For now, watchmakers are keeping an eye on how crime affects sales.

“We are very much aware of the problem,” Rolex said in response to Bloomberg News queries. The Geneva-based watch giant controls almost 29% of the luxury Swiss watch market, according to Morgan Stanley estimates, and its annual sales total around $8.5 billion (8 billion Swiss francs).

Spokespeople for Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet, the maker of the Royal Oak, also said the issue was “of concern,” but declined to comment on how or whether they’re addressing it.

Europeans aren’t the only ones on edge: the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the region saw 206 thefts involving at least one watch valued at $5,000 or more from the start of the year until mid-November. That marks a nearly 30% increase from the same period in 2021. Police have blamed the crimes on organized gangs and advised residents to avoid wearing expensive jewelry in public.

“We are definitely seeing examples of robberies and thefts of luxury watches taking place across North America,” Tannie Ng, a senior underwriter for luxury collections at Chubb Ltd., said in an interview.

The return of international travel has likely contributed to the problem. Ng described a situation in which a client flew to Paris for a wedding and was relieved of his Patek Philippe Aquanaut in a daytime mugging.

Luckily, Ng said, the client was fully insured and had even updated his policy to reflect the $145,000 market value of the watch – a nice windfall from the $40,000 retail price he had paid for it several years earlier.

In response to such incidents, French law enforcement has put more effort into winding down watch theft.

According to Paris police commissioner Julien Herbaut, luxury watch robbery fell by 44% this summer in comparison to the year before, despite a major increase in tourists. His team caught 175 watch thieves between January and August, up from 85 over the same period in 2021.

“Our investigators have a very sharp knowledge of those criminals and how they operate,” said Herbaut, noting that the less experienced a thief, the more violent a robbery tends to be.

Without naming specific brands, the commissioner said that French police are in constant dialogue with top Swiss watchmakers – as well as law enforcement officials in Italy and Spain – to share intelligence about stolen goods and the illegal resale market.

“Word is spreading among these criminals that the theft of watches is not worth it,” he remarked.

For now, many collectors remain reluctant to wear their prized timepieces out on the town.

Adrian Barker, a YouTuber with 244,000 subscribers and co-host of a watch podcast called “About Effing Time,” said he has become more careful about flashing his collection. He keeps his favorite watches – including a gold-and-steel two-tone Rolex GMT Master II – at home in Scotland, just to be safe.

But he also travels frequently to London. For those trips, Barker has a backup plan: he wears an Apple watch.

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