Professional Security Magazine article: The Watch Register’s tips for corporate security managers

Most of us own a watch. Many of us do not like to consider the possibility of theft, and yet watches are a prime target for thieves due to their value and portability. Although there will always be some who seek to make a business out of theft, there are precautions you can take to ensure your property can be traced, and which will maximise your chances of recovery, writes Katya Hills of The Watch Register.

Equally, for those in the trade who deal in second-hand watches, there are straightforward steps that can be undertaken to protect them from buying a stolen watch and avoid the associated financial and reputational risks.

The Watch Register is the largest international database of lost and stolen watches, with over 50,000 registrations. It is part of the Art Loss Register (ALR), the world’s largest private database of stolen art, antiques and collectibles, founded in 1990. The Watch Register is used by theft victims, insurers and police forces to register losses, and at the same time it serves as a due diligence tool for jewellers, pawnbrokers, dealers and auction houses, who can check if a watch offered for sale has been reported stolen.

The first precaution for any owner of a watch is to keep a record of its serial number. This is the crucial piece of information that will allow your watch to be identified, which distinguishes it from the thousands of other watches of that same model. The serial number is also the main piece of information required by the Watch Register to check a watch, so the chances of locating a watch reported without its unique number are extremely slim. The exceptions to this are watches signed by the maker, or with a personal inscription. Any owner of a watch should also keep safe the manufacturer’s certificate, the presentation box and papers, and their purchase receipt. This documentation can be provided to the Watch Register in the event of a loss to support their claim.

An insurance policy that will cover you both at home and for travel is advisable. Whatever you choose, know the validity and scope of your policy. If travelling for business then staying on for holiday, make sure you still have cover, as your business insurance may not cover it. Take the least possible number of valuables with you, and be more alert to your surroundings than usual. A recent case notified to the Watch Register involved a street mugging from a tourist in Naples. It is vital to report any theft to the local police, as the crime report will serve as evidence of your loss when you come to making a claim.

It is important to register a stolen watch as quickly as possible after the theft. Watches are often traded within days of being bought, and travel quickly and easily (the Patek Philippe stolen in Naples mentioned above turned up in New York; equally, a Rolex stolen in Kansas reappeared recently in Geneva). The trade’s concern is that stolen goods are sold on before they are reported. The sooner a stolen watch can be identified, the easier it will be to trace its provenance to the crime and to get your watch back.

For those advising on security for retailers, registering with the Watch Register will provide a greatly improved chance of locating items stolen from a store and arresting the perpetrators. Any stolen item registered on the Watch Register database will be searched against the 400,000 items the ALR checks on the market each year. If a match is made for a registered loss, we will inform the rightful owner and the police immediately. The police may choose to investigate and seize the watch, particularly if it is a recent theft. If they consider it a civil matter, they will allow the ALR to negotiate a settlement between the original owner and a good-faith holder.

Retailers dealing in second-hand watches have a responsibility to carry out due diligence, and checking against the Watch Register database is increasingly becoming a standard practice. A search costs just £2 and we respond within 5 minutes to confirm the status of the watch while the customer is still at the counter. All that we require from dealers and pawnbrokers to check a watch is the brand, model and serial number, so this is the same information a watch owner needs to register to ultimately recover their watch. If we identify a match, we inform the searcher immediately and ask them to hold the watch (provided there is no threat to their security) until the matter is resolved. In most cases the seller is an innocent holder, in whose interest it will be to resolve the matter as any further attempts they make to sell the watch will be hampered.

Given that most stolen watches are identified after having passed through several hands, there is usually no way of telling a stolen watch from one that is ‘clean’ other than a registration of its serial number as stolen. Every individual must be responsible for carrying out their own due diligence and be capable of demonstrating what steps they took to check that an item was not stolen. If you’re buying a watch from a dealer, either check the watch yourself with the Watch Register, or ask for proof that it has been checked. Ask as many questions as you can of the vendor and make sure you have all their contact details. Always find out where and when they bought the watch, and if they have the box and papers and a copy of their purchase receipt. Even if they are unable to provide this, their answer to your questions can reveal potential dishonesty. If someone offers you a price that is ‘too good to be true’, the watch is probably fake or stolen. Avoid doing business in cash, and be wary of stolen credit cards. The Watch Register will register a watch purchased with a stolen card so that when it is re-sold the seller can be identified.

Widespread awareness and regular practice of due diligence is essential to combat the trade in stolen watches and suppress theft long-term. This is a collective effort, whereby the location of stolen watches is dependent on people checking, while the accuracy of the database and its ability to identify a stolen watch relies on victims, insurers and police to register. By working in close collaboration with law enforcement to make matches sooner and catch perpetrators, the Watch Register aims to make watch theft a less lucrative prospect for criminals, reducing its appeal long-term.