A pocket watch presented by former US president Woodrow Wilson has been stolen from an antiques dealer.

The 14-carat gold timepiece was taken from a shop in Pierrepont Arcade, Islington, north London, at around 12.30pm on Saturday by a man who pretended he wanted to buy a vase.

The suspected watch thief caught on CCTV (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Mike Webb, owner of Style Gallery, told the PA news agency that the man claimed he wanted to buy a Christmas present for his mother in Spain.

His payment card was declined and the customer said he would go and withdraw cash to pay for the vase but after he had left the shop Mr Webb realised the watch, which is worth up to £20,000, was missing.

Mr Webb said: “It makes you feel sick. If it’s something that’s replaceable … something that you can go and buy another one – that’s one thing, but this is not one of those things. It’s unique.”

Only a few hundred of the watches have been gifted by US presidents in recognition of acts of heroism by non-Americans, he said.

It is not known whether the theft was targeted, or whether the suspect intends to melt the piece down for gold, which Mr Webb said would be worth around £500.

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Police released pictures of the watch and appealed to the thief to return it.

The face of the historic pocket watch
The face of the historic pocket watch, said to be worth between £17,000 and £20,000 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Pc Joshua Brown, from Central North Basic Command Unit, said: “The owners of this watch are very distressed.

“The item had been in their family for a long time and I would urge the person who stole it to return it as soon as possible.”

Anyone with information can call police on 101 quoting CAD 1857/15Dec. or to remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online.