How Dangerous Is It To Wear Your Watches In Public? (With Tips For Minimizing The Risks)
Watches are made to be worn! From the time of my very first article here at Quill & Pad, I’ve argued that failing to wear the mechanical marvels we all love not only markedly reduces the joy of our hobby, but also is disrespectful to the designers and makers who created devices that are as functional as they are beautiful.
For a while, however, it has been increasingly difficult to ignore the stream of online videos and news articles about the phenomenon of watch-related muggings, including an alarming number of violent attacks resulting in serious injury or death.
As a collector, and a fairly visible one at that, I’ve certainly been paying attention to these reports and wondering whether it makes sense these days to wear one’s valuable pieces in public. To help, I polled a group of 20 watch enthusiast friends from around the world to see whether they are more concerned these days about their personal safety while wearing watches and to learn what steps they are taking to keep safe.
Is it safe?
If your only evidence was the set of results garnered from a quick online search of the terms “watch” and “robbery” with either “Rolex,” “Richard Mille,” or “Audemars Piguet” thrown in for good measure, you might never leave the house again!
In the first three quarters of 2019 alone, Paris police reported 71 muggings resulting in the loss of watches with a total value of almost $3 million according to Le Parisien. And a quick look at the map above from the same source shows us that these attacks weren’t exactly taking place in dark alleys in the seedy parts of town, but rather on the Champs-Elysées and Av. George-V.
Watch buddy Waldo (I’ve disguised the names of everyone quoted unless stated otherwise) talks about Paris: “Wearing a high-end watch in Paris is becoming a dangerous game and if you think that these guys only know Rolex, you are wrong. A childhood friend of mine had his Patek Philippe 5970G stolen in broad daylight on Rue Saint-Honoré (yes, that’s where the French President lives), and he was with his brother-in-law, their wives, and kids. Four guys, with two of them on a Vespa. It took about 40 seconds.”
And Paris isn’t alone: other friends reported their own or friends’ experiences with watch muggings in Spain (where the robber said “give me your triple bridge tourbillon” to the victim, who was wearing the selfsame Girard-Perregaux model) and in London. London seems to be a hotbed of watch-related crime, if one goes by the frequency of video and news postings such as the video below of a fellow who seems to be minding his own business, in his own office, until things go horribly wrong.
In December of 2019, a young Omani lost his life on the sidewalk outside of Harrod’s – perhaps 200 meters from where I once lived – during the robbery of his Rolex.
Even Switzerland, a place that I perhaps naively believed to be among the safest on earth, is not immune. For years I’d been warned about imposters posing as police officers and stopping likely-looking victims on the Pont du Mont-Blanc and elsewhere. And journalist Sophie Furley, in addition to telling me her story about losing her own Cartier watch years ago to a thief dressed as a construction worker, mentioned two friends of hers: one who successfully fought off muggers in Geneva during SIHH and the other who was robbed while buying a transit ticket to Palexpo!
When I asked my own unscientific sample of 20 watch enthusiasts whether they felt relatively safe or not when wearing their watches, I was expecting a flood of tales of horror and fearful behavior. Instead, the responses were split straight down the middle, with ten saying that they felt that conditions were worse than before or that they were being more vigilant, and the other ten saying that they were not concerned or were proceeding pretty much as always.
I’ve now determined that at least one of my U.S. watch pals is absolutely fearless as well as fully prepared. “As someone who has been robbed at gunpoint three times before, I am not worried at all wearing my watches in public as most of them are fairly understated in appearance. But you should pick your spots and not walk into any dark alleys at night without carrying a piece yourself. Use some common sense and look pissed off as if you are going to whoop some ass if some strangers come up to you. I call that the ‘New York look’.”
For the others, the degree of comfort or discomfort seems linked to three factors: where they are, what they are wearing, and how they are wearing it. Friends from India and Singapore, for instance, report that they are absolutely confident wearing their nicest pieces while out and about, and two buddies from South America say that they have not changed their behavior, either – although there was a bit of an unexpected twist for me in one of the responses. “Here it is okay and I’m wearing them as usual. I do drive a bulletproof car just to be safer.”
