Heist & Seek:The Glamorous Underworld of Luxury Diamond Thieves

Everytime I see an image of a natural diamond, my deepest desire is to own it. Within seconds, I feel like royalty who can and who must own this precious gem from the womb of the earth.

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Unmasking Diamond Heists

The allure of these lustrous jewels is such, the dopamine rush so high, that the logical brain that actually fattens the wallet, takes a backseat as the glitz takes over. When you want a diamond, you want it, the means cease to matter. But, what separates people like me from the ones who cinema romanticises as  ‘Jewel Thieves’?

Natural Diamonds are rare, one of a kind and given their limited number in the world, over a period of time, their value not only skyrockets in terms of money but also ownership pride – making them attract ‘collectors’ of all kinds. Shrouded in shadows and cloaked in intrigue, the world of diamond heists has always been stuff of legends.  The sheer audacity of the act has always glittered with infamy and allure. That’s what has always made them fascinating for me. I’ve always wondered how far one would go, what limits would one cross, how many deceptions would one conceive with perfection to get their hands on rare jewels from someone else’s vault. As I started to explore these stories of the most jaw-dropping, cunning feats of the human mind, I was left both fascinated and flabbergasted. 

Here’s a peek into my book of carats, chaos, and criminal masterminds!

$90 Million Diamond Caper
Al-Thani’s assistant FedExed the jewellery to the ‘spiritual’ jewel thief and even paid him for it.

01. The Aura Cleanse : Unveiling the Audacious $90 Million Diamond Caper

If you had to steal diamonds from the vault of one of the most powerful and wealthy people in the world, would you do it in one go or pick on it little by little? Jewel thief number one on my list, Florida resident Chris Lee, chose the former. As far as risk taking goes, this heist of jewellery worth 90 million USD over a period of 3 months from the collection of none other than the former Prime Minister of Qatar – Sheikh Hammad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani is top of the charts for me. Among the natural diamonds that were a part of this heist was a huge, flawless pink diamond ring that cost Thani $31 million in 2010. Thani’s vast riches and backstage passes to power’s VIP lounge couldn’t save his gemstone treasures from Lee’s tricks. In this audacious tale of smoke and mirrors, Thani’s unsuspecting assistant, Magdalene – an innocent lamb in a world of digital wolves was conned by Lee who posed as a psychic online and told her that the bad aura of her jewellery had infected the jewellery collection of her boss. A worried Magdalene, fully trusting the ‘psychic’, literally FedExed the jewellery to Lee and even paid him for it. Who would suspect a spiritual man? I mean, especially when a man makes you pay him for the diamonds he takes off your own vault!

02. The 100 million Heist That Wasn’t

Impenetrable Diamond Center Breached
Impenetrable Diamond Center Breached, Mysterious Disappearance of Loot, and a Silent Mastermind

10 layers of impermeable security, manned by the world’s only specialised diamond police, breaking into the fortress that is world’s busiest diamond centre in Antwerp, a large vault for merchants who deal in natural diamonds – raw and polished, a loot value of $100 million worth of loose natural diamonds, gold, jewellery, and other precious stones – This was not a challenge for the fainthearted. But Leonardo Notarbartolo was not a man who you could keep away from either diamonds or theft. In a carefully planned heist that took 5 months to prepare, replete with practice sessions on a replica of the diamond centre, there was very little chance for anything to go wrong. Until of course, the thieves opened their loot to find empty bags. Could Notarbartolo have been set up by the man who commissioned him the project? This unresolved heist, the biggest in the world so far, is stuff of legends. No one knows where the loot is or who made the money off cutting through the world’s safest vault. Except of course Notarbartolo, who wouldn’t speak a word. Not to the diamond police, at least. Not yet.

03. A Pilot Episode: $118 Million Diamond Robbery at Schiphol Airport

Pistols, hijack, chase and loot. This heist of uncut natural diamonds worth $118 million from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport played out like a climax of a Hollywood flick. Two men dressed in airline costumes, brandishing pistols, took over a cargo truck carrying uncut diamonds on the way to Antwerp from the airport. I mean, does the heist business have no HR? This one project was pulled off by just two people! The audacity, the ambition and the fearlessness required to drive away with a truck full of these many diamonds is crazy. While the abandoned truck was found later, unlike a Hollywood flick, in this case, the police still haven’t cracked the case. No one knows who the men were or where the diamonds are now.

Hollywood-Style Robbery of $118 Million Gems
Daring Diamond Heist – Hollywood-Style Robbery of $118 Million Gems, Two Men Vanish Without a Trace

04. The Legendary Harry Winston Heist

The Pink Panther Heist
The Pink Panther Heist where glamour meets audacity in a daring raid on Paris’ Harry Winston, precious jewels in which 493 pieces are still to be recovered

The world famous Harry Winston store in Paris, had just received the La Grosse Pierre, the 31 carat diamond ring. Apart from the other brilliant pieces of natural diamonds and rare jewellery, the store was as attractive as it gets for a heist. With multiple layers of security and its prime location, it would take guts to get in and get out with the loot. Farid Allou and Doudou, suspected to be a part of the notorious international jewel thief network Pink Panther, went in armed but dressed for the kill in their fancy wigs, make-up and silk babushka kerchiefs and left with 881 pieces of rare jewels. The persistent contempt towards the rights and the property of others that the pink panther network has is stuff of legends. While some of the pieces were found inside the plastered wall of Doudou’s compound on his arrest, there are about 493 pieces that are still unrecovered. According to reports, one of the finest diamonds taken from Harry’s has been spotted by sources in Russia—on the finger of Lyudmila Putina, who is said to have received it as a gift from her former husband of 30 years, Vladimir Putin. Where the remaining pieces are, is still a mystery.

The Millennium Dome Heist
Al-Thani’s assistant FedExed the jewellery to the ‘spiritual’ jewel thief and even paid him for it.

05. The Crystal Clear Case: The Millennium Dome Heist

If I was planning a heist, I wouldn’t even let my shadow know, but a group of 11 seasoned thieves in London could not keep it a secret. Aiming to steal natural diamonds worth 500 million dollars, including the 203-carat DeBeers’ pear-shaped Millennium Star from London’s landmark Millennium Dome, needed audacity, planning and a way to keep it all under wraps till the loot came home. The raid was planned to the last detail, but Scotland Yard came to know about it just in time and replaced the diamonds with crystal replicas. As the thieves disguised as workmen broke into the dome with a large yellow excavator and threw smoke bombs, the police disguised as cleaners waited for them inside the vault, surprising them with an arrest at gunpoint instead. So glad no one tipped the thieves about the Scotland Yard Flying Squad being tipped!

The history of diamond heists is rich with characters who wouldn’t stand out from the crowd on the surface, but scratch it slightly and you discover men and women with desires that run deep, put together in scenarios with those who are gullible, for nervous pieces of time. Fascinating to discover how within seconds lives are made and destroyed. A heart of stone made for the love of a lustrous stone.

Like me, are you also wondering – how many diamonds are too many diamonds?

 Illustrations: Squadron 14; Photographs: Public Domain