Luxury watches attract all types of people, not just watch collectors and enthusiasts. With the ever-increasing demand for luxury watches, we have also seen watches attract ever-increasing prices. That in turn has attracted speculators at best and criminals at worst.
The French newspaper Le Monde, one of the most widely respected newspapers in the world, has revealed that luxury watches are experiencing peak demand in the criminal underworld. Watches from brands such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille, Patek Philippe, are not just luxury watches, but also a convenient way to launder their ill-gotten gains. As per Le Monde, “between June 21 and 23 thirty-three people were arrested in France and Belgium, all members of large-scale international criminal network of concealment of luxury goods”.
As per their report, French police were initially alarmed in mid-2021 by an upsurge in thefts of luxury watches “in Nice, Saint-Tropez, Paris and in several European tourist cities. For the Alpes-Maritimes alone, this type of theft committed with violence, even under the threat of a weapon or giving rise to kidnapping, increased by 90% between 2020 and 2021” and moreover these numbers are only on the rise: “watches stolen in the Alpes-Maritimes during the first five months of the year represent an increase of 600%”.
From the report we learn that a stolen watch is usually resold at 10% of its value as it is no longer able to reenter the legal circuit. However, that also means that if you can keep the watch from appearing as stolen – by for example skillfully altering the serial number – there is a 90% value-increase waiting around the corner. And so, criminals have found a way to do just that. It is this network that the police went after. And they found “high-level specialists, people capable of modifying parts and renumbering watches”. According to Le Monde “The talents of these counterfeit jewelers are such that certain watches from a classic series have been transformed into copies of special limited series, sold two to three times more expensive”.
This situation, where a stolen watch can now sell for a much higher price than just a few years ago, created an additional incentive to go out hunting for watches. Stolen watches were no longer fetching just 10% of retail value, but amounts up to 50%. And as you can guess, that only leads to more watch theft going forward.
For more information, check out the report here.