I’ve already leaned on Paris enough, but there were other stories of pals’ discomfort being seen with expensive belongings there. Closer to home, San Francisco came in for criticism from a few of my home area friends, including Chuck. “I was just in Union Square picking up a watch (from a local authorized dealer) and I felt quite exposed walking on the street as there was not much pedestrian traffic except for a few homeless guys eyeing my shopping bag.”
One common pattern that somewhat surprised me was that people felt more exposed in high-end shopping areas than in other parts of town. When I asked folks what they were doing to stay safer, several gave responses such as “avoid smart streets” and “don’t go to watch stores.” Blasphemy!
That said, I do remember the shocked look that the sales advisor at Boucheron (sorry, Paris again!) gave me when upon picking up my bespoke cufflinks I began affixing them to my cuffs, advising me in no uncertain terms that I should keep them hidden and exercise special care when exiting the boutique.
The issue of home vs. away came into play for Patrick. “I rarely fly out of town with any of my most favorite watches. Any of these three or four would be extremely difficult to replace with comparable specimens so, sadly, they are pretty much homebound.”
And perhaps the glummest assessment came from Greg. “In Chicago these days, I don’t wear a watch outside at all.”
Assuming that they were wearing watches, what to wear also featured prominently in the responses and was a major determinant of people’s levels of comfort.
- “Don’t wear Rolex – or any watch with a metal bracelet for that matter.”
- “With the exposure from footballers, Richard Mille is easily identified and much-sought.”
- “Wear understated pieces; I have lots of nice independents that I feel fine wearing.”
- “You can wear nice watches, but only on leather straps.”
- “I wear vintage military watches as they are unlikely to attract unwanted attention.”
- “I wear white metals almost exclusively.”
And how to wear watches also figured in.
- “Wear long sleeves and keep your watch covered at all times when in public.”
- “Position yourself well against the environment – don’t dress or act in ways that draw unwanted attention.”
- “In general, I have a very relaxed attitude toward my watch, and giving the impression that I wear nothing I worry about might be part of it as well. As a student in Zurich I would leave my gold watch on a restaurant table, go to the men’s room, and would find it there upon my return – other than that my girlfriend was furious with me, nothing happened!”
Others mentioned avoiding flashy clothing, one even saying that he “dresses like a bum.” Although another member of the group responded that might make it difficult to get any attention at watch stores!
If things are worse, why is that?
Along the way, my friends put forward a variety of arguments as to why things have gotten worse for showing your watches publicly – if indeed they have. Here’s what they said.
- Things actually aren’t worse, they just seem that way: “Although the snatch-and-grab videos on the Internet are scary, I wonder if this is happening more frequently or whether it’s always happened at this rate and we’re just seeing it more because of developments in technology and social media?”
- There is a larger inventory of valuable watches in circulation: “Another factor must be the development of the industry. When we started collecting, how many seven-figure watches existed (and many of them were probably pocket watches of the Caliber 89 ilk)? I vividly remember meeting an airline pilot at an event 20 years ago and being blown away by his Patek Philippe 3970. Back then a $70,000 watch like that was unobtainium. Now that the supply of five, six, and seven-figure watches has grown so much, it’s logical that more are stolen even if the demand curve for theft (propensity to steal) hasn’t changed at all (or even has gone down). Another friend: “All this also highlights the issue of the extreme appreciation in the watch market. I guess it depends largely what you already own or if you are an auctioneer, but the appreciation brings its own problems — more theft, more risk, more anxiety, less wear, more unobtainable watches.”
- Law enforcement doesn’t enforce: Here I’ll reflect on a couple of my own experiences, including the theft of my camera equipment at an event. The fantasy was that as on television, the police would launch an immediate manhunt. The reality was that I was issued a case number “as a courtesy” so that my insurance would pay off. Another of my watch pals takes a dimmer view: “The police don’t care. The DAs don’t prosecute. The courts don’t sentence. The bad guys know this, and they are becoming more brazen. The criminal law was conceived to punish and deter crime. Now there is neither punishment nor deterrence.”
- There are larger societal issues at play: Brad says: “I can’t help but reflect on the divergent issues we are discussing. Watches and other assets are enjoying great appreciation in the midst of the greatest health and economic crisis in a century, all while civil unrest increases and cities deteriorate. It does not make sense to me, and I don’t think the imbalance is sustainable, one way or the other.” And from Sid: “I believe that in these troubled times, downplaying how you dress, the car you drive, and your whole behavior make sense, as the politics of envy is becoming more apparent. The flashier you are, the more of a target you become.”
