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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 April 2024

Don’t flash your wealth, like fancy Rolex watches, in London, mugging threats are real, India’s rich told

People are being mugged in the heart of London, in Mayfair, says businessman and executive committee member of FicciDevin Narang; Global demand for Rolexes, other luxury watches slide due to theft threats

Paran Balakrishnan Published 18.02.24, 12:19 PM
Representational image

Representational image File picture

Businessman Devin Narang has got the world talking about Rolex watches - but for all the wrong reasons. At an official meeting with two senior British opposition leaders, Narang changed the subject from free-trade agreements and voiced his view that Indian businessmen were scared to wear their Rolexes, particularly in the smartest parts of the London like Mayfair.

Devin Narang

Devin Narang X / @devinnarang

The millionaire’s remarks triggered a firestorm of publicity with every major British newspaper from the Financial Times, The Times London and even the Daily Mail reporting his remarks at length. Said the Financial Times: “India’s business elite sounds alarm over Rolex thefts in London’s Mayfair.”

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The FT additionally reported Narang telling the opposition leaders: “People are being mugged in the heart of London, in Mayfair.” Narang was meeting the two British leaders in his capacity as executive committee member of Ficci (the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry).

Twisting the knife, Narang threw in the questionable view that it was safer to walk the streets of Delhi than London. “You can walk anywhere in Delhi and you won’t be mugged,” The Times, London reported him telling the two opposition Labour Party leaders.

Narang’s claims have supporters and detractors. Senior businessman Harsh Goenka feels it’s important to be sensible when walking London’s streets. “All my friends who go to London wear their smart watches or very ordinary ones. Not the showy ones,” says the senior businessman. For good measure, Goenka adds with slight disdain that, “There are many better watches than Rolex.”

Harsh Goenka

Harsh Goenka File Image

British businessman Lord Karan Bilimoria is less sanguine about safety levels on London streets. “Sadly, we are all wary and scared of being mugged for Rolexes and phones being snatched! We’ve heard one story after another,” says Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra beer.

Lord Karan Bilimoria

Lord Karan Bilimoria X / @Lord_Bilimoria

Many business people concede that rich Indians have a tendency to display flashy watches that act like magnets for criminal gangs. But Narang defends this behaviour to some extent, saying: “London is a walking city. You don’t want to look over your shoulder all the time. You don’t want to go to a city where you’re likely to be mugged in the streets. It doesn’t make you feel comfortable.”

Goenka recounts stories about gangs operating in the smarter parts of London which involve everyone from taxi drivers to hotel doormen. “How it works is that you tell the driver to drop you somewhere in Park Street. As you get down, the taxi driver informs the gangwala, ‘Here is a rich man with a nice watch..’ ”

Proving Narang at least partially right, The Times reported that 29,000 watches had been reported stolen in London in the last five years. Many of the crimes have involved violence.

Police in London also nabbed 20 criminals after carrying out undercover operations with disguised police personnel in the more upmarket parts of the city like Mayfair, Kensington and Chelsea.

Goenka adds that he tells his son not to wear expensive watches when going out in London.

Thefts of watches in cities like London are said to have had the additional impact of hitting the sales of luxury watches. The Times reported that the share price of Watches of Switzerland crashed almost 50 per cent since the start of the year after the company cut its revenue forecast for 2024. Another company Richemont, which owns Cartier, also reported half year sales down 17 per cent.

Muggings in cities like London are said to be part of the problem causing this decline. Says The Times: “A recent spate of robberies and thefts in the capital is discouraging ostentatious signs of wealth — and contributing to collapsing demand for high-end watches.

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