A few weeks ago we posted an article on a diamond heist that occurred in London, we decided to do a little digging to find out what some of the worlds largest jewelry robberies have been. Jewelry and gemstones have always held a fascination for thieves through the centuries. Jewels are not only worth monetary value, but their luster, sparkle and allure draw everyone in. We’re intrigued by the famous jewels that have been stolen in the past and we’re here to report on it. Welcome to our new series of blog posts, appropriately titled, ‘The Great Jewel Heist”.
Criminal gangs are invariably ruthless and intent on getting away with their ill gotten gains not caring much for those who get in their way and end up hurt. Yet, there is something about the great jewel thieves that it is very hard not to admire. The meticulous planning, the imaginative ideas, and the sheer daring of the execution. But as you’ll see, rarely are they flawless, like the jewels they planned to steal.
Graff Jewelry Robbery
This week we step back just over five years to 2009, and the exclusive Graff Diamonds store in New Bond Street, London, England. Lawrence Graff has been known to collect the world’s most magnificent and expensive diamonds, often selling his goods in auction.
At 4.40pm on August 6th 2009, two sharply dressed men posing as customers brazenly entered the store and pulled out their guns. Over the course of the next 25 minutes they forced the shop staff to open the display cases, and made off with 43 items of jewelry worth a staggering total of $65 million. One necklace alone was estimated to be worth more than $5.25 million. It was quite clear they knew exactly what they were looking for.
The robbers made no attempt to conceal their faces from the store CCTV cameras, having taken elaborate measures to disguise their appearances. Prior to the robbery they spent over four hours with professional makeup artists, who used wigs, toners and latex prosthetic to disguise them. One of the robbers, Aman Kassaye, said at the time. “My own mother wouldn’t recognize me now”.
The Get Away
Outside the store the robbers fired shots in the air to create confusion, and then made their getaway in a nearby waiting BMW. They switched vehicles twice more before disappearing from trace. Petra Ehnar, an assistant in the jewelry shop was held at gunpoint during the raid in central London and, “expected the worst”, as armed robbers used her as a hostage to make their getaway. During the confusion, and panic on the street, she heard a gun being fired, she did not know if she had been shot. “I didn’t know if it was me. It felt like it was right behind me. I didn’t know which direction it had gone off.”
Ehnar, who had worked at Graff Diamonds in Mayfair, for only three months before the robbery, said the two suited robbers, one black, one white, began waving guns moments after entering the salon and asking to see a 2-carat ring in one of the windows. Store staff were told in no uncertain terms they would be killed if they did not comply. A very simple hold up – and let’s not forget, a brutal one. The robbers so very nearly pulled it off …
Never Leave Your Phone Behind
The fatal mistake that led to their capture was perhaps one of the most obvious and simple to avoid – in their haste to transfer between getaway cars one of the robbers left his cell phone wedged between the handbrake and drivers seat. Incredible. After all the planning and preparation, then carrying out the heist without a hitch, something as ridiculous as a mobile phone led to the whole gang being caught. Anonymous numbers stored on the phone quickly allowed police to discover the identity of the robbers.
Caught Red Handed
Aman Kassaye, who planned and executed the heist, was found guilty of conspiracy to rob, kidnap and possession of a firearm after a three-month trial at Woolwich Crown Court. On 7 August 2010, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Three other men – Solomun Beyene, 25, of London, Clinton Mogg, 43, of Bournemouth, and Thomas Thomas, 46, of Kingston upon Thames – were each jailed for 16 years after also being convicted of conspiracy to rob.
The Stolen Gems
As of today, only one item of the 43 pieces stolen has been recovered. In 2012 a Hong Kong pawn shop submitted a 16 carat yellow diamond for certification by the Gemological Institute of America (the world’s foremost independent authority on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls). The institute turned out to have certified the diamond before the robbery and determined it was the same one, albeit re-cut.
All of the diamonds in the store had been laser-inscribed with the Graff logo, but this can be taken off just as easily, by a whiling stone cutter. Judging from the nature of this robbery, it is clear this gang was well connected. Police are convinced the jewelry would have been flown abroad to waiting customers within hours of the robbery.
“Inevitably these items are highly portable, which makes it easier for them to be transported abroad”. Detectives investigating the robbery stated: “The gang knew exactly what they were looking for and we suspect they already had a market for the jewels.” At the time the Graff diamond heist was one of the largest gems heist ever to have taken place in Britain.