Car and watch pal Enzo, whose wisdom has appeared on these pages previously, sums up the spirit of the current times. “I do think that there is a distinct chill in the air when it comes to the appearance of luxury (at least in the U.S.). I’m hearing it from the car collector community as well. People are hesitant to be seen with valuable items like watches and cars. It is a shame because most of us do not own such things to be ‘seen’ with them. We just appreciate them and want to use them, not lock them away in a safe or garage.”
What to do?
This is the disappointing part where I say that I can’t tell you what to do – but that I hope that the reflections and comments of my 20 friends are useful as you chart your own path.
If you’ve had an uneasy sense about this topic, though, you’re not alone; it’s been a consistent topic of conversation in my circles for a while, and the issue is prominent enough that it has spawned at least one product designed to address it: the Luxwi watch lock. The whole Luxwi story bears deeper investigation, but in brief it is a small “lock” designed to secure the clasp of a watch bracelet and, at least in the original marketing messages, help to deter or avoid theft as well as incidental loss.
The market blowback upon launch of the Luxwi lock was both immediate and severe. The major complaints being that a) the lock wouldn’t work because the spring bars are the weakest point of a bracelet and that strengthening the clasp would not guard against robbers and b) the product would work, and in the ensuing delay the robbers would be more inclined to harm or kill the watch owner.
When I approached the original promoter of the product for input to this article, he asked for a set of written queries and upon receiving them declined to comment and suggested I contact another member of the project.
What I won’t be doing is buying a Luxwi. Some of the things I will be doing, though are as follows.
- Wearing my affordable “daily-wear” steel-on-leather watches and more modest vintage pieces in public and saving the big guns for occasions on which I’m sure that they and I will be protected.
- Continuing to keep my sleeve down – the good news being that I have years of practice with that as a ding-avoidance measure.
- Remaining fastidious about storing my watches in secure off-site locations.
- Doing a health check on my listed items insurance to make sure that it is fully up to date.
- Pondering Brad, Sid, and Enzo’s thoughts on potential root causes of our current discomfort and what I can do about them.
Are you feeling safe? I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below, and in the meantime wish you happy wearing!
You may also enjoy:
Why You Can’t Afford To Buy Your Watch If You Can’t Afford To Break It
Watch Collecting Regrets? I’ve Had A Few, But Not Too Few To Mention: They Include Selling Too Soon And Failing To Buy
Keep Calm And Continue Collecting: Advice For An Up And Down Watch Market
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Feel free to contribute!
Curious on other readers comments on this matter. At what point do you move your collection to a safe deposit box? And when you do, how much of it do you find yourself moving?
Ever since I started being active on the internet, and every single piece!
I keep all but a few daily wearers in a safe deposit box. I also dress with jeans and knit shirt and maintain a low key profile.
We live in strange times. Where on the streets a watch becomes worth more than a person’s life. On the other hand, ceo’s of watch companies, like Babin of Bulgari, think little of putting people’s lives in danger, no matter how they justify it, by putting on a watch show in Geneva during this time of a worldwide pandemic where they invite people to gather together. I wonder who is more dangerous.
Hi Ron — it’s an interesting question, but in general I try to avoid the fallacy of relative privation (“how can you worry about x when y is happening?”) and treat issues separately and on their own merits. Colleague Ian Skellern has published many of his own thoughts on last week’s Geneva show here on Quill & Pad — you may find those of interest, and I certainly note your objection to holding a mass gathering at this time.
Crime is up. Immigration from the 3rd world is up, which explains high crime rates in Europe. In the US, crime is highly neighborhood correlated. Think about this when you vote for politicians that are soft on crime, and favor high immigration rates.
Wow! The Universal Wisdom of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Tommy Robinson all in one sentence! Glad to know the solution to the world’s problems is as simple as that after all. “Neighborhood correlated” is the most subtle euphemism for “perpetrated by negroes” I’ve seen for a while.
I understand your comment. But the way you write ” The N word ” sounds even more racist. You do not have to use that word here. He wrote “neighborhood” related, he did not automatically implied a specific group of people. There are a lot of people of color who owns luxury watches.
