Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Diamonds are forever. Shine bright like a diamond. Dustin Diamond. Whether you're proposing to the love of your life, cutting some glass or looking to add some bling to a watch, you really can't go wrong with some sparkly diamonds. And when the rock is big enough and pure enough, they can be worth millions. Even tens of millions. The hope diamond has been valued at more than $350 million.
Yet the dirty little secret about diamonds is that their value is mostly just marketing and false scarcity. Every year, companies like De Beers horde massive quantities of diamonds while simultaneously restricting the world's supply. This strategy has been in place for decades and ensures that prices stay as high as possible. And because diamond prices have always been very high, they have always been a target of master criminals. So what are the largest diamond heists of all time? How much was taken and were the thieves ever caught? You're about to find out!
#3. The Paris Drag Queen Heist (2008)
On December 4, 2008, four gun-toting robbers casually walked into the Harry Winston store in Paris. In order to hide their true identities (or just to express themselves) the thieves were dressed as women. They wore wigs, scarves and other female accessories. At least one of the robbers held a hand grenade during the raid and all four reportedly spoke with Eastern European accents. The drag team had clearly done their homework because they knew all of the Harry Winston employees by their first names. They even know their home addresses. After 20 minutes, they walked right out the front door with $110 million worth of diamonds and jewelry. That's equal to $121 million after adjusting for inflation.
Unfortunately, one of ditsier robbers left his purse at the scene of the crime. The purse contained DNA which was traced to a man who lived in the northern suburbs of Paris. After carefully studying the security tapes, police were able to determine that they were not Eastern European at all. After raiding a home, police arrested nine men. During the raid, they found $1.4 million worth of cash that and a rocket launcher. But no diamonds.
Three years later, in March 2011, some honorable Parisian citizen reported to police that she saw a bag of what looked like diamonds and jewelry sitting in a drainpipe near her house. Harry Winston was quickly able to trace the diamonds back to the 2008 robbery. But it was only around 1/3 of what was stolen. The other 2/3, worth roughly $70 million, has yet to be recovered.
#2. Antwerp Diamond Heist (2003)
On the weekend of February 15-16, 2003, a five man team broke into the vault of the Antwerp Diamond Centre, in the heart of Antwerp's world-famous gem district. An estimated 80% of the world's uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp before heading to their final destinations. Therefore large quantities of diamonds are permanently parked in countless well-protected vaults all around town. In this case, the thieves managed to get past several extremely high-tech security systems that included a vault that had 100 million possible combinations, infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field and a seismic sensor. Oh and as you might expect, the entire Diamond Centre was guarded by an armed security team.
Yet despite these obstacles, the five robbers managed to break into a vault located two floors below the Diamond Center. At some point during the weekend, they broke in and stole loose diamonds, jewelry and cash. The vault contained 160 safe deposit boxes. The robbers forced open 123 them and looted their hidden treasures. They also stole the building's security footage to cover their tracks.
Within a few weeks of the robbery, Belgian police arrested a man named Leonardo Notarbartolo who they later determined to be the ringleader of the gang. How did they find Leonardo? Believe it or not, they matched his DNA to DNA that was found on a partially eaten sandwich that was left at the scene.
Two and a half years prior to the theft, Leonardo rented a $700/month office space in the Diamond Center that came with a safe deposit box in the building's vault and a key card that granted him access to the building 24 hours a day. Over that two and a half year period, Leonardo and his gang posed as average Italian diamond merchants. They came to work every day at 9 am and stayed until 6pm. In reality, their office space contained no more than a few couches and a TV.
Leonardo and his accomplices were arrested, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. At one point Leonardo made the dubious claim that the Diamond Centre hired actually him to carry out the robbery as part of an insurance scam.
Total value of the heist: $100 million, which is equal to $129 million today after adjusting for inflation. The diamonds were never recovered.
#1. Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Heist (2005)
On February 25, 2005, two men wearing KLM Airline maintenance uniforms and driving a stolen KLM truck intercepted an armored car that was that was delivering a huge cache of uncut diamonds that were supposed to be transported to Antwerp. The robbery itself was not sophisticated. The thieves simply forced the armored car drivers out of the truck at gun point then drove off.
Police immediately suspected that it was in inside job. Aside from the fact that the culprits were wearing KLM uniforms, they knew the exact ins and outs of the airport's most valuable deliveries. In order to steal the KLM truck, they also needed a key card to access a secure area.
Later that day, the seized armored car was found abandoned in an industrial area not far from the airport. Witnesses had seen two men exit the truck then get into a red Renault which was driven by a third man. That red Renault had been stolen two days before the robbery and was discovered burnt to a crisp one month later in a town called Diemen, 20 minutes south of Amsterdam.
Total value of the heist: $118 million which is equal to $143 million today, after adjusting for inflation. The diamonds were never recovered. No suspects have ever been arrested.