Brink’s heist saga: How do you fence stolen gems worth millions? Inside the jewelry black market
When a woman walked into a jewelry store in Amsterdam with a bag of gems that had been stolen from a safe deposit vault, the clerk did what she did for most things taken in robberies. For a few weeks, the cashier, a relative of the store owner, sat in the vault stuffing the diamonds and pearls into suitcases. Not all jewels worth millions end up in a jewelry box. And the cashier knows precisely how to put them together again.
Instead of keeping the gems in a safe deposit box, she sold them, along with the cash, to Brink’s, a Manhattan-based international diamond dealer, which put all 627 of the stolen gems into a series of four separate “bundles” or jewelry boxes. Her scheme has been broken, in part, by the theft of the safe deposit vault, which was robbed last year. The jewelry box thefts were uncovered by investigators last month, and their investigation has only now begun to put together what Brink’s did to try to get away with the heist.
Over the past few years, many jewelry stores have started using a sophisticated system for storing the gems their patrons put in their jewelry boxes. The system, known as a “box vault,” was first developed in the 1960s by Harry Frank Guggenheimer, who was a jewelry store owner and the CEO of GIA, a firm founded by his son, Harry Frank Guggenheimer, Jr. To store the jewels in these boxes, GIA used what is known as a “hot box,” a steel tray that sits on a concrete floor and contains a fireproof vault. The box is sealed with a metal lid whose locking mechanism is activated by the heat of the box burning down to a specific temperature. A computer chip inside the vault is programmed to open the lid at the appropriate time. This system has worked well, particularly for jewelry stores, which sell to customers who are buying just a handful of pieces. The box and vault are designed to be almost impossible to open with just one key. But the Brink’s heist was far from being one of those rare