Totally agree. I am in the US and I know who I am voting for this November. Just like I voted for this person in 2016!
Very well said and I will do the same. Watches are meant to be worn. Personally I have never had any issues. My watches are insured so if it ever came down to it, I could really care less. That being said I do take my 2nd amendment rights very seriously so I may not be the best person to try to steal from.
I truly hope people who read your post in the US think seriously about it. Personality isn’t what we should be voting for or against, policy and action is what matters, and with that said the choice is clear.
The only time I had a watch stolen was when I lived in one of the nicest suburban towns in NJ. In broad daylight, in the middle of the week, someone broke into my house and took my beloved Speedmaster (I was at work wearing my Sub). I visit NYC a lot but always wear a simple, leather band watch or a Swatch…
Very sorry to hear about your stolen watch, Dominick — I’m afraid that I’m going to have to follow your example with regard to wearing simple watches when visiting big cities in future…
Right on! I always wondered why it’s called ‘Criminal Justice System’ and NOT ‘Criminal Punishment System’!?!
Well said my friend absolutely true!
Also watching that video, the guy in the Adidas too needs a hammer to the back of his head next time he walks past!
As much as I truly have admired the United States my entire life; Where in this article is the US mentioned? Why do so many from the US believe that all & everything is about the US? Or about their politics? So now it is about Trump versus Biden in an article about watch theft in Europe & the UK? We are interested in watches & watch theft all over the world, not the US elections where all we hear about are the terrible violence, civil unrest & worst of all, the lies from candidates on all sides regarding who is to blame. We really do not care about Trump or Biden regarding this article. Stop thinking the “world is America”…
What was said could easily be applied to Europe and the UK. In the UK, where I live the current situation is that crime pays. Penalties are weak and the chance of getting cought is very low. Until that equation changes these problems will only get worse.
There is no example more clear than NYC where Guliani changed the equation and crime crashed dramatically and the city actually became a nice place. The current NYC mayor thas gone the other direction. And we now see the result.
It is not complicated. People respond to incentives. The crime equation matters.
Well said. As this excellent article has made so many of us watch wearing persons take note; just who would care whether we were robbed, when the authorities have so much serious crime to worry about. To the police in NY & London, they might just think, “well, why are these “wealthy” people flaunting their worth?
I bet that even if a watch maker or some enterprising individual invents a tracking chip to go inside a watch, the authorities would not have the time/manpower (or should that be personpower?) to track them down…
It is sad to read news about robberies and thefts of watches or of anything. Envy and propensity to deceit and violence is very real in our societies since the beginning of time. I supposed social media helped amplify the awareness.
To live in fear – no way; your article talks about common sensibilities and using good judgement which is really important. And above all, watches are material goods, if push comes to shove, it’s ok to let it go in order to preserve one’s life or limb. Memories will be scarred and time will heal. We live another year, we get to, perhaps, buy another watch.
Enjoy life, enjoy the hobby and enjoy the friendship that’s forged along the way!
Amen, Benny! It’s all about the people and friendships we form — and it’s great that watches are involved as well.
Wear your watches safely and in good health!
I think the watch industry needs a sorting out. For example, the brand does not have a clear record, when & whom their watch were sold at the store or how many pieces are produced , there is no clear record and it is not public. If the customer can do a blog chain registration after purchasing, manufacturer will have a more comprehensive and clear record. Every time when they change Hands customer canRegistry under their name. this way, it is help insurance companies to prevent the stolen watch from circulating in the market, and it also reduces the criminals from thinking about these products, even the second-hand market can protected their clients.
Good thoughts, Samuel — there are of course brands who operate active registries, but those depend on owners volunteering their information after the purchase and I’m wondering what percentage of watch owners actually do that.
It would be a great service if manufacturers would maintain comprehensive registries, but then again that would come at a cost in terms of labor and IT systems — and I suspect that some want to avoid the potential liabilities associated with seeming responsible for tracking down stolen property, participating in prosecutions, etc.
Another aspect of a difficult problem! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
Good to see a well thought out article about watch crime, something I have been highlighting on my You Tube Channel for a very long time. If anyone is interested in watching my videos on Watch Crime please search Paul Thorpe Watch Dealer on You Tube. Thanks!
