Seven daring jewellery thefts to match Swedish crown jewels heist

Graff Diamonds and Hatton Garden in London, Harry Winston in Paris, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport – jewellery shops, stores and shipments have been a magnet for smash-and-grab raiders and sophisticated operators alike

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 12:00pm

Two 17th-century crowns and an orb belonging to the Swedish royal family were stolen from a cathedral outside Stockholm this week in a classic smash-and-grab robbery. As the manhunt continues for the thieves, who struck at noon, smashing a glass box containing the treasures and fleeing by speedboat to a lake dotted with hundreds of islands, we recall seven other daring jewel thefts that have made headlines down the years.

2018, Palazzo Ducale, Venice

On January 4 thieves stole Indian jewels worth millions of dollars from an exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale, Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajahs. The theft occurred on the last day of the four-month-long exhibition, which featured 270 treasures from the Mughal empire (1526–1761). Among the items stolen were a brooch and earrings. None of the stolen jewels has been recovered.

2015, Hatton Garden, London

In April 2015, thieves raided London’s Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, an underground safe deposit facility, and made off with jewels worth £14 million. The heist was carried out by four elderly men (all experienced thieves), who entered the premises through a lift shaft before drilling through the vault’s walls, which are 50cm thick. The four thieves were arrested and jailed for the crime a year later.

2014, Upper East Side, New York

It wasn’t unusual to bump into celebrities while shopping in boutiques in the Upper East Side of New York. So when a clean-shaven man dressed all in black walked into the Margo Manhattan on Madison Avenue at around 1.30pm on a Friday in April, Marcy Imbert, the shop’s only employee, thought he was just another wealthy client (the shop’s clientele includes singer Beyoncé and actress Selena Gomez).

Imbert said the man spent 20 minutes shopping before asking to look at some goods. That’s when he pounced, threatening her with a stun gun, before dragging her into a back room and tying her up, then fleeing with a US$60,000 haul including four bracelets and a US$45,000 necklace.

2009, Graff Diamonds, New Bond Street, London

Two well-dressed men posing as customers entered Graff Diamonds in London’s New Bond Street at 4.40pm on August 6, 2009, and stole jewellery worth US$65 million in what is believed to have been the largest gems heist in Britain at the time.

The thieves went to great lengths to hide their identity, using a professional make-up artist to alter their skin tone (apparently the artist took four hours to apply the disguises, having been told it was for a music video). They changed their features using Latex prosthetics and both were fitted with professional wigs. But stupidity is more difficult to disguise: the robbers were caught shortly afterwards when police searched one of the getaway cars abandoned by the robbers after it crashed. Officers found a traceable pay-as-you go mobile phone wedged between the driver’s seat and handbrake.

2008, Harry Winston, Paris

One of the most famous dress-up jewellery heists was carried out by the Pink Panthers, as Interpol dubbed the gang responsible. Four men made off with an estimated US$113 million in jewellery and other valuables, most of which has never been found, after they walked in through the front door of Harry Winston’s Paris shop. Three were dressed as women in wigs and heels. They pulled out a hand grenade and a gun, and less than 20 minutes later, walked out with their booty to a waiting getaway car. A year later, police made 25 arrests and recovered cash and jewels taken in the raid.

2005, Schiphol airport, Amsterdam

In February 2005, a gang stole diamonds and jewellery worth 75 million during a hold-up of a KLM armoured car in a high-security area of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, a major European transport hub. “It was a secured area of the airport, so it’s a big question how those people could get there,” an airline spokesman said at the time. In January last year, five men and two women were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the heist.

1976, The British Bank of the Middle East, Beirut

Unlike many jewel thefts, this one involved no cunning or skill. On January 20, 1976, a gang of Palestine Liberation Organisation robbers blasted a hole in a wall separating a Catholic church from the British Bank of the Middle East in the Lebanese capital. They made off with a haul of jewellery, gold bars, share certificates, Lebanese and foreign currency worth anywhere from US$20 million to US$50 million.