Rolex Scarcity – A Criminal Conspiracy?


Rolex scarcity - confiscated watches

“Michael Gubbins, a chief superintendent in Ireland who commands the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), says that luxury Swiss watches, often worth tens of thousands of euros, are being used by organised crime gangs to buy contraband and settle debts.” Wow. Not only did writer Rob Corder provide an abject lesson in passive construction, the editor failed to connect the dots. Is this Rolex – criminal connection the real reason behind Rolex scarcity? Start with this . . .

We all know why Rolex are thin on the ground: demand exceeds supply. Coronageddon took Rolex off-line, dropping annual production from an estimated 1m units per year to a paltry 800k watches per annum. At the same time, the COVID-19 lockdown left rich folks feeling flush; they bankrolled big bucks by not spending money on luxury travel and fine dining. Yes but –

Rolex scarcity - empty case 1

Eight hundred thousand watches ain’t hay. And it’s not like quarantined rich folks could pop down to a Rolex authorized dealer. Rolex AD’s don’t sell watches online.

And yet the current Rolex shortage is dire. There’s literally nothing in showrooms. It’s been tumbleweed territory for close to a year. There must be other factors soaking up the supply of box-fresh Rollies . . .

After shining a light on criminal gangs purchasing luxury watches as a form of hide-in-plain-sight currency, Mr. Corder penned a piece pinning the Rolex drought on our friends in China.

If you are wondering where all the Rolex watches are when you are gazing longingly at empty cabinets in your local authorised dealer,” Corder teases in Where did all the Rolex watches go? Check Hong Kong’s $19 billion mega-jeweller for clues, “look no further than the likes of Chow Tai Fook and Watches of Switzerland.”

Rolex scarcity case 3

Rob’s wrong. Increased profits at these two large Rolex retailers doesn’t mean Geneva’s favorite son is channeling Rollies away from their smaller authorized dealers, in either absolute or percentage terms. We’ve surveyed a dozen Rolex AD’s around the U.S. They report that product flow from Rolex hasn’t decreased significantly. It’s simply not enough to keep up with increased demand. The watches come and go, fasterthanthis.

So let’s return to Rob’s report on Rolex’s criminal customers, to see if buyers on the wrong side of the law are a major contributing factor in the recent inability to buy a new Rolex at retail.

Confiscated Rolex

In an interview with The Sunday Times, [Gubbins] said that some criminals are buying new Rolex and Hublot watches to use as a form of currency and store of wealth that can be easily sold or transported if needed.

“These are no ordinary watches but are worth tens of thousands each. Branded watches are now used for currency: it’s running-away money,” CS Gubbins said.

“These watches can be easily transported. They are high-value items which you can wear on your wrist if you need to vanish. They can easily be sold for serious money. If we get a watch on a search these days, there are more than likely a few more hidden away. It’s just a matter of finding them.”

Rolex scarcity case 4

Rolexian retirement planning for people who don’t like paperwork. Makes sense. But wait! There’s more!

Rolex are easier to transport and explain [in court] than large amounts of cash. Rolex can be used for surety within the criminal fraternity. Rolex project power and status. And should the criminal in question be a pimp in the U.S., one of their employees can hock the boss’ Rolex for bail (American cops can’t seize the jewelry worn by a pandering procurer).

The size of Rolex’s criminal clientele is difficult to estimate, obviously, but it’s a long way from small. Hundreds of thousands of Americans – documented and otherwise – work in the illegal drug trade. Worldwide? The sector employs millions. Add in folks earning a crust via counterfeiting, extortion, prostitution, loan sharking, illegal gambling, theft, etc. and we’re talking about a significant demographic.

Rolex shortage

Are criminals an increasing Rolex-buying demographic? Do bad guys (and gals) account for soaring Rolex demand and the resulting drought?

While there’s no way to measure the percentage of Rolex buyers with a rap sheet, we know that illegal drug use increased dramatically during the Pandemic, generating more cash for criminals. So they could be the hidden variable pushing demand for Rolex through the roof.

Either that or they’re a regular, steady customer base. Anyway, Rob Corder offers some advice from the top cop interviewed on the Emerald Isle. “Legitimate retailers of new or pre-owned luxury watches are urged to be on their guard because the trade is supporting dangerous criminals.” As if these retailers would turn down their money. And therein lies the tale.


  1. American cops can’t seize a pandering procurer’s jewelry

    They can’t? Why not?

    (Perhaps I’m misunderstanding “pandering procurer.”)

  2. The criminal element using Rolexes (Rolexii?) as defacto currency is an interesting angle.

    There’s a connection Rolex would surely rather not have. “Rolex… no longer the watch of intrepid explorers and adventurers. Rolex… the choice of gangsters and ne’erdoewells.”

    • Good comment considering it’s easier to trade goods (which can easily be liquidated) whereas cash can easily be tracked. Way to ignore the countless times that a Rolex has saved someone’s life in a third world country.

      From Hodinkee?

      • Cleary ya’ll know nothing about crime, criminals, or how money works. Literally nobody trades Rolexes in the drug trade, or guns, or heists, or otherwise criminal activity. Enjoy your gated community and idle fantasies, office bros.

  3. I was just reminded of the old Mastercard ad slogan… with a bit of a change….

    “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s Rolex.”

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