I watched the one when you got robbed…!
Thanks for the kind words and for the tip on your YouTube Channel, Paul — I will take a look!
Good to see your post Paul.
Your videos are excellent & it is just sad to see that the UK & Europe are in such a lawless state. It is no wonder that so many are looking for safer places to bring their families.
Producer Michael must be sh_tting his pants.
Watch Mugger (WM): Hey, Bentley-driving English dude, pull over and show me your wrist candy!
Producer Michael (PM): Here you go, just don’t shoot me, OK?
WM: What in….heaven’s name is that?
PM: It’s the latest Jacob & Co! Just take it, and stop pointing that thing at me!
WM: Er… no thanks… got any cash?
I was thinking of his Reeshard Meels or diamond-covered Rolexes. But foremost he is the Jacob man, the Jacob man is he; if he nods too fast you may be aghast, as his wig falls in his tea.
Are those eyelashes real?
Interesting read, if a rather bleak perspective. I suspect the risks relate largely to main cities. Living in the beautiful countryside, I certainly don’t worry.
When I do go into town, I always dress and behave in a low-key way, keeping my watch hidden beneath a long sleeve shirt. This, together with basic situational awareness should minimise the majority of the risk. Or, perhaps, I’m being too naive…?
Hi Robert — I’m guessing that you are correct, and that prudent behavior should minimize risks. That said, there are some behaviors that I would have considered perfectly safe and normal (browsing the watch boutiques in New York while wearing a valuable watch, meeting friends for a watch lunch at a restaurant and sharing a bunch of watches at a table in the main dining room) that I’ll now think twice about…
The politics of envy seem to contribute to law enforcements hesitancy to pursue this type of crime. Not a lot of sympathy for the people perceived to be wealthy. In any event I think an individual’s perception of safety while wearing a valuable watch would be most influenced by past experiences.
Hi Mike — while I try to stay apolitical here, I agree that there seems to be a tendency these days to want to penalize the successful rather than building up the under-privileged, and I’d be interested to see some longer-term statistics on the proportion of these crimes pursued by law enforcement.
Also agree that one’s own personal experiences, especially traumatic ones, would shape one’s perspective on likely future risks. I’ve been quite fortunate over the years, and am also planning to take advantage of the perspectives and experiences of my friends and our readers here to inform my own behavior going forward.
I buy a watch to wear, It is not to show off, I know what I could lose, those who do put themselves at risk need to be aware of the risks, wear sleeves and keep your valuables safe. Theses high value thefts are not opportunist they are planned.
I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what you say — discreet enjoyment is the best, and I’m thinking that there aren’t a lot of folks out there who would suddenly be inspired to an opportunistic crime by a glance at someone’s wrist…
I don’t know who Greg is, but I must disagree with his assessment of Chicago. I have lived here my entire life and for more than 30 years have worn collectible watches daily. Tourbillons, perpetuals, you name it. Not once have I had a shadow of a problem. I work in the central business district (more lately on the edge) and commuted daily. Of course I avoid dark alleys, housing project type neighborhoods, but that just makes sense for personal safety. Still, the anecdotal report of one person doesn’t do the city, residents or visitors any favors, in contrast to the more objective journalism of Le Parisien.
Fully agree, grew up in Northern Suburbs and spent a lot of time in the city without ever having an issue.
Hi Michael and Christiaan — well, I did say that mine was a non-scientific survey of friends! I lived in the Streeterville area of Chicago myself for over a decade, and always felt Chicago to be a safe environment — but I think it’s also fair to allow my pal Greg (who is a long-time collector and urbanite here and abroad, and who by the way is much more physically imposing than I, to be sure) to have his say about the current situation in Chicago — just as I am pleased that you’ve taken the time to express yours.
I enjoy watches although I’m priced out of the luxury market. I do have a 53 year old seiko diver watch I got in my 13th birthday. What is wild is appreciation. In 1982 I bought a Rolex Sub for $1299 new. The last time I looked the same 1982 watch was way over $3000 used. A friend said that the demand for all things Rolex was the cause. Oh well I’ll keep wearing my seiko. It’s a odd watch. It was called the sport racer diver. It has a blue checkered twist bezel. I used to laugh when I had the Sub, there were so many street vendors selling fake subs it was funny.
