In movies, books, and television, we often hear about the perfect crime. Of course, if a crime was perfect, we’d never know about it, right? These jewelry store heists may not have been perfect, but in many cases, the thieves got away with millions in diamonds, jewelry, and gemstones. It’s a good thing that upscale jewelry stores often buy comprehensive jewelry insurance!
Harry Winston store, Paris: Over $100 million
In 2008, four men – three of whom were dressed as women, complete with long blond wigs – entered the Harry Winston jewelry store in Paris just before closing time. Despite their costuming, they proved to be incredibly well-prepared, knowing the names of some of the employees and the exact locations of store safes. Armed with a hand grenade and a .357 Magnum, the thieves stole several sacks of emeralds, rubies, and diamonds in less than 15 minutes, escaping before the police could arrive. The jewels have never been found, although Lloyds of London, the jewelry insurance company for Harry Winston, has offered a $1 million reward for information that leads to their recovery.
NOTE: Not an actual thief.
Antwerp Diamond Center, Belgium: Over $100 million
Antwerp is one of the major hubs for diamonds, with 80% of the world’s uncut gems travelling through the city at some point. When diamond brokers travel through Antwerp, they may store their precious jewels at the Antwerp Diamond Center. The vault is monitored by 24-hour security and 63 video cameras, as well as a combination dial, keyed lock, magnetic sensor, light sensor, heat/motion sensor, and a foot-thick steel door. Despite all that, Leonardo Notarbartolo and a band of thieves managed to break in and steal over $100 million worth of diamonds; there was so much loot they had to leave some behind. Notarbartolo claims that he was duped by a diamond dealer who wanted the jewelry insurance money, and only about $20 million in diamonds were stolen, but police disagree. For details on this crazy heist, read this Wired magazine interview with Leonardo Notarbartolo.
Graff Diamonds, London: Approximately $65 million
In 2009, two men stole 43 items of jewelry from Graff Diamonds in London. The men hired a make-up artist to alter their appearances using latex prosthetics, telling him it was for a music video. They entered the store posing as customers, and held a clerk at gunpoint as she emptied the display cabinets. Although the robbers initially escaped, they left a cell phone in the abandoned getaway car, which the police used to track and arrest the men. Ten suspects were eventually arrested in connection to the robbery, which is believed to be the largest gems heist in Britain at that time. Graff Diamonds ended up losing more than $10 million from the theft – the jewelry insurance company was only liable for $28.9 million of the actual value, which was put at $39 million for insurance purposes.
Carlton Hotel, Cannes: $60 million in 1994, $136 million in 2013
The Carlton Hotel in Cannes is one of the hottest spots for Hollywood players. Ironically, the hotel is featured in the Alfred Hitchcock film “To Catch a Thief,” in which Cary Grant plays a reformed burglar chasing a jewel thief. In 1994, the upscale hotel’s jewelry shop was robbed by three masked men spraying machine gun fire. The robbers, who had been firing blanks, were never apprehended. And in 2013, a single gunman held up a diamond show and fled on foot, getting away with $136 million in jewelry. Jewelry insurance company Lloyd’s of London is offering $1.3 million in exchange for information that leads to recovery of the jewelry, but no one has stepped forward.
In each of these jewelry heists, the thieves relied on fear, cleverness, and foresight to make their escapes. Some were thankfully caught, but it just goes to show you the crazy lengths people will go to get their hands on beautiful, valuable jewelry!