Russian citizens raced to purchase luxury goods after most high-end brands announced they’d pause business in the country, and the Russian government has done its own sweep of a different sort.
Millions of dollars worth of Audemars Piguet watches were seized by the FSB, Russia’s security service, in an apparent retaliation to Swiss sanctions. According to Bloomberg, citing the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, the timepieces were taken last week from Audemars Piguet’s premises in Moscow.
Watches from Audemars Piguet, which is based in Switzerland, start at five figures and can go close to $1 million at retail. Switzerland strayed from its usual standard of neutrality and issued financial and trade sanctions against Russia, keeping in line with those adopted by the European Union. Officials from the Swiss foreign affairs department told NZZ am Sonntag the seizure of the watches was “most likely an arbitrary repressive measure in response to the sanctions.”
Russia loves luxury goods — Both the United States and Europe have restricted the export of luxury goods to Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. The move came after many luxury brands already halted business in the country, and a fact sheet from the White House said the Russian elite “should no longer be able to reap the gains of this system and squander the resources of the Russian people.”
According to the fact sheet, $550 million worth of luxury goods is exported from the United States to Russia each year, while Italy alone exports more than $1.3 billion yearly. For Audemars Piguet, Russia accounts for $278 million worth of shipments each year, Bloomberg reports.
Stopping the flow of luxury goods to Russian oligarchs is largely seen as a symbolic move, but more substantial has been the United Kingdom’s sanctions against Roman Abramovich that are forcing him to sell his beloved soccer club, Chelsea. There’s no telling what the fate of the seized Audemars Piguet timepieces will be, though, and you wouldn’t put it past Putin to hook up his oligarch buddies as his own symbolic gesture.