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Swiss-made Richard Mille watches are rare and some can cost about $1-million.Christopher Marinello/Christopher Marinello

Reindeer are usually considered noble beasts and they enjoy a special fondness at this time of year. But a reindeer in England is calling that good reputation into question after it stole a $215,000 watch and sent the timepiece on a journey from Britain to Dubai, Hong Kong and Switzerland.

The rare Richard Mille wristwatch went missing in 2018 from the home of a wealthy collector in Northampton, about 100 kilometres north of London. It happened after the owner, who has not been named, went into his basement to fix a water leak and retrieve the contents of a damp safe. He put the items, including the watch, on a table in his backyard to dry. When he turned his back, the bejewelled device was gone. He told the police it had been pinched by a reindeer that had been chewing on plants in the garden.

The creature certainly had good taste. Swiss-made Richard Mille watches are rare and some can cost about $1-million. They’ve become the must-have accessory for star athletes, such as tennis player Rafael Nadal, and celebrities such as Canadian rapper Drake.

The owner’s story of the four-legged thief was convincing enough for his insurer, so the company paid out a claim. It also called in art sleuth Christopher Marinello to track down the stolen loot. “If the insurance company thought this was a complete fraud they never would have paid the claim,” said Mr. Marinello, who runs London-based Art Recovery International Inc.

He registered the watch’s serial number with Interpol and notified specialty watchmakers around the world, hoping they might be asked to repair the piece. Sure enough, last month he got a call from a specialist in Switzerland who had fixed the stolen Richard Mille. That led to a dealer in Hong Kong who told Mr. Marinello he’d bought the watch in Dubai.

“I asked if he had any paperwork and, of course, the paperwork was scant,” Mr. Marinello said. “Unfortunately dealers who should know better, and collectors of these types of watches, are doing very little due diligence. Had he checked he would have been informed almost immediately that the watch was stolen.”

The watch has been retrieved and it’s up to the owner to decide if he wants to reimburse the insurance company and take it back. Many owners don’t and prefer to be rid of the nuisance of looking after such an expensive luxury.

Mr. Marinello is happy the watch has been found and returned. But he’s convinced there’s more to the story and that the reindeer certainly had an accomplice. “I am not buying these reindeer games. In my view there was more human intervention than was being given credit for,” he said.

It’s the second strange case Mr. Marinello has solved this month. A couple of weeks ago, he managed to track down six stolen paintings in Brampton, Ont., thanks to a dim-witted thief.

That case began in 2017 when a $300,000 collection was stolen from a storage unit in Brampton. The thief had been captured on camera prying the unit open and was eventually arrested and convicted. But the police couldn’t find the stolen art, which included six works by Canadian artists David Alexander, Casey McGlynn and Medrie MacPhee and American artist Oscar Lakeman.

It turned out the crook had stored the paintings in another Brampton-area storage facility. When he failed to pay the monthly rent, the owner of the locker seized the contents and hired an auction house to sell the paintings. The auctioneers checked a database of stolen art and contacted Mr. Marinello. After some difficult negotiations – “finders, keepers,” the locker owner insisted – Mr. Marinello convinced him to turn over the paintings and return them to their rightful owner.

“I had this discussion with him and asked: ‘What if the Mona Lisa was in there? Are you going to claim that you are entitled to keep it?’ That was his theory,” Mr. Marinello said.

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