Over the last several years, the dangers of walking around with an expensive, known watch in a large city have received a lot of attention. In London, armed moped-riding gangs, machete-wielding assailants, and other criminals have all made news with dramatic footage of watch thefts. Well, now the tables are being turned by the long arm of the law as undercover London Met Police officers target these thieves.

Watch thefts in London have certainly gained a lot of attention over the past few years. Scary footage of violent attacks and the injurious aftermaths are just some of the shocking photos we’ve seen. Because of this, names like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe have become normal speak. Numbers such as roughly 300 thefts within six months in 2022 in the West End alone are arresting. Or the fact that Soho, a high-traffic area, can lay claim to 40% of all London thefts is certainly scary. Adding fuel to the fire, the BBC aired a 26-minute exposé in December 2023 called “Hunting the Rolex Rippers,” which alarmed even some of my most stoic friends. The bottom line is that the news was all dour with little in the way of hope. Now, though, the law is striking back dramatically.


The London Met Police versus violent watch thefts

Less than two weeks ago, the London Met Police published a video compilation from 2022 and late 2023 related to watch thefts. The different scenes show gangs of watch thieves attacking unsuspecting victims. However, unlike the stories we usually hear where these thieves triumph, there’s a big difference here. The supposed victim is an undercover Met Police officer wearing a desirable watch. Then, during the abduction, several undercover officers come to the rescue. The footage is dramatic, and it’s hard not to feel incredibly proud of these brave officers who are putting themselves in harm’s way. Frankly, I can imagine that most viewers feel a deep sense of relief from the retribution.

The Evening Standard does a nice job of summarizing some of the results of these different undercover sting operations. Out of the 31 arrests made, 27 have resulted in convictions. Plus, there’s real prison time being doled out by the criminal court system. During the Met’s 2023 operations, watch thefts dropped by nearly 16% versus the same span in 2022. That’s not complete eradication, and we may also assume that some denizens have chosen to stop wearing nice watches. Still, it’s all a step in the right direction and hopefully the start of a slow return to relative calm in one of the world’s most popular cities.

What’s the current environment?

Last December, I wrote a loving ode to my new hometown, and, frankly, I still feel the same way two months later. I addressed the topic of watch thefts and the fact that I keep a low profile and generally abstain from wearing Rolex watches. I feel safe here, but I do stay aware of my surroundings. Then again, I’ve been to most major cities, and I apply the same judgment. Still, I certainly received a fair share of comments on my article from folks who have been personally affected (either directly or indirectly) by watch thefts. I completely understand their rationale for continued caution.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980

Something disturbing

Coincidentally, my article came out at the same time as the aforementioned short BBC program. That show was fine to watch, but it was a brief review of the story that gave me more pause. The Guardian published its critique, and, quite honestly, I found the author to take an “eat the rich” tone. She seemingly had little to no sympathy for some of London’s victims. Instead, she kicked the article off with an unbelievable rant about the gall of folks who buy and wear such flashy items. It gave off an air of “they got what they deserved.” How did this attitude exist at such a widely read publication? It bothered me more than the threat of being accosted. It made me question whether I now lived in a jealous city of people who would only look on if someone were in distress. Or is London a town that revels in schadenfreude? Thankfully, such drivel doesn’t deter the London Met Police.

Good Taste In Watches

Let’s hope the good news continues

I am hopeful that the London Met Police will continue these undercover sting operations to help reduce watch thefts. Comments from the Commissioner relayed the excitement and anticipation that the officers felt for these missions. It’s dangerous, but I am sure the officers feel a level of satisfaction in seeing the clear results of their work. I doubt that I’ll return to 2018 again and feel comfortable on the tube with a flashy watch while wearing short sleeves. Then again, perhaps I was a bit naive to do such things in the first place.

If you’re a Londoner or even a traveler to the Big Smoke, what are your thoughts on the Met Police’s work? Do you feel it will make a difference, or is it a drop in the bucket?