The likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt might make it look pretty easy to walk into a casino and escape with $150m, but penetrating the world’s most secure museums and banks to steal priceless gems is, on paper, almost impossible. Yet, they happen every few years and even if the culprits are eventually caught – the gems rarely are. So, how is it that there are so many successful attempts at stealing diamonds? The answer, many people think, is to have someone on the inside, as all but one of these heists illustrate.
December 2002: The Museum of Science, The Hague
This museum was hosting a diamond exhibition. Many of the exhibits were lent to the museum from other collections. No one is absolutely sure when the heist took place because it happened over a long weekend and the museum is closed on Mondays but staff found 28 empty display cases on the Tuesday morning, despite the motion detectors, guards and security cameras. The heist was supposedly worth around $12m but both the jewels and the thieves have never been found making this one of the greatest unsolved crimes of the century.
February 2003: Antwerp Diamond Center, Antwerp, Belgium
It is here that many diamond brokers deposit stones overnight when brokering deals. Four thieves, having worked out how to bypass the alarm system also got their hands on the vault keys and made copies. They recorded over security cameras and played bogus tapes to cover their tracks. They emptied 123 of 160 safety deposit boxes – leaving the rest because they couldn’t carry them. This was obviously an inside job: police found DNA at the crime scene which let to the capture of most of the thieves. The $100m worth of diamonds and other gems have never been found.
February 2005: Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
This robbery is not nearly as elegant as the one in The Hague, although it netted a lot more: around $118m in uncut diamonds. Because of the nature of the heist, it was definitely thought to be an inside job. The robbers, disguised in KLM uniforms used a KLM truck to hold up the vehicle carrying the diamonds destined for Antwerp.
March 2007: ABN Amro Bank, Antwerp, Belgium
Using the name Carlos Hector Flomenbaum, this man made good use of the ABM Amro Bank for over a year, eventually gaining VIP access to the vault. He then used his status to surprise the bank staff and the world by letting himself into the vault and walking out with 120,000 carats of diamonds worth about $28m. His bounty included very rare blue and green diamonds.
February 2008: Damiani jewellery showroom, Italy
The thieves in this case decided to bypass the high-tech alarm system and armed guard at one the most famous jewellery stores in the world by drilling through the wall separating the basement of the store from the one next door. Unarmed and wearing police uniforms, the thieves tied and gagged staff and looted $20m in diamonds, rubies and gold. The noise didn’t raise any suspicions due to a construction project taking place nearby.
August 2009: The Mayfair diamond heist
Two suited men concealing handguns walked into Graff’s in Mayfair, placed 43 separate items into a bag and then threatened staff with warning shots. They escaped with 1,437 individual diamond stones – worth £40m – in the biggest jewellery heist in British history.
One of the most valuable items included a large platinum and gold necklace containing 272 different diamonds in pink and yellow.
Aman Kassaye disguised himself with make-up and used multiple getaway cars to escape across London. He was jailed for 23 years in 2010. Three others were also convicted and the gems were never recovered.
There was no insiders used here – the thieves just had plenty of guts, making it one of the most audacious robberies in history.
This article was produced by Ingle and Rhode – London-based suppliers of bespoke jewellery, including bracelets, pendants, bangles and engagement and wedding rings.