Hollywood paints most diamond heists as sophisticated capers involving highly trained and highly educated individuals with ambiguous European accents and whiplash wit. And in real life, diamond thieves are exactly the same – at least most of them.
It takes a certain amount of sophistication to pull off a diamond heist and you have to be slightly bold to break into some of the most guarded diamond vaults – whether that’s a display case surrounded by guards at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes or a bank in Antwerp. Here are five of the most insane diamond heists in history.
1. Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
First, let’s start in Amsterdam with possibly the biggest diamond heist in all of history. This theft is particularly surprising, because it almost seemed easy for this daring gang to get away with over $120 million worth of diamonds. Dressed as KLM cargo agents, the gang slipped past security and commandeered a KLM cargo truck that was transporting the diamonds to a plane that was supposed to take them to a dealer in Antwerp. However, the thieves intercepted the truck, stole the diamonds and to this day have never been caught – and the diamonds have never been recovered.
2. Antwerp Diamond Center, Antwerp, Belgium
It is said that 80% of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp before traveling anywhere else. Most of them are located in the Antwerp Diamond Center where some of the world’s most expensive diamonds are housed. In 2003, thieves broke into the diamond center without violence – at night – and cleaned out 123 out of 160 safety deposit boxes full of diamonds. About $100 million worth of diamonds were stolen. Authorities discovered that the thieves had rented an apartment across from the Diamond Center and meticulously cased the joint. But thanks to DNA found on a half eaten sandwich at the crime scene, many of the thieves were caught and arrested in Italy. However, many of the diamonds have not been recovered.
3. Millennium Dome, London, England
This diamond heist has gone down in history as one of the most brazen. Thieves attempted to steal over $700 million worth of diamonds – over a half billion dollars. One of the diamonds included the Millennium Star diamond, which is over 200 carats. Thieves broke into the Dome, exploded gas canisters, held people hostage and tried to take everything they could. The only problem is that the police were tipped off before the robbery – not only did they commandeer the speedboat that was to be used as a getaway vehicle, but they were also dressed as the cleaning crew in the museum and arrested the thieves as they were breaking display cases and stuffing their bags. Oh, and the authorities had gone into the Dome the night before and replaced all the diamonds with fakes – just to make sure.
4. Carlton Hotel, Cannes, France
Cannes is known as a fancy place with fancy people – it’s no wonder that it would be a target for jewel thieves. Well, in 1994 thieves broke into an exposition at the Carlton Hotel and started shooting their high-powered assault weapons. People were panicking and guards didn’t know what to do. In the end, the thieves made out with about $60 million in diamonds. The armed robbers were never apprehended and the diamonds were never recovered. What was most perplexing is that the authorities couldn’t find any bullet holes in the ceiling where the thieves were purportedly shooting – it turned out they were shooting blanks and the guns may not have been real.
5. Milan, Italy
This wild diamond heist takes place at the famous Damiani showroom in Milan, Italy. This is one of those heists that was nearly perfect – perfect timing, perfect disguise, perfect everything – according to the standards of international jewelry thieves. There was construction going on in the neighborhood, so no one could hear the thieves drilling into one of the showroom walls. The thieves finally broke through at about 10 a.m. – the showroom was holding a private viewing, so it was virtually empty, save for a few staff members. Dressed as police officers, the thieves took the staff by surprise and completely subdued them. The thieves ran off with about $20 million worth of diamonds. They would have run off with more if it hadn’t been for Tilda Swinton and a few other stars – Damiani had loaned out a large stock of the diamonds for the 2008 Oscars ceremony. I think it’s safe to say this was the real-life Italian Job!