Gemstone Education

Top 10 Biggest Jewelry Heists in Recent History

While the shimmer and sparkle of jewels are part of their allure, they are perhaps just as fascinating because of the great financial value we attach to them.

That certainly is their main attraction for jewel thieves. A single bracelet, necklace, or other precious jewelry item containing high quality gemstones can fetch an incredible price on the black market if a jewel thief can fence it.

Curious about the biggest jewelry heists in recent history?

Top 10 Biggest Jewelry Heists in Recent Historytop 10 biggest jewelry heists in recent history

10. Museum of Science, The Hague (2002) – $12 million

This museum isn’t much to look at from the outside, but it was housing some incredible jewels in 2002. The exhibit was called, ‘The Diamond  “From Rough Stone to Gem”. To this day, authorities have no idea how the robbers managed to steal $12 million worth of jewelry from the exhibition.

They smashed a window to get into the museum, but somehow none of the guards heard the intrusion. There was a CCTV system, the cabinets they robbed all had alarms, there were infrared sensors and the most valuable pieces were held in reinforced glass displays. Despite all this the thieves somehow managed to get in and out without a hitch.

9. ABN Amro Bank, Antwerp (2007) – $28 million

Next on our list is a long con. A man calling himself Carlos Hector Flomenbaum began integrating himself with the local community in Antwerp, and befriended a number of workers at the bank.

Somehow, he managed to persuade them to part with a bank vault key. At that point, he simply took five boxes full of diamonds and left without a hassle.

8. Damiani Showroom, Milan (2008) – $32 million

One day a woman living next to a jewelry showroom in Milan rang up the cops and reported that there was a strange drilling noise next door. Police ignored the complaint. It turned out the drilling was more than just annoying: it was a crime in progress.

A team of robbers had been drilling a tunnel into the Damiani Showroom for months. Once the job was complete, they emerged inside, tied up the staff, and left through their tunnel.

7. Brussels Airport (2013) – $50 million

Just this year there was a prominent jewelry theft in Brussels. This was not a particularly clever plan’it was simply bold. Eight men disguised as cops and armed with guns cut a hole in the fence of the airport, drove a car and a van up to an airplane ferrying $50 million worth of cargo, stopped the plane from taking off, loaded up the loot, and drove away through the same hole in the fence.

While they got away initially, police have successfully tracked down 30 different suspects all involved in the crime, and have already recovered some of the jewels.

6. Carlton Hotel, Cannes (1994) – $60 million

This robbery, like the one above, was also not all that cunning, simply brash. Three masked men walked into the Carlton Hotel, opened fire (thankfully with blanks), and left with $60 million worth of jewels.

5. Graff Diamonds, London (2009) – $65 million

It is believed that the same group of thieves responsible for the robbery at the Carlton Hotel may also have been connected to the robbers in this diamond heist in London. The men were armed, and had taken great pains to conceal their identities. Their faces were concealed by a make-up artist, and they would probably have been quite challenging to track down, if not for a simple, fatal mistake: they left their mobile phone behind.

Police identified the men as Solomon Beyene and Craig Calderwood. Goes to show what can happen when you lose your head in the heat of the moment.

4. Harry Winston Store, Paris (2008) – $107 million

Four armed men entered the Harry Winston Store in Paris in 2008 dressed as female buyers. The four men had clearly been in the store before, or had at least done extensive reconnaissance, because they knew all the employees by name, and they also knew where all the safes were located. After just 20 minutes in the store, they walked out with the swag. They have never been caught.

3. Antwerp Diamond Centre (2003) – $118 million

Back to Antwerp again. The Diamond Centre is used as a kind of temporary bank for transactions in progress by numerous dealers. This was quite a long heist, taking four years to complete. The robbers rented rooms across the street from the Centre, and gradually learned all about the alarm system while they were there.

They were somehow able to get vault keys and also cover up security footage. It was called the ‘Heist of the Century,? but despite the long-term planning that went into it, half the members were caught’of all things, because of a half-eaten sandwich.

Team leader Leonardo Notarbartolo left behind his sandwich, which unfortunately contained DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

2. Carlton Hotel, Cannes (2013) – $136 million

? And now we’re back to the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. Once again, they were robbed, just this past year. The robbery took place on July 28th, and only one person was involved. This was another brash theft. A man walked into the ground floor exhibition space with a gun and left with $136 million in diamonds.

While the perpetrator has not been caught, police believe him to be Milan Poparic, who recently was broken out of prison in Switzerland in an equally bold maneuver by his fellow gang members.

1. Millennium Dome, London (2000) – $700 million

Okay, so this one didn’t really get off the ground, but if it had been successful, it would have been an earth-shattering record. And if not for a tip received before the attempted robbery, there’s a good chance it would have been. The team of robbers intended to steal the Millennium Star diamond as well as a number of other valuable diamonds owned by De Beers.

Wearing gas masks, the thieves attempted to seal off entry to the building with tear gas. Unfortunately for them, police were already waiting for them in the building, having received a tip that the robbers would be there. The gems they wanted to steal had also been replaced by worthless replicas. They had planned to escape from the scene on a speedboat.

So there you have it: the biggest diamond heists in history. And the biggest heist that never quite made it. What can you learn from these stories? If you have valuable jewels, never assume that any security system is totally invulnerable. And if you spend years slaving away at any sort of long term plan for genius success (preferably legal), don’t lose it all over a half-eaten sandwich!

Gem Coach

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