Four High School Students Arrested in Ginza “Masked Robbery” Why Target Luxury Watches? The robbers exploited a “blind spot in watch resale. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Four High School Students Arrested in Ginza “Masked Robbery” Why Target Luxury Watches? The robbers exploited a “blind spot in watch resale.

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The glass of the store was broken, and a line of control was set up around it (Photo: Jiji Press)

In a robbery reminiscent of Tarantino’s films, a watch store was attacked on the main street of Ginza, Tokyo, on May 8, after 18:00 but before sunset. Some passersby mistook the scene for a movie shoot when they saw four men in black disguised in masks smashing showcases in full view of the street. The perpetrators were boys between the ages of 16 and 19, including a high school student, and it was surprising that they were not carefully planned and executed. They attacked a Rolex specialty store, but why a watch store and not a jewelry store?

As has already been reported in the news, the price of luxury watches such as Rolex and Patek Philippe has been exploding in the past few years. Moreover, it is a rare phenomenon that the price of second-hand watches exceeds the price of new watches of the exact same model. In particular, Rolex’s popular “Daytona” has a list price of approximately 1.8 million yen, but some used watches are selling for more than 4 million yen. The same is true of the “Submariner,” which has a list price of approximately 1.4 to 1.5 million yen, but used copies are fetching 2.5 to 3.0 million yen. Why is this phenomenon happening? Mr. Toru Yoshiyama, president of Yokichi Group Inc., which specializes in the purchase of high-end watches with annual sales of 30 billion yen, said, “The Lorentz watch, which boasts overwhelming popularity around the world, is a very popular timepiece.

Rolex, which boasts overwhelming popularity around the world, has come to be regarded as a financial asset in the same way as stocks and gold, and the number of people trying to acquire Rolex watches has increased, which has become a hook. When we hear the word “resale,” we think of Chinese people who go to electronics stores in Japan to buy Rolex watches, but there are Rolex “resellers” all over the world. So when a new Rolex arrives at a watch store anywhere in the world, the targeted resellers immediately buy it, and in large quantities.

The money paid for dozens of Rolexes can be in the hundreds of millions, and even if the resellers know they are selling, the stores will sell them. And it’s not just resellers who have taken notice of Rolexes.

According to the statistics published by the Swiss Watch Institute (FH) for the year 2021, Russia is the 17th largest market in the world for Swiss watch exports. The market was still not that big, at about 260.1 million Swiss francs (about 39.7 billion yen) in value, but demand was expected to increase in the future, especially among the newly wealthy. But the invasion of Ukraine has eliminated that demand. However, the economic sanctions imposed by the governments of Japan, the U.S., and Europe have changed the situation again. The overseas assets of Russia’s wealthy have been frozen.

Although only a small number of ultra-wealthy individuals are subject to the sanctions, many wealthy individuals are concerned about how far the sanctions will spread in the future and are expected to accelerate their efforts to transfer their assets denominated in foreign currencies to “physical” assets. Therefore, luxury watches have caught the attention of governments as an asset that is difficult to capture. Russian asset holders are all trying to acquire Rolexes. It’s ironic,” says a financial planner.

Rolexes are being targeted for a variety of reasons, but it is not so easy to deal with stolen goods. In particular, watches with serial numbers engraved on them are easy to trace. It is also difficult to sell a watch if it does not come with a warranty card. Furthermore, if a watch is stolen, a list of stolen items is made and immediately distributed to dealers. However, it is not that difficult to turn a stolen Rolex into cash.

Rolex resellers are global in scale, so even if they can’t handle it domestically, they can manage. Basically, they get on a plane, put it in a bag, and take it out. But if it’s a large amount, they will find it, so if it’s a watch that costs more than 10 million yen a piece, they will put it on their wrist and take it out with them. In the case of stolen watches, it is impossible to buy or sell them in the United States. The serial numbers are all managed digitally. In Europe, the serial numbers are not that controlled yet, so it would be possible to buy and sell between individuals. The wealthy are connoisseurs, and after purchasing a piece, they do not resell it, but collect it. In other words, it does not matter to the end user if the item is stolen.

Another blind spot is that resale in Japan is not that difficult. Stolen goods flow to secondhand dealers. In a big case like this one, serial numbers are sent from the police to such stores, but it takes time. In other words, there is a time lag. If you get rid of the stolen goods before that time, you can sell them off. That is the big problem.

It is shocking that the perpetrators of the robbery in broad daylight were high school students, but it is also surprising that watches have become a global “financial commodity. On March 17, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department decided to re-arrest the high school students and four others. We hope that the police will thoroughly investigate why they targeted the watch store.

  • Text Hiroyuki Sasaki (Entertainment Journalist)

    Born in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, Hiroyuki Sasaki became a reporter for FRIDAY at the age of 31, reporting numerous scoops during his time with FRIDAY and later working mainly for the weekly magazine. Recently, he has been appearing on TV and radio as a commentator.

  • PHOTO Jiji Press

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