Luxury watches worth more than £1 billion ($1.3 billion) have been reported as stolen or missing, with a surge in the number of thefts last year.Around 80,000 watches have been registered as stolen or missing with The Watch Register, a company that helps owners, auction houses and dealers identify stolen timepieces for a fee.Some 6,815 watches were added to the list last year, a 60 percent increase compared to the previous 12 month period, the company said Monday.As secondary-market prices for the most in-demand models from Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe surged during the pandemic, so too did watch theft and crime.London’s Metropolitan Police Service launched an operation last year to address the problem after the number of knife-point robberies jumped 60 percent between May and June. In Paris, a police taskforce dedicated to stopping luxury watch theft grew to 30 agents, Bloomberg News reported last year.Rolex is the most targeted brand on The Watch Register’s database, accounting for 44 percent of timepieces, followed by Omega and Breitling. The company has been compiling data for over 30 years.“The considerable value and prestige of these high-end timepieces continues to attract the attention of sophisticated and international criminal networks, making them a prime target for theft,” Katya Hills, The Watch Register’s managing director, said in a statement.Some brands have taken radical steps to address the problem. Audemars Piguet, the maker of the Royal Oak, said in April it would offer to replace clients’ stolen watches as part of a new service programme that would run for two years.By Andy HoffmanLearn more:The Organised Retail Crime Phenomenon, ExplainedReports of large-scale theft rings are driving US lawmakers to explore tough-on-crime policies. Data on whether there is a crime wave paints a more ambiguous picture. BoF unpacks the murky situation.