Thanks for commenting — I suppose that part of the “curse” of Rolex is that you can’t get them, but if you can they are subject to theft and you can never be sure whether one you see on someone’s wrist is authentic or not!
Hope you continue to enjoy your Seiko, and thanks for commenting.
Thanks for this article dear GaryG ,
I experienced a robbery myself in spain last year , true they (robbers) will first spot you driving a nice car etc first and then follow you till they can rob you . They also have people (waitress, employees etc) on there payroll who tip them when they spot someone wearing a nice watch . So i can easily say its not safe wearing a nice watch in public in hotspots , at least I don’t wear a expensive watch to these places anymore. Unfortunately In Europe we can’t wear weapons to protect ourselves.
I advice people to be careful in big cities and hotspots .
I’m very sorry to hear about your loss in last year’s robbery — and am relieved that at least physically you seem to have survived intact.
One of the other comments above highlighted that these robberies are planned, not opportunistic, and your remarks provide additional evidence — in the course of researching this article and reading the responses I have become much more aware of the relative risks of what I would have considered “safe” environments vs. my views of “risky” areas or neighborhoods.
Thanks again for sharing your experience and perspectives here.
Stolen watches will one day end up at a dealer for sale or watchmaker/ manufacturer for repair or service.
Most dealers will check if a piece is stolen before sale or service and retain it if it is.
Make sure stolen items are registered with https://www.thewatchregister.com/ so checks can be made.
Thanks for the thoughts, Sean. I’d be very interested to see any research on the proportion of stolen watches that eventually re-surface or are caught by dealers or manufacturers when returned for service.
I know that in the case of my stolen Hasselblad camera, I paid for a listing on a stolen camera service and alerted the manufacturer, and after two years have heard nothing. Of course I’m only one data point among very many!
Best to register with all 3: The Watch Register, as well as MyStolenWatch (http://www.mystolenwatch.com/) and Alpha Hands (https://alphahands.com/faq/stolen-watch-registry-database/).
And of course, note the serial numbers of your watches as well – without those or other unique marks. Well….
@Tom – in my informal polling I’ve found the following breakdown on where they are stored:
Bank safe deposit box: 50%
Hidden/sock drawer: 30%
Heavy home safe/TL-15+: 13%
Lightweight home safe: 7%
Wearing an Omega chronometer several days a week has never proven problematic for me. The occasional outing with my PP Calatrava has been equally uneventful. I will continue to wear my watches as is my right as a free citizen. But, street robberies/muggings don’t happen in my part of the state, probably because most folks are armed with a concealed weapon and won’t hesitate to neutralize a criminal who makes a poorly thought out life decision.
Watch Sandton Station in Sandton City Johannesburg. I was attacked at gun point, standing on an escalator in the middle of dozens of people. My 20K $ Dubey&Schaldenbrand gone
Oh dear! Very sorry to hear about this, Roland — and thanks for the tip to our readers.
I had the good fortune to read this article just before Geneva Watch Days, and thus shaken, religiously rolled my watch around my wrist (easy with watch I was wearing) each time I was walking on the street or in public. It became a sensible habit. Thanks Gary
Glad you found the article of use, Ian! Of course it makes no sense to live in fear, but why not practice a few easy and sensible tactics in public as long as we can? Good tip on rolling the watch under the wrist (at least with ding-preventing long sleeves) — finally a version of a “wrist roll” I can approve!
As a person who was brought up in a 3rd world country & has lived in both the most peaceful cities & the most dangerous, I cannot think of a worse or more dangerous product than the Luxwi lock!
For starters, a person or persons who have decided to rob you, will not just “give up” when they realise that the watch is more secure than expected. They will just stay about longer to get it, & get it they will. Just that now in frustration & by doing you, or worse, your family, more harm. Example: rings on fingers, a “panga blade” will cut off a hand swiftly when the rings are too slow coming off. No different than a burglar robbing a home when he knows that the items are in a safe & that you are home. He will be prepared to get the safe open the easiest way there is, that is by taking a family member or yourself as hostage until you immediately realise that the items can be replaced, your lives cannot. Often a safe is a handy place for a thief as all the goods are in one spot.
