Find out more about the Watch Register in this quarter’s Revolution magazine!

With watch thefts on the rise, from organised smash-and-grabs with gangs on mopeds, to opportunistic pilfering in clubs, gyms and hotels, the Watch Register’s role in providing some peace of mind for enthusiasts is increasing since its creation as part of the Art Loss Register in 2014. Revolution spoke with Katya Hills, Client Development Manager & Managing Director of the Watch Register.

Revolution: What is your advice for individuals who are buying pre-owned watches? Do the same concerns also affect new watches?

Katya Hills: When buying a new watch the main thing to check is authenticity, which would be best achieved through purchasing from an authorised source. When buying a pre-owned watch, the same applies but you must also take care to check the watch’s past ownership history by checking if it has ever been reported as lost, stolen or subject to a claim. This is where our services are relevant.


R: What does this cost the client?

KH: The cost of a one-off search with the Watch Register for individuals and collectors is £10 plus VAT, while the cost of a search for dealers or jewellers is £2 plus VAT with a subscription. This pays for a database search that includes losses reported by police, insurers and theft victims, including thefts such as smash-and-grabs, house burglaries, robberies and snatches, accidental losses, as well as instances of fraud, including both insurance and credit card fraud. Our database also includes a number of watches which have been reported as fakes or with fake parts.


R: How far-reaching is the database?

KH: Our data has been accumulated over 27 years, since the Art Loss Register’s foundation in 1990, so it includes both historic losses and more recent thefts. Because the database is international, it also allows you to check if the watch has been lost or stolen in a different country. This is important as watches are very easily transportable: a recent recovery was a Patek Philippe stolen in Naples that turned up two years later in New York. In another case, a dealer from Belgium in his first search with us checked a watch offered by a seller from Turkey, and the theft occurred in Austria. This shows how much watches circulate.


R: This pre-purchase research certainly helps prevent the unwary from buying a stolen watch, but how can the Watch Register help the victim of a watch theft?

KH: Registering on the Watch Register maximises a victim or insurer’s chances of recovery, and the cost is only £10 plus VAT to register an item. We constantly search the market for stolen watches, checking around 80,000 each year, including private and public sales. We check items bought and sold by dealers, pawnbrokers and jewellers internationally, for example Watchfinder and BQ Watches, who check all their watches with us. Auction houses form a major part of our client base. We check all the sales for Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips internationally. So if there is a watch sale of theirs in Geneva or Hong Kong, we will have checked it. There are over 100 auction houses worldwide whose sales we check.


R: What happens when a stolen watch is recovered?

KH: In the event that your watch is identified, the Watch Register will immediately inform you and, if there is a crime reference number, liaise with the police force to whom you reported the theft. The ALR will also request that the watch is removed from sale and held securely until the matter is resolved. Where the police cannot take action, if, for example, due to time elapsed since the theft, or in cases of accidental loss which are not investigated by police, the Register offers a recovery service and can represent victims in negotiating an amicable settlement with a good-faith holder.


R: How does the Watch Register work with the watch brands? Could this relationship be improved, with, say, access to their international databases?

KH: In recent years the Watch Register has dedicated itself to improving the standard of due diligence carried out in the trade by encouraging increasing numbers to check our database. To support this effort, we provide a database for the consolidation of losses which police, insurers, theft victims, manufacturers and the trade can add to. We would like to see manufacturers take greater advantage of this service by reporting more losses to us, which would allow us to identify watches on the market sooner rather than later after the theft, thus leading to a higher number of convictions. The objective long-term is to make it harder for criminals to sell on the stolen property, thus reducing the incentive to steal, while also protecting values in the watch market.


R: What are the advantages for the manufacturers, who seem to be more concerned with selling new watches rather than worrying about thefts?

KH: Manufacturers who register losses reported by their customers onto the Watch Register can offer the best chance of recovery, thereby offering good customer support in the event of theft. This simultaneously protects the reputation of the brand by suppressing the sale of stolen watches on the market. The Watch Register liaises with police forces and manufacturers internationally and acts as an intermediary with the trade. This allows for the swift resolution of cases involving stolen watches, and offers brands the opportunity to continue to protect their customers interests without the burden of, for example, running their own database of stolen watches.


R: The Watch Register, and similar organisations, sound like they could be watch collectors’ best friends. What needs to happen next to make watch theft less attractive?

KH: Collectors, dealers, everyone should be asking questions of their seller about a watch’s history and if it’s been checked. The type of answer you get can be most revealing.