New York’s Luxury Watch Thefts Are Part of a Larger Trend

A set of thefts across NYC is emblematic of something bigger

Thieves have made off with a lot of expensive watches lately in NYC.
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If you’ve been following the news out of New York City, you’re probably aware of a spate of watch thefts that have taken place in Manhattan and Brooklyn. On Monday, Emma Davey at the Brooklyn-based news site Greenpointers reported that a man was robbed of his watch — valued at $10,000 — at gunpoint on a Williamsburg street corner. Davey also noted that this was very similar to a host of similar robberies in the area in which the perpetrators made off with expensive watches and, in a few cases, jewelry.

Earlier this month, Maia Coleman at The New York Times described the robberies as focusing on “restaurants that attract celebrities and Brooklyn’s young creative types.” Whoever the thieves are, they seem to be working as a pair, making use of a moped, brandishing a gun and possessing a good eye for timepieces — one watch they stole, the Times reported, is valued at $100,000. Among the watches stolen in this series of robberies were models by Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Rolex.

It’s unsettling to hear reports of thefts at gunpoint, whether it’s for a few dollars or a watch that costs more than a car. But these thefts in New York are also part of a growing trend. Earlier this year, The Watch Register — a global database monitoring lost and stolen watches — published an anniversary report that declared, “Watch crime has gone from a niche problem to front-page news.”

The Watch Register’s own data shows a clear uptick in watch theft; in the same report, they note that their database now has over 100,000 watches registered as lost or stolen. That number rose dramatically from 2022 to 2023. That rise was echoed in their report’s data on watch thefts, which rose in the U.K. between 2015 and 2023 even as the overall number of thefts there declined.

These watch thefts in Brooklyn and Manhattan are the latest high-profile examples of an ongoing trend. Late last year, Anthony Traina at Hodinkee reported that a growing number of watch manufacturers are offering their customers ways to register the serial numbers of their watches and improve the resources available so that dealers on the secondary market can be confident that what they’re selling was obtained legally.

Databases of high-end watches can act as a counterweight to at least some illicit activity. The Watch Register’s anniversary report declared that it kept over $5 million in stolen and counterfeit watches from being resold. That’s encouraging — but it’s also only a fraction of the $1.9 billion value attributed to lost and stolen watches. And until there’s a flawless system for tracking watches, luxury timepieces are likely to remain an enticing target for enterprising thieves.

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