10 Fabulