Diamond heists make for some of our favorite movies. There’s something exciting about watching the suave, good-looking international jewel thief masterfully plan and execute the perfect crime, staying one step ahead of the cops the whole time. Diamond heists don’t just happen in Hollywood though. Real life jewel thieves may not look like George Clooney or Cary Grant, but the schemes they come up with rival and sometimes even surpass Hollywood’s in terms of planning, creativity and sheer audacity. With that in mind, we present 10 of the biggest diamond heists in history.
10. Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
One of the largest diamond heists in history, just going by dollar amount. This heist is also notable for the downright brute force methods involved. On Feb. 25, 2005, four men wearing stolen KLM airline uniforms broke into Schiphol Airport and stole a KLM cargo van. They simply drove right up to an armored truck carrying uncut diamonds and forced the drivers out at gunpoint. The thieves had the drivers lie on the ground while they got into the truck and drove away. Police suspected they had inside help, but the mystery remains unsolved and it’s doubtful the diamonds will ever be seen again. The estimated value of this heist: $118 million.
9. Brussels Airport in Brussels, Belgium
Yes, another airport heist. You’d think they’d install some type of security in those things. Almost as audacious as the Schiphol Airport heist, this one happened only a little over one year ago. On Feb. 18, 2013, eight masked gunmen dressed as police officers cut a hole in the airport’s security fence. They drove marked police cars up to a plane onto which diamonds were being loaded. Holding the pilots at gunpoint, the thieves loaded 130 bags containing approximately $50 million worth of diamonds into their cars and drove away. Police made several arrests later that year during raids in Belgium, but have only recovered some of the diamonds.
8. Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France (1994)
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The Carlton Hotel has a history of diamond heists, as you’ll soon find out. It probably doesn’t help that it was the central location for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 diamond heist movie To Catch a Thief. On August 11, 1994, the Carlton Hotel experienced its first real-life diamond heist. Three men carrying automatic weapons walked into the hotel’s jewelry store, firing into the air. They made off with over $60 million in diamonds and other assorted jewelry. Fortunately, no one was hurt. A police investigation found, upon discovering a complete absence of bullet holes, that the thieves had been firing blanks. Neither the gems nor the men responsible were ever found.
7. Graff Diamonds in London, England
Two men wearing suits walked into the Graff Diamonds jewelry store on Aug. 6, 2009. They walked right up to the counter, brandished handguns and ordered employees to unlock the display cases. They made off with 40 pieces, the total value of which was $65 million. All this in full few of the shop’s surveillance cameras. Why so brazen? Earlier that day, the men had visited a professional makeup artist who fitted them with prosthetics aging them 30 years. The surveillance footage was useless. Despite all that planning, the men were caught. Police found a cell phone the thieves had accidentally left in one of their getaway cars. Using numbers on the phone, police tracked down and arrested Solomon Beyene and Craig Calderwood along with eight other suspected accomplices. Even so, the stolen jewelry was never recovered.
6. Harry Winston in Paris, France
This robbery was a real drag. On Dec. 4, 2008, four men dressed as women, dresses, wigs and all, walked casually up to the register of the Harry Winston jewelry store and started brandishing handguns at employees. They were evidently familiar with the store and employees. They called the staff by their first names and knew where all of the store’s secret safes were. In just under 20 minutes, the thieves stole $107 million worth of jewelry. Neither the thieves nor the jewels were ever seen again.
5. Damiani Showroom in Milan, Italy
This heist reflects pretty poorly on the Italian police. A woman living almost next door to the Damiani jewelry showroom in Milan called the police to complain about a strange drilling noise. However, as there was a construction site nearby, her complaints were ignored. You can see where this is going, can’t you? A group of thieves were spending their mornings drilling a hole into the wall that separated Damiani’s basement from the basement next door. They gained access on Feb. 3, 2008 when the showroom was closed to the public and tied up the employees. Temporarily untying one to open the vault, the thieves were able to get away with $20 million in diamonds, gold and rubies. They could have gotten even more if it weren’t Oscar season. The showroom’s most valuable jewels were on loan to Hollywood actresses for the Academy Awards. The investigation is still ongoing.
