15-04-15-2187NE02A minton pottery.jpg
A watercolour design for a vase by Christopher Dresser from the Minton archive. Copyright Bonhams

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The Watch Register comprises over 50,000 stolen wristwatches together with their serial number, model number, brand, description and image if available. All items remain registered on the database until they are recovered.

The serial number is the crucial element that allows branded wristwatches to be uniquely identified.

A searcher can perform a pre-transaction 'watch check' by sending this number to the ALR by email or text message. Between 9am and 6pm from Monday to Saturday they receive the results within three to five minutes confirming whether or not the watch is registered as stolen on the database - or if the number is a fabrication highlighting the possibility of a fake.

Search at the Counter

The process (performed manually to allow for human intervention whenever necessary) is designed to allow clients to check watches discretely while the customer is still at the counter.

Checking a watch serial number costs from £2 a search with larger businesses offered an annual subscription. Auction houses can also send requests to search an item to the ALR in advance of including it in a catalogue, while last year one pawnbroker carried out 700 watch checks using ALR's general database, producing three matches.

An audit trail of every search is kept to prevent criminals from using the database to check whether the watch they hold is being looked for.

The ALR are currently notified of stolen items by law enforcement, insurers, private individuals and the trade. In this niche field, they are also keen to develop links with brands and manufacturers such as Rolex who have maintained their own proprietary database of stolen watches. Currently the Watch Register includes the serial numbers of close to 13,000 Rolex watches. 

Victims of theft pay up to £15 per item to register stolen items with the ALR. In the event of a 'match', following any police investigation ALR will mediate between the victim (or insurer) and a good-faith holder of the watch to negotiate a settlement.

This usually has one of three outcomes: the watch is returned to its rightful owner (with the ALR charging a percentage of the net benefit); the original owner receives compensation from the current holder; or the watch is put up for sale and the proceeds split.