Instagram-Savvy Watch Thieves in London Are Using Social Media to Rip Off Collectors

Collectors in London are learning that flexing wrist candy online could have dire consequences.

High-end timepieces are being “stolen to order” across England’s capital by a new wave of tech-savvy criminals, according to The Times. These thieves are reportedly combing through social media profiles in search of rare and expensive wristwatches, then taking them by force. It comes as pre-owned pieces by the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet continue to fetch exorbitant sums on the booming secondary market.

Alex Bomberg, chairman of security company Intelligent Protection International, told the Times luxury watches have become “portable assets” that can be sold quickly to turn a profit.

“They can be stolen to order or easily shifted on through the black market—maybe for one-tenth or a fifth of their value,” he told the publication. “If they’re stolen to order it raises a number of issues; there could be street credibility for criminals who take a watch off a famous person’s arm and sell it to a collector who is happy to buy stolen timepieces.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20:  A diamond-encrusted Rolex watch is seen in a store window in the financial district, also known as the Square Mile, on January 20, 2017 in London, England.  Following the announcement by Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May that Britain will leave the single market, financial organisations such as UBS and Goldman Sachs have reported that they are seriously considering either cutting staff or moving them from London.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Stolen watches become “portable assets” that can be sold quickly to turn a profit. Leon Neal/Getty

Amir Khan appears to have been the target of one such crime. The former world boxing champion had his custom, diamond-encrusted Franck Muller Vanguard Chronograph taken at gunpoint in east London last April in what has been described as a “carefully planned and executed robbery.”

Stealing watches is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. You might remember a gang known as the “Rolex Rippers” targeting wealthy men wearing Rollies in London over Christmas 2021 and New Year’s 2022. There was also a band of robbers on this side of the pond scooping Rolexes off the wrists of Bay Area residents back in August. What is new, however, is the stalking of potential victims on social media.

“Gangs are looking at them and thinking, ‘He’s staying at this hotel in London and he’s got these Hublot watches. Let’s wait for him to pop out and we’ll get him,’” Christopher Marinello, founder of Art Recovery International, told The Times. “You can’t blame people for wanting to show off what they have but there simply aren’t enough police on the street these days.”

Marinello says these robberies happen several times a week, and the thieves are becoming more violent. “You can’t go out to dinner in Mayfair wearing a high-end watch,” he adds.

Commander Owain Richards, the Met’s lead for robbery and violent crime, acknowledged that “there is more to do” and apologized to any victims the force has let down. “I’m not content with where we are with our detection rates and my mission is fewer robberies, more detection, and less crime,” Richards explained.

In the meantime, you might want to resist the urge to ‘Gram your collection and leave your prized pieces at home the next time you travel to London. You can never be too careful.

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