The jewelry heist. It’s the stuff of books, movies and legends. Fraught with peril and risk and oozing with drama, adventure and potentially massive reward, the jewelry heist is much more than your run-of-the-mill bank robbery.
It’s an event. And sometimes, over time, a jewelry heist becomes truly legendary. Maybe even mythical.
In this post, we take a closer, in-depth look at five such big-time jewelry heists — and one that almost was. But before we dive in, we want to make it very clear that Zillion is on the right side of the law here. In fact, we’re a proud member of the Jewelers Security Alliance — the organization that fights jewelry crime. The more we learn about jewelry theft, the more successful we can be when it comes to preventing it.
Now, let’s learn about those jewelry crimes…
The Green Vault Museum Treasure Theft
The most recent theft on our list is also the biggest-ticket heist – clocking in at an eye-popping estimate of somewhere close to $1 BILLION dollars. In the waning days of 2019, in the Green Vault Museum in Dresden, Germany, 10 Baroque-era jewelry pieces from Europe’s largest collection of treasures went missing. It seems the thieves accessed the vault of the former Royal Palace by removing part of an iron grille on a ground-floor window, then smashing the glass. Later police work led to the theory that the thieves then triggered a blaze in a nearby electricity box, thereby disabling the museum’s alarm system. Now free to go to work, the gang grabbed the precious pieces, including intricate diamond-and-pearl brooches and even diamond-encrusted swords once wielded by Saxon ruler Augustus the Strong. What was believed to be the getaway vehicle, an Audi A6, was found burning on the side of a Dresden road later that morning, but that was nothing compared to the burn these thieves executed on the Green Vault Museum.
The Carlton Hotel/Cannes Film Festival Jewel Theft
If ever there was a jewel heist made for the movies – or film fanatics and movie buffs – this is the one. The Carlton Intercontinental Hotel in Cannes, France has long served as a target of jewelry thieves. It also served as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film To Catch a Thief. There was no Cary Grant nor Grace Kelly here, but during a Cannes Film Festival weekend in the summer of 2013, an accomplished and daring jewel thief was able to rob the Hotel and not get caught. The man entered the Hotel clad in a cap and bandana — and carrying a handgun. Surpassing the unarmed security detail, he casually picked up a sack containing 72 jewels (valued at $135.7 million) belonging to Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, placed them in a suitcase, and strolled out the door. As it turns out, he is reportedly also part of a legendary gang of jewel thieves known as…The Pink Panthers. Only in Hollywood — or maybe in Cannes, too.
The Antwerp Diamond Heist
If it becomes known as “the heist of the century,” it had to be big-time. During a mid-February weekend in 2003, thieves managed to steal loose diamonds, gold and jewelry valued at more than $100 million from a staggering 123 deposit boxes at Belgium’s Antwerp Diamond Centre. According to some reports, the heist plan was first formulated four years earlier and involved one of the thieves renting an office space across the street from the Diamond Centre. Over the next several years, Leonardo Notarbartolo, posing as an Italian diamond merchant, patiently and painstakingly visited the Diamond Centre, learning the ins and outs of the security setup and alarm system and even gaining access to a set of keys that unlocked the vault. But even more notably (and far less carefully), their heist went from initial success to jail time for most of the thieves thanks to one of the gang’s lazy move — leaving a half-eaten salami sandwich behind at the scene. Call it “CSI: Antwerp” if you’d like, but a DNA match from that sandwich led to a series of arrests. Notarbartolo was found guilty of orchestrating the crime, which recruited other thieves he dubbed “Speedy,” “The Monster,” “The Genius,” and “The King of Keys.” Sentenced to 10 years in prison in Antwerp in 2005, Notarbartolo was released on parole in 2009 – but ended up being arrested in Paris again in 2013. The only member of the heist crew to escape apprehension by the authorities? That would be The King of Keys.
The Harry Winston Store Jewelry Heist
The Pink Panthers sure do get around. Five years before one of their gang struck the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, a group of them pulled off a truly creative jewelry heist at a Harry Winston store in Paris. Perhaps inspired by the Marilyn Monroe classic Some Like It Hot this time around, the dashing, dramatic Pink Panther crew donned wigs and women’s clothing before climbing a staircase leading to the showroom. Armed with handguns, a few of the “ladies” ushered scared staff (reportedly referring to all of them by name) and customers into a corner — while others shattered display cases and jammed pricey necklaces, diamond rings, brooches and luxury watches into sacks. In under 20 minutes, they more or less drained Harry Winston of valuables — to the tune of around $106.8 million in jewelry — before escaping. They were never caught.
Swedish Royal Jewels Theft
Another recent robbery, this one doesn’t feature nearly the same eye-popping financial value of stolen property. But it does dazzle on its own merits since it includes not only the bold midday theft of cherished Swedish Royal Jewels from a lakeside Stockholm-area church but a dashing escape via speedboat. In July 2018, two thieves strolled into Strangnas Cathedral and swiped a number of precious 17th-century royal artifacts — including a golden, crucifix-adorned orb and a pair of crowns that were crafted for the funerals of King Karl IX and his wife, Kristina the Elder. The robbers’ escape boat was then chased across Lake Malar by Swedish police patrol boats, as well as helicopters, but they managed to escape the authorities’ air-and-sea dragnet. At the time of the daring and creative heist, Swedish police said they couldn’t comment on the value of the stolen jewels — but later, the estimate was placed at anywhere from $6.9 million to $7.1. In 2019, one of the suspected thieves was convicted and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.
The Millennium Dome (Would-Be) Heist
While this particular 2000 London heist didn’t prove successful, we simply had to include it. Why? Because it included gas mask-clad thieves armed with tear gas, a fence-cutter, replica diamonds and a speedboat — being foiled by tipped-off (and probably ticked-off) police dressed as a cleaning crew. The plan was to shock the crowd with the gas (that part worked) and swoop in to swipe the 203-carat Millennium Star Diamond and 12 priceless blue diamonds that were part of a De Beers diamond exhibition on display at the dome (a massive concert venue now known as the 02 Arena). Since the authorities were able to use advance intel to thwart the thieves, a would-be theft of nearly $440 million in diamonds was avoided.
Protect YOUR Valuable Jewelry with Zillion
Chances are, you don’t possess a personal jewelry collection valued at millions of dollars. Then again…maybe you do. But no matter what the financial value of your prized engagement ring, high-end watch, diamond brooch or other piece of jewelry, we’re certain these valuables are worth much, much more than merely money to you. Oftentimes, they’re beyond measurable value (something that was said about the Swedish Royal Jewels swiped from Strangnas Cathedral).
It only makes sense, then, that you should secure these prized possessions — just in case they are stolen from your home or person. Or if they go missing on vacation. Or suffer serious accidental damage. That’s why it pays to invest in jewelry insurance from Zillion. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how little it can cost you to purchase peace of mind and security, too.
Get started by requesting your free jewelry insurance quote online now. We look forward to helping you secure your prized possessions!