London has long been one of the world’s top watch shopping capitals, but a recent spike in watch thefts has seriously rattled collectors – and even motivated one business to start driving a mobile digital billboard around the city to warn tourists and locals about the phenomenon.
Online watch auction house Watch Collecting (which was founded by the same team behind Collecting Cars, by the way) has built a van with two huge LED screens that they’re driving around high-risk parts of London including Mayfair and Knightsbridge.
The screens share data about watch theft as well as advice on how to avoid getting your watch stolen. It’s pretty confronting: the advertisements show that not only has there been a 60% increase in watch theft between May and June this year alone in London, but it also suggests you “watch what you wear” and “go bare if you don’t need it”.
While the data that Watch Collecting is sharing has been collected by the Metropolitan Police, it’s still very much their own initiative… Making it one of the most macabre and potentially self-defeating ad campaigns ever. How are you going to get people to buy watches if you’re scaring them about them getting stolen?
The topic of crime in London is a contentious one. Crime has steadily been on the rise in the British capital since 2015 (as Statista demonstrates) – with the crime rate briefly falling over 2020/21 during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic only to pick back up this year.
But it seems that watch crime has become an increasingly big issue. The New York Times reports that again, as pandemic restrictions have eased (and economic conditions have continued to worsen), there’s been an explosion in watch thefts in London – “[and] inevitably, the brands that are most coveted by collectors are also robbers’ favourites.”
Anecdotally, Instagram accounts like @watch_crime_ldn are documenting how almost daily, there are brazen and violent watch thefts in London, as well as in other European hotspots like Ibiza and Turin.
That said, there’s little sympathy online for some of the victims of these watch thefts. With inflation spiralling out of control in the UK and the divide between rich and poor never so stark – particularly in a city of such insane wealth as London – it’s perhaps not surprising that petty theft and robberies are becoming more common.
Moral of the story? It might be best to leave the Rolex at home next time you head to the UK…