The very wealthy have been the targets of thefts and robberies since time immemorial, but matters have taken an alarming turn for the worse in Paris, where a new plague of violence and theft stalks the smarter neighbourhoods and chic restaurants.

Firstly it was well-organised members of Algerian gangs that targeted the valuable possessions of the more vulnerable, particularly old ladies and men using walking sticks. These professional players would stay in Paris for two to three weeks, search out valuable watches and jewels being worn by the victims, first spotted sitting in restaurants or on the streets, and then pounce quickly and often with great violence.

Hublot, Patek Philippe, or Audemars Piguet were among the favourites. The culprits would fly back to Algers and sell their booty for a fraction of the value.

The idea has now caught on with gangs from the Parisian suburbs, according to the capital’s police. Not possessing the professionals’ expertise, the gangs of 16-20 year-olds have narrowed down their targets to wearers of Rolex watches. The usual procedure is to sell the watch within an hour to a middleman who pays a fraction of the value in cash. Watches are often advertised on social media and sold to the highest bidder.

Although the value of the watches is so much greater, the relatively meagre proceeds are often spent on fashionable clothes or a good night on the town.

“When the victim is chosen, his fate is sealed,” a senior police officer told Le Figaro.

Watch out on the Champs Elysees

The same police officer told the daily that there is a good success rate for finding the culprits, above 70 percent. But not their winnings. Once in custody, the suspects show only contempt for their victims, and it’s clear their motivation is not just financial, but also competitive and totally dismissive of mainstream values.

Meanwhile, specialists in rear-view mirror thefts are finding victims on the Champs Elysees, with motorbike pillion passengers knocking wing mirrors and stealing the watches off the wrists of drivers trying to put them straight again.

So far, on the fashionable avenues of Paris no-one has died while being deprived of their valuables. But it’s only a matter of time.

FILE PHOTO: Champs Elysees Reuters