Londoners are being warned to travel in numbers, to cover up expensive watches, and to hand over valuables if they are confronted following a rise in high-value thefts in the U.K. capital.
Watch Collecting, a global auction platform devoted to prestige and luxury watches, has taken it upon themselves to launch a public safety campaign in affluent districts in West London, launching digital billboards advising wearers of luxury timepieces to keep them concealed and not to wear them unless necessary.
The advice is offered in the form of a “watch” acronym, calling on people to “wear it with care, avoid unnecessary risk, travel with a friend, cover it up,” and “hand it over if threatened.”
“The recent spike in high-value watch crime in London has gathered much attention within both the watch industry and the mainstream media. Much of the coverage is alarmist and could easily put people off buying expensive watches,” explained Adrian Hailwood, head of watches at Watch Collecting.
“At Watch Collecting, we care about our community and, rather than scaring them, look to provide practical support. For the last two weeks, we have been running a public safety campaign around the West End of London.
Our digital billboard film highlights the problem and offers simple steps to staying safe,” Mr. Hailwood said, adding: “If it prevents one person from becoming a victim of crime, it is worth it.”
According to London’s Metropolitan Police, there were 621 robberies of luxury watches in the first seven months of the year, with almost one-third of them taking place in the affluent areas of the West End, Belgravia, and Chelsea.
The wealthy neighborhoods of Kensington, Chelsea, Westminer, Hammersmith, and Fulham all saw thefts rise by 60 percent between April and June.
In August, one such attack in Knightsbridge was caught on camera by an onlooker, showing a woman attempting to fend off two balaclava-clad men.
In the same month, a moped gang was filmed smashing the window of a Bugatti sports car with a hammer as it was stopped in traffic at Hyde Park Corner and stealing the driver’s luxury Rolex wristwatch.
Speaking in August, Conservative MP for Chelsea Greg Hands said: “I am absolutely horrified, but it isn’t the first of these attacks, there’s been a whole series going on most of this summer.
“There’s obviously a real problem with moped-enabled people attacking in broad daylight in Chelsea.
“I think the motivation is to steal their watches but it’s not a crime to wear an expensive watch, and we need to make sure that the culprits get caught.
“I’ve even got a constituent who was attacked with a machete for his watch two or three months ago, which was quite a high-profile case in Old Church Street, Chelsea, so this is a really disturbing phenomenon, and I’d like to see police really come to terms with who’s responsible.”
Last month, three men were convicted after attacking American tourists with a knife and stun gun in Chelsea, robbing valuables including a watch worth £100,000.
The increased frequency of attacks has seen police pledge to add more patrols to areas witnessing higher levels of violent robbery.
“We know the impact these crimes have on each end every victim and that is why we have extra officers in place in locations where these crimes are most common,” Detective Chief Superintendent Owain Richards told The Telegraph newspaper.