Smash and grab


June 2023

Smash and grab

Not a day goes by without the Italian newspapers reporting a luxury watch theft – in Rome, Naples, Milan (mostly) and elsewhere. Watches are in fashion; they are relatively easy to steal; they’re easily hidden and they’re worth their weight in gold.


he modus operandi varies from the absurd to the terrifying (think: gun to head). There are some highly professional operations and plenty of ragtag street gangs. Recently, a 13-year-old boy was arrested in Milan after having relieved a gentleman, who was returning home somewhat the worse for wear after a night on the tiles, of his Rolex Daytona (you’re never too young to be a watch connoisseur).

Some of these thieves are remarkably dedicated, turning their pastime into a cottage industry. One pair of unscrupulous Neapolitans rented a car, drove up to Milan, squatted in the apartment of a former delinquent who had recently died, stole a motorbike and spent their days pulling off a series of smash-and-grab thefts.

One of the pair was a skilled motorcyclist who was an expert at smashing car mirrors. In the heated discussion that followed, his accomplice would climb off the bike, steal the watch from the wrist of the furious car driver, climb back onto the bike, and they would then speed off in the opposite direction. Impossible to catch. On 28 September they stole a Rolex allegedly worth 12,000 euros from a Swiss businessman.

A few days later they made off with a Bulgari that belonged to a Milanese manager, and a Rolex Daytona from “an impresario who was talking on his mobile while driving his Porsche Cayenne”. That was followed by a Rolex GMT Master, and a Patek Philippe Calatrava, secured despite the thief being doused in pepper spray by the (female) victim. Realising that the police were onto them after their motorbike was impounded, they changed tactics and continued their spree, this time on a couple of mopeds.

You may recall from last year the story of a tourist who had his Richard Mille stolen as he dined on a restaurant terrace in Naples. The two armed robbers immediately vanished. An hour or two later a third man returned with the watch and threw it at the owner, saying, “That’s not a Richard Mille!” before leaving the scene.

Sometimes, however, things take a more dramatic turn. Very recently, on 16 April, in Milan once again, a woman approached a police patrol to report that she had been attacked in a car park by thieves who had stolen her Omega. She tried to stop them but one of them pulled out a knife and stabbed her in the side. The injury was genuine – she was bleeding – and she was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

But when the police went to view the security camera footage from the car park there was no sign of any incident, and no pictures of the thieves. A cunning trick: pretending to have your watch stolen, even to the point of stabbing yourself, just to claim the insurance? The lengths to which some people will go!

Often, the reader of these stories will simply shrug and turn the page. The problem is, it can be hard to sympathise with a victim whose watch cost as much as a year’s salary, or even more. Who walks around with that kind of money?

The Europa Star Newsletter