4. ABN Amro Bank in Antwerp, Belgium
Talk about the long game. This heist was committed by one man known only as Carlos Hector Flomenbaum. That’s the name the American-accented, Argentinean passport-bearing 55 to 60-year-old man gave to employees of the ABN Amro bank in Antwerp. Flomenbaum spent at least a year portraying a successful businessman and getting friendly with the banks employees. He talked to them about things unrelated to the bank and routinely brought them boxes of chocolates. Somehow, not only did this not make anyone suspicious, Flomenbaum actually earned the trust of the employees. He became one of the banks trusted keyholders, customers who have keys to the bank’s vault so they can access their diamonds even after the bank closes. One night in March of 2007, Flomenbaum let himself in and walked out of the bank with around $28 million worth of diamonds and other rare gems. Surprising no one, his Argentinean passport turned out to be stolen.
3. The Museon Museum of Science in The Hague, Netherlands
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The most inexplicable diamond heist on the list. The Museon Museum of Science hosted a diamond exhibit featuring raw and cut diamonds along with a few famous pieces, such as a wedding gift from King William III to Queen Mary. One weekend in early December of 2002, the museum was broken into and the most valuable pieces, worth approximately $12 million total, were stolen. Because the museum was closed on Mondays, the crime wasn’t discovered until Tuesday morning. Here’s where it gets weird. The exhibit was under 24-hour surveillance with guards, cameras, motion detectors and the cases were made of reinforced glass. No alarms went off, none of the motion detectors picked up anything, and the cameras saw nothing. One minute the diamonds were there, the next minute they were gone. The only evidence a crime had taken place (other than the empty cases) was a single smashed window. Police initially suspected an inside job, but haven’t been able to tie any museum employees to the heist. After years without a lead, the police closed the case.
2. Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France (2013)
Like we said earlier, the Carlton Hotel seems to have had a run of bad luck when it comes to keeping diamonds on their premises. On July 28, 2013, one man committed the most costly diamond heist in history. Wearing a scarf and baseball cap, a man walked into the hotel with a handgun and put 34 pieces of jewelry into a suitcase and walked out. The gems were part of a display by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev and weren’t very well guarded. The guards who were there didn’t have any weapons. The thief’s haul is estimated to have been worth $136 million. Police suspect a man named Milan Poparic a member of a gang of international jewel thieves called the Pink Panthers. We swear we’re not making that up. Poparic had escaped from prison a few days earlier when two accomplices rammed the prison’s front gate and fired AK-47s at guards, allowing Poparic to slip out. No, this isn’t the plot of a summer blockbuster, this actually happened.
1. Antwerp Diamond Center in Antwerp, Belgium
This is one of the largest and certainly the most complicated, well-planned heist in history. At least four people were involved in planning the heist. Three years before the robbery took place, the thieves rented office space next door to the Antwerp Diamond Center. Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world. 80 percent of the world’s uncut gems go through the Antwerp Diamond Center, which has 160 safety deposit boxes where diamond sellers and brokers can leave their diamonds while they negotiate deals. For three years, the thieves studied the diamond center’s alarm system and figured out how to bypass it. They were even able to get their hands on the keys to the vault and make copies. On Feb. 16, 2003, they put fake tapes in the security cameras, entered the vault and walked out with approximately $100 million worth of diamonds. They only opened 123 of the 160 safety deposit boxes though. They had to leave the remaining 37 boxes untouched because they physically couldn’t carry any more diamonds.
As perfectly planned as this heist seemed though, the getaway was not nearly as clean. Police found a half-eaten sandwich in a trash bag the thieves left behind with one of the men’s DNA on it. They found another man’s DNA inside the vault itself. Most of the thieves have been caught and are in prison, but the diamonds have never been recovered. Italian police found a portion of the haul in a vault in Italy, but by the time Antwerp police arrived to collect the stolen gems, they had disappeared again.
These real-life diamond heists are fascinating to read about, but terrifying to think anything like this could happen to you. That’s why we at Diamond Lighthouse take every precaution when it comes to the security of your diamonds. From our secure shipping package with an RFID tag and tamper-evident tape to our secure facility with multiple alarm systems and 24-hour surveillance. We also record every step of the process for you to watch so you can make sure your diamond is safe the entire time it’s with us. We make sure your diamond is secure so we can devote 100 percent of our efforts to getting you the most money for your diamond.