current capability and capacity.
Possible contributing factors
- Rich opportunity. London is an international city and hosts high net worth individuals from different countries all year round. Many choose to make it their home
- Luxury watches get a good return for the thieves. Apparently a watch will net the thief half its face value when fenced. By comparison diamond or gold jewellery will fetch roughly 10 percent of its value. I was surprised by this as all high end watches have a traceable serial number, which would make it harder to pass on. Many are apparently stolen and shipped out of the country, though some end up for sale online
- Thieves have very little chance of getting caught. The amount of incidents that are happening versus the amount of successful police investigations means that both watch and phone thefts are a low risk, lucrative option for thieves. Despite London have a large amount of CCTV systems, only a small percentage of the crimes are solved. Finally the police are under-resourced for the scale of the task they face
The high level of violence involved is troubling and reason for it isn’t immediately apparent.
What does the London Watch phenomenon mean?
Impact on global tourism business. When Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post is running articles like Wearing your Rolex or Patek Philippe in Europe? Why you should be worried about London and Paris’ spikes in luxury watch theft – you realise that your city has a reputation problem with high spending East Asian travellers. The UK’s Daily Telegraph points out that the crime particularly targets the wealthy and tourists with impunity.
Thieves seem to use social media research and spotters to find their mark. Many of these spotters work as staff in restaurants, hotels, bars and night clubs frequented by the rich.
- Luxury sales will be impacted, this looks like the likely reason that auction houses are actively warning people in London about the risk and how to mitigate it through public information campaigns
- Tourists are less likely to spend money in hospitality if they feel that some of the staff might be setting them up to be robbed
- Tourists and business travellers are less likely to come to London, if they feel that the risk of violent crime is disproportionate
For the time being, be sensible and stay safe out there by wearing a London Watch.