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The COVID-19 lockdowns created supply chain disruptions. In addition, certain models of high-end luxury watches, like the Rolex steel sport – or professional – watches, were always scarce globally. Combine this with a post-pandemic increase in demand, and a perfect storm of watch scarcity was created.

Wristy business

This led to hugely inflated prices on the second-hand market. For example, the value of a gent’s new steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II wrist watch with a steel Oyster bracelet is in the region of R191 200, but the second-hand value is up to R400 000 – more than double the official retail price for the new version. Similarly, a gent’s steel Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has a current retail price of R269 900 and a second-hand value of up to R700 000. And these are just two examples of many.

The increased demand and subsequently high second-hand prices have unfortunately led to a marked increase in the theft of luxury watches. Rolex is by far the brand most frequently stolen. On an international database of stolen watches, 44% of the entries were for Rolex, followed by Omega and Breitling. Theft of luxury timepieces in 2022 increased by 60% against 2021 to almost 7 000. The combined value of missing or stolen watches worldwide in 2022 was over £1 billion (nearly R23 billion).

According to media reports, stealing expensive watches and selling them on the black market can be a more lucrative criminal enterprise than selling drugs.

This phenomenon is evident worldwide, across Europe, the UK, USA and of course right here in South Africa. Three members of the notorious Rolex gang from the mid 2000s, who operated in the Sandton area, following seemingly wealthy, unsuspecting people to rob them of their high-valued possessions, often at gunpoint, were sentenced in 2018. However, since then numerous similar incidents have been reported, often with violence or threat of violence involved.

Precious time

It’s extremely important for owners of high-end watches to ensure that these valuable items are correctly and sufficiently insured. It is worthwhile to talk about the reinstatement policy, whether the insurer will insist on settling on a new-for-old basis, or whether they will agree to a replacement value.

It’s always important to remember that clients cannot be enriched through insurance, but unfortunately the current situation of elevated prices for second-hand watches creates a reinstatement conundrum for insurers.

Most, if not all, insurers will insist on a valuation certificate and storage in an appropriate safe when not worn. Owners of these valuable items must ensure they keep the warranty card of these watches in a safe place. These cards and the original box watch also have value and can be sold on the black market for up to R10 000 to defraud unsuspecting buyers.

It’s also important that clients keep their purchase invoice, especially if the watch was bought overseas. In South Africa, there are only five accredited distributors of Rolex watches. These jewellers keep meticulous records of sales and are accredited by Rolex in Switzerland at huge cost to them. Therefore, clients should not obtain a valuation certificate for a high-end watch from a jeweller who is not accredited to sell that brand. This will also ensure that the timepiece is authenticated.

Stolen property

When a watch is stolen, for example in a home invasion where the box and warranty card are also taken, clients should be able to go back to the place of purchase to confirm the purchase. If that isn’t possible, clients should keep detailed photographs of the watch and warranty card, as well as the unique serial number. This can all contribute to a smoother claims experience or even recovery in the event of a loss.

Finally, it is important for individuals who wear these expensive watches to ensure that they remain safe when wearing them in public:

  1. Never tag the location or show photographs of the watch on social media.
  2. Wear long sleeves to cover the watch while travelling.
  3. Be aware of the environment. Look out for strangers who pay too much attention to the watch.
  4. Avoid dark, quiet streets and keep to areas that are more likely to have CCTV coverage.

List of accredited Rolex traders in South Africa:

  • Charles Greig (V&A Waterfront, Cape Town and Hyde Park, Johannesburg)
  • Van Deijl Jewellers (Tygervalley Centre, Bellville)
  • Shemer Jewellers (Bedfordview, Johannesburg)
  • The Vault (Melrose Arch, Johannesburg and Menlyn Park, Pretoria)