1m reward offered after UK's biggest jewel robbery

1m reward offered after UK's biggest jewel robbery

Grand theft

Jewellery items are displayed in the window of the Graff jewellery showroom on New Bond Street in central London. AFP

For sheer audacity and criminal cunning, the execution of the robbery was as flawless as the gems the two suited armed robbers scooped from a cabinet in Britain’s biggest jewellery raid.

Their identities, hidden behind latex masks, the hostage-taking, the “warning” shots, the chain of getaway vehicles, the stunning swiftness — all seemingly went to plan, a plan undoubtedly hatched months before. No doubt too that the 43 dazzling necklaces, earrings and bracelets are already out of the country. As diamond dealers across the globe are placed on alert, experts believe they could be headed to east Asia, particularly China.

“It’s probably one of the few places someone could wear the pieces without them being recognised,” said Harry Levy, a London diamond dealer and vice-president of the London Diamond Bourse, the exclusive trading floor in Hatton Garden. More likely, though, the pieces will be broken up, attempts will be made to “launder” individual stones, of which there are 1,437. And Hong Kong’s gems fairs — with “plenty of money” and “not too many questions asked” — could provide the ideal conduit.

Demand for diamonds in China is growing, with it set to overtake the US and Japan as the world’s biggest market. Even so, disposing of £40m of such recognisable stones will not be easy.

“It’s one of the things that most fascinates the public, which romanticises diamond heists, even though the truth is far from glamorous,” said Kris Hollington, who, as author of “Diamond Geezers”, about the failed heist of the priceless Millennium Star, acquired unique access to the diamond underworld.

“It’s bound up in Ocean’s 11 glamour. The perception is, if you’re going to steal a really precious set of diamonds, you’re an original kind of thief. Then people think: ‘Gosh. What on earth are they going to do with them?’”

As soon as the robbers walked out of the New Bond Street store nine days ago the value of their haul plummeted, probably to a tenth of the original £40million.

Biggest reward

The reward, of up to £1million, for information leading to the identification, arrest and prosecution of those responsible and the recovery of the stolen property is on behalf of insurers. Detective Chief Inspector Pam Mace, head of Barnes Flying Squad, said: “I think this is the biggest reward that has ever been offered for a crime of this type.”

The mark-up on Graff pieces can be four times the value of the stones — the highest in the business. Laurence Graff, 71, the rags-to-riches owner of the most exclusive global jewellery chain, is the “king of diamonds”, buying exclusive stones competitors cannot afford.

Raised in a one-roomed home in Whitechapel, east London, Graff’s early patronage by the Sultan of Brunei has helped him to earn an estimated £1.2-billion fortune, five luxury homes, a private jet and yacht, a South African vineyard, his own diamond mine and an enviable art collection. His wife has been described as “so bedecked with diamonds as to look like a glacier”.

“If you want the very best, and money is no object, you go to Graff’s,” said Levy. Graff’s clients include Naomi Campbell, Mike Tyson, Ivana Trump and David Beckham. His mantra? “Clients are rare, but so are the diamonds.”

His Mayfair and Knightsbridge stores have been hit four times in six years. In 2003 members of the notorious Pink Panther gang, an unsavoury assortment of hardcore Balkan criminals, walked through the airlocked doors at the same New Bond Street store and walked out with jewellery worth £23million.

Only 20 of the hundreds of stones stolen have been recovered, including a £500,000 ring found at a gang member’s home, hidden in a tub of face cream, a tactic used in the original 1963 Pink Panther film and which earned the gang its soubriquet.

Graff laser-marks his most expensive stones. All legitimate diamonds of any value have a “unique” passport, a certificate grading the four Cs — colour, clarity, cut and carat. Without certification, they are valueless on the legitimate market.

Each usually comes with a diagram, marking the position of the tiny specks of carbon that can be seen when viewed through a “loupe”, the jeweller’s 10X magnification tool.

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