Calling time on watch thieves

6 minutes

Time is of the essence when it comes to the recovery of stolen watches so The Watch Register database, the global crime prevention tool for luxury watches, is designed to ensure anyone around the world can run a search within minutes to see if a watch has been lost or stolen. 

In London alone, muggings and thefts from a person have risen by almost 70 percent in the last year, with more than 57,000 incidents recorded between August 2021-2022.

This includes a huge hike in watch theft, often involving violence, with some people being seriously injured or even killed. Recently, TV presenter and singer Aled Jones fell victim to a machete-wielding robber who made off with his valuable Rolex watch. 

The watch market is buoyant, especially for pre-owned watches, and there are long waiting lists for the top models. Some buyers will wait 10 years to get their hands on a particular watch, so this means the cost of a pre-owned watch can be three or four times the original price.

In 2022, The Watch Register (TWR) located 620 stolen, lost and fake watches on the international market, totalling £3 million and in the same year searches against the TWR database more than doubled. This success rate shows that registering a missing watch on the database offers owners the greatest possible chance of recovery.

In the next few months, TWR launches its pioneering new algorithm-based automated searching system overseen by its specialist team of watch experts. Managing director Katya Hills, who has spent the last five years developing this sophisticated program, has told me how it will “significantly improve our global reach and the level of protection we can offer to pre-owned watch traders at every level of the market”.

Katya explains: “With the new system, we move from results within minutes to instantaneous results 24/7. The system will continue to be supported by our watch searching experts and specialist recoveries team which steps in the moment a stolen watch is located. This human expertise at every stage of our process is the hallmark of our service.

“Items are added to The Watch Register database by theft victims, insurers and police forces – and the company offers a specialist recovery service for any claimant. The database is then utilised as a due diligence tool by members of the trade and private buyers who wish to check if there is any claim to a watch they wish to buy or sell – similar to the Art Loss Register.”

The TWR was launched as a spin-off of the Art Loss Register (ALR) in 2014. The ALR, established in 1990, holds the world’s largest private database of lost, stolen and looted art, antiques and collectibles, listing more than 700,000 items. It protects collectors, traders, dealers, auctioneers, galleries and art fairs against inadvertently dealing in stolen items so they can immediately learn if an item is lost or stolen or has problematic provenance.

Katya continued: “We estimate the total value of the 80,000 missing or stolen watches on the TWR global database amounts to more than £1 billion. This value includes high-value luxury watches that individually retail between £50,000 and £100,000 or more.  Around 90 percent of the database’s high-status timepieces are men’s models, which have a higher retail value and make them an attractive target for thieves aiming for watches that will re-sell for the highest values.

“In terms of the most popular brand of high-end watches registered on TWR’s database, Rolex accounts for 44 percent of all stolen or lost watches.  This is followed by Omega (seven percent), Breitling (six percent), Tag Heuer (five percent), Cartier (four percent) and Patek Philippe (three percent).


“The difference between art and watch theft is speed. Watches are literally bought and sold from one day to the next, unlike artwork where it can be 20 years or more before being put up for sale. In one year, a watch can have 20 different owners and because of their portability watches can easily be taken across borders, so The Watch Register team works closely with law enforcement agencies in the UK and across the globe.

“Watches can be reported stolen at any time, so we recommend that traders conduct a check at the point of purchase and again upon future sale. If the status of an item does change, we can prove a client did their due diligence.”


Getting results

The Watch Register (TWR) holds the world’s largest and most established international database of lost and stolen watches.  Last year (2022), TWR saw 6,815 watches newly recorded as being missing or stolen, representing a 60 percent increase in the number of missing or stolen watches added to its global database during 2021.

Meanwhile, the good news is that, through TWR, many watches are being returned to their rightful owners – the company locates three or four stolen watches per day. Watches are also being located quicker than ever before, with thirty-five percent of stolen watches found by TWR located within six months of the theft and 50 percent within a year.

  • Earlier in 2023, TWR identified a Rolex Submariner 'Kermit' 50th Anniversary watch within a week of it being stolen. It had been snatched during a street robbery in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was searched against TWR’s database by a local dealer. TWR’s recoveries team notified the police in Northern Ireland, resulting in the watch being seized within 45 minutes of the search and returned to the victim.

  • This year, while in a Central London hotel, a £30,000 Rolex watch belonging to footballer Rico Henry of Brentford FC slipped out of his pocket and into the hands of an opportunist thief. Henry approached TWR’s team to locate and recover it. Twelve days after he registered it on TWR’s database, a pawnbroker ran a search to verify the watch’s provenance. TWR followed up on the database match within minutes and secured the successful return of the watch to Henry.


How to protect your watch

The considerable value and prestige of high-end timepieces continues to attract the attention of sophisticated and international criminal networks, making them a prime target for theft.

To protect such high-value possessions, owners should make sure they have adequate insurance for their watch and a standard home insurance policy may exclude claims for watches above a certain value.  Keep the box, paperwork and service records, take photographs of the watch and make a note of the watch’s unique serial number which will aid its recovery in the event of it being lost or stolen. It is also wise to note the watch’s condition and any particular features such as a scratch or engraving, as this can help with identification.

Send yourself an email with the serial number, a photo of the watch, one of you wearing the watch, a copy of documentation and the purchase receipt which all help prove you are the owner if the worst happens.

To speak to us about your watch insurance call 020 8256 4901 or email

Watches recovered by The Watch Register.

Italian Trulli




TWR 1639

A stainless steel and ceramic Rolex Daytona chronograph bracelet watch stolen from a home in Kent. Current market value £21,000, approximately 75% above retail price. 




Italian Trulli




TWR 1640

This stainless steel and 18ct gold Rolex Daytona chronograph bracelet watch with diamond hour markers was stolen during a street mugging in Marbella, Spain. Current market value £18,000, a £10,000 increase from the 2018 open market prices realised at auction




Italian Trulli




TWR 1932

A stainless steel and rubber Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph bracelet watch, stolen during an armed robbery in Blackburn, Lancashire, in 2015 was located by The Watch Register with a UK auctioneer in February 2023. Current market value £18,500




Italian Trulli




TWR 2112

This Omega stainless steel De Ville Prestige Co-Axial Chronometer bracelet watch was stolen in a major commercial robbery from a trailer in Birmingham in 2018. It was located by The Watch Register with a UK pawnbroker in May 2023 and recovered by The Watch Register on behalf of insurers. Current UK market value £2,700



Italian Trulli




TWR 2220

In November 2022, a gang of thieves entered a jeweller’s in Bracknell, Berkshire, in the early hours and smashed windows to steal this Tag Heuer stainless steel Formula 1 Chronograph bracelet watch which was among a display of Tag Heuer and Bremont watches. The watch was located by The Watch Register with a UK pawnbroker in Reading in July 2023 and recovered by The Watch Register on behalf of insurers. Current UK market value £1,000.



Using The Watch Register

A one-off TWR database search costs £10 plus VAT. Loss registration costs £15 plus VAT per watch and if the watch is recovered there is a five percent location fee. Owners need their unique serial number and proof of loss such as a crime reference number in order to register their watch on The Watch Register. The service is free to law enforcement agencies.