London Watch

9 minutes estimated reading time

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.

Rolex GMT-Master II 116710

Crime tsunami

A random walk through Google News yielded these examples:

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.

Staggering scale

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.