The best way to stop these daylight robberies is by making the idea of robbery very dangerous/lethal for the thieves. This would have to be an entire strategy by the authorities to dedicate the manpower to trap the thieves over a period of a few months. Not too difficult to plan & do, except that the authorities have far more pressing things to do, such as protect every citizen, not just the well-off watch collecting/wearing public.
Unfortunately, as this is Europe, the average citizen cannot arm himself & trap these scum on his own, or he would now be a criminal, unlike the “old days” when a blade inside a walking stick or a small pistol up a sleeve was legal to carry & use. It is a sign of the times & it will take a few generations before the “pendulum” again swings & we will have the right to protect ourselves with the same violent methods as the criminal uses.
Hello, George-Paul — with limited enforcement resources and no obvious product solutions to address this problem, it does seem that a bit of prudence and caution is called for when out in public…
Absolutely agree. Especially considering that people wearing their expensive watches in public are probably judged by the authorities as the “privileged class” who should tone down their appearance & not make targets of themselves. I suppose that even though many of us do not consider ourselves as being show offs or privileged, to the police, who have just had a call out to a domestic disturbance in a tough neighbourhood, or had to go into dangerous area to help a victim, we are making work for them.
I believe another contributing factor to this “trend” is the second-hand market for vintage, pre-owned (and pre-loved) watches which has become increasingly more popular, especially attractive in these pandemic times, when you can now purchase an expensive or rare watch on any one of the multiple and reputable online sites that have sprung up in recent years. The popularity of these sites and their track records for delivering, have also squelched many previous fears of buying “big ticket” items on the internet. While these are positive developments, it’s also true that the history of ownership of these second-hand watches is not transparent on these sites, and this fact may open the door to the possibility for stolen watches to enter the internet marketplace.
Thanks for your comments, Carol! Weak custody trails on the sorts of websites you mention may well be a significant contributing factor, easing the disposal of watches once stolen. Perhaps one more reason to be wary of “no box, no papers, no extra links” watches, at least when dealing with recent-production pieces.
While street robbery isn’t involved, the problem of weak custody tracking is also present in other channels — I wrote a while ago about a well-known example in the auction world: https://quillandpad.com/2016/03/30/shady-dealings-antiquorum-and-the-stolen-a-lange-sohne-anniversary-watch-no-185500-2/
Thanks again for your thoughts — and be careful out there!
Somehow my interest in watches luckily found its way to Quill & Pad. Gary, I really enjoyed reading your informative article along with the various reactions and comments. And what a surprise when I figured out that you’re Gary G. who graduated the same year as I did from PHS. Small world!
After many years living in the Bay Area (Marin), my wife and I were ready for a change and moved to Paris about 25 years ago. Early on I learned a valuable lesson about security when my Leica M6 and collection of lenses were stolen on a train in Marseille. ( Sorry about your Hassy, I know the feeling) Since then I’ve adjusted to my environment and so far so good. My watches are on the modest side so I’m able to enjoy wearing any one of them in the city with little stress. So yes, just use common sense, assess the situation and behave accordingly. Also, just for fun, when making the rounds on Place Vendome, invite a “wing man” along when possible.
Best, John H
John — Greetings! Amazing that in this small world a narrative on watches in Paris would be the mechanism for us to re-connect.
Sorry to hear that you had a photo equipment theft as well — ouch. Sounds as if life has unfolded in interesting ways for you — I’ll definitely keep you in mind for wing man duties when and if circumstances allow me out of the US again, and in the meantime wish you all the best. Who knows — perhaps we will see you at our upcoming (muffled sound)th year reunion!
Solution No. 1: Always wear a genuine Bond watch by Omega. When you twist the crown anti-clockwise and at the same time slightly press it in toward the case, a high intensity laser temporarily blinds the eyes of your assailant while you make a get away, watch intact.
Solution No. 2: Wear the ugliest, cheapest, most tacky looking watch that you absolutely hate, during the day. if a thief threatens you, beg him to take the watch. If he takes it you’ll feel great. ( If you are feeling particularly appreciative you might give him a few dollars too, just as a thank you ).
Now, if you are unlucky and he refuses to take the watch, go home, take off the decoy watch , take a
shower, put on some good music, pour yourself a drink and slip on your precious Cartier / Tourblingon / Rolex or whatever, and feel good all evening.
