Sunday, August 25, 2019

Pink Panthers—“A Stunning Coup”: The Almost Unsolvable Harry Winston Diamond Heists

From Vanity Fair, September 2019:

The $37 million Harry Winston jewelry heist was a perfect crime. The thieves’ mistake was returning for an even bigger score. But did police really convict the right men, or are the brains of the operation still at large?
Four hooded thieves were already inside Harry Winston Paris—along with $36,683,281 in well-defended jewels—when the boutique opened on October 6, 2007. How they got there defied explanation. The keys, which are kept off-site each night by a protective services company, were delivered as usual to Harry Winston’s security guard at 9:30 a.m. Following protocol, the guard then waited outside the building for the staff to arrive. Employees aren’t permitted to enter the premises alone, nor may they leave with the keys.

Harry Winston is famous for selling, as its motto puts it, Rare Jewels of the World. The Paris retail outlet occupies a neoclassical château on Avenue Montaigne in the luxe Golden Triangle district of the Champs-Élysées, set among such haute couture flagships as Dior, Gucci, and Valentino. One emerald necklace at Harry Winston that Saturday cost nearly $3 million. It would soon vanish, along with all the other rocks in the store. The heist lasted less than half an hour.

It began at 9:50 a.m., when import-export director Anne-Marie Capdeville arrived, authorizing the security guard to open the side entrance. They passed through the safety vestibule, and he turned off the general alarm. Harry’s grand salon smelled the way it always does: a faint fragrance of white orchids. The guard dropped off the keys at his workstation, then headed to the bathroom, passing glass display cases of ruby earrings, sapphire cluster bracelets, and platinum watches frosted with brilliants. There was no reason to think, given the sophisticated alarm system in place—and the police station a few doors down the block—that the entirety of the shop’s glittering contents could be stolen, especially in the Right Bank daylight.

Capdeville walked up the sweeping main staircase to her office on the third floor, not realizing that four armed men in balaclavas were hidden in the service stairwell. They crouched behind a closed door, holding their breath. Capdeville stepped into her office. As she sat down at her desk, they pounced, grabbing her by the throat. The robbers carried bludgeons and handguns. They were disguised as utility workmen in painter’s coveralls. Repairmen in similar attire had been renovating the structure for weeks.

Holding Capdeville’s head down, they demanded to know how many of her coworkers were present. Only one, she told them. Two of the burglars stalked off to find him, the soles of their boots tracking flecks of fire extinguisher foam along the diamond-patterned carpeting. They took the guard by surprise, in the bathroom, striking him in the head—hard enough to seriously scare him but not to knock him unconscious. They needed him awake.

The other two carried a terrified Capdeville downstairs to the bathroom. Leaving her facedown on the floor, her arms secured with industrial ties, the bandits marched the security officer back to his post. Under their watch, other staff members could now be allowed in without alerting anyone. The next to arrive was manager Matthieu Brichet, who’d driven to work with two of the store’s hostesses. After parking in the private lot behind the building, the trio filed through the securitized vestibule. Once inside, the young women were seized by the hair, dragged to the bathroom, frisked to ensure they couldn’t call for help, then tied up like Capdeville.

The manager was led up the central staircase with the barrel of a gun on his neck. Ordered to open the safe, Brichet started fumbling with the lock. In his panic, he couldn’t remember the combination. The gun pressed harder into him. “Get Bérénice,” he pleaded.

Marie Bérénice Belzacq, a sales associate who’d just arrived and been handcuffed alongside the others, was untied and whisked to the third floor, where she entered the code to the safe. As the robbers transferred the jewels out of their display cases, iridescent shards of color flashed in their eyes. One of the men directed Bérénice back downstairs, through marble-columned archways, to another safe containing the timepieces. He wore a bob, a bucket hat, atop his ski mask. He also had a remarkably big, crooked nose. “Don’t worry, Bérénice, I’m nicer than the others,” he assured her, as they filled a bag with rose-gold triple tourbillons....

June 2013 
'Pink Panther' jewel thief breaks out of Swiss jail (340 robberies, 330 million euros [£280m] booty)

See also:
Remember the 2007 ($20 Mil.) Graff Jewelry Robbery? One of the Big Rocks Just Turned Up in Hong Kong
Not to be confused with the 2009 ($65Mil) Graff's robbery or the 2003 ($41Mil) job. 

"Venice jewellery heist: expert insight from the 'gentleman thief’"

We visited Vincenzo in February's "Pipino Gentleman Thief: Magicians, Mafiosos, a Missing Painting, and the Heist of a Lifetime".

And a couple prior mentions of the Pink Panthers:

How the Hell Did A Lone Bandit Steal $136 Million In Diamonds?
"Cannes Thief Nabs $53 Million Worth of Jewels and Diamonds"

And then there's always Gary Grant, Grace Kelly, French Riviera, directed by Hitchcock:

The picnic scene that overlooks Monaco: 1009 D53 (Avenue des Anciens Combattants d'Afrique du Nord), 06240 Beausoleil.[1]

[1]  Le Stuff: To Catch A Thief

From: "To Catch a Thief (1955) - locations"

Here's a side-by-side comparison of how the locations have changed