3) Relocate to Japan where likely as not, if you leave that luxury F.P. Journe on the table in a restaurant, the staff will somehow miraculously locate your address and two days later it will be mailed back to you meticulously gift wrapped in beautiful washi paper with a “Be careful” note..
Stay safe out there folks!
I live in London and am aware of a lot of watch related crime where I am (Islington), and for me its about a few things:
1) Resale value – Rolex sports/professional models are so sought after, that they can be sold within an hour (known stolen) for over retail price, which makes them a big/easy target for thieves. Other than AP/PP most other brands will be sold for less than the RRP, but if the watch initially costs more than the annual salary of a normal person it is common sense to be careful as the theft of the watch which may take an hour or so will net the thief a few months money. When I was young in the 80s, we were advised not to take expensive things on holiday if we went to poorer countries, even a camera for a few hundred pound could be sold for a few months wages in terms of the local economy- this opportunity opens up more possible thieves. A speedy pro is a great watch but selling a stolen one? Probably be lucky to get £1800 and will have to try a few places so thieves are less likely to do it. especially if that money needs to be split between 2-3 people.
As for the more expensive pieces mentioned in the (very good) article, I think at that sort of level you will usually be looking at a tip off or more planned robbery. The market for these pieces is small as less people have heard of them and less people can afford them. The thieves probably ‘lose’ more value when selling them on but if the watch is £80k, its still worth their while if they get £20k for an hours ‘work’.
2) How we carry ourselves is important too, I agree with the NY approach mentioned in the article but this will work mainly against opportunists. Planned robberies will just take me out from behind or use a greater threat if I look like I could be a challenge. If I have my daughter with me, am I even going to consider fighting back for a material object and put her at risk? not at all. I tend to carry myself like that anyway as I’m a Londoner and like a lot of big cities we often just act a bit more aggressively/assertively than out of towners. I usually carry something that could be used as a weapon if needed (the law is not on my side in UK so I have to be inventive- currently a ‘tactical pen’), but if I am with my 6yo daughter I will be a lot more alert, I feel (being stupidly macho) that covering up in an unnatural way or avoiding places is giving in, so I don’t trend to do that personally but if I’m with her I would. When I went to Palermo last year I didn’t take a nice watch as I hadn’t been there for a while and didn’t know how safe it was. A Christopher Ward was fine but in reality, when I go back this year I will take a nice watch as I didn’t feel unsafe there.
3) How valuable is the watch to me? as important as the first valuation (resale price for thieves) is, am I wearing something that is beyond my budget? My last Rolex, a ceramic GMT was purchased at a price that was a bit of a stretch for me, but within a few years it was worth an amount I could not afford to lose… I wouldn’t have been able to rebuy it and the street value of the watch was high enough that it made sense for me to sell it and buy a new Reverso and a new Speedy Pro- both of which fell in my rough rule of valuation (don’t spend more than 2 months salary on a watch). I would love a PP Annual calendar but for me it would be too much, not just in cost but in servicing and should anything happen, I would realistically not be able to buy another one. Its out of my league and I need to have acceptance around that haha
This article is reasonable.
Many of the comments are appalling.
“Unfortunately In Europe we can’t wear weapons to protect ourselves.”
I think you mean “Fortunately, in Europe you are unlikely to get shot”
Another “Upstanding citizen” writes
“Unfortunately, as this is Europe, the average citizen cannot arm himself & trap these scum on his own, or he would now be a criminal, unlike the “old days” when a blade inside a walking stick or a small pistol….”
Yeah, THAT’S the problem! How dreadful that we can’t” trap” and “shoot” people anymore!!!
I DO agree that the genuine open door policy of Europe has been dreadful for the continent and I know from personal anecdote that theft is a big problem in what used to be “The Civilised World”, but Americans bemoaning the fact that they can’t shoot immigrants anymore is so far from acceptable that I believe the comments should be deleted.
Instead, what is needed in many countries (including outside The EU) is well-funded, professional police and justice systems with automatic deportation for any non-citizen convicted of a violent crime.
Plus fair tax enforcement.
Wealthy people mourn the America or The France that they grew up in while doing everything they can do block the policies responsible for this Gilded Age.
So few understand that.
My Dobie and I walk for bagels everyday wearing whatever pleases me. Oh, and I do carry as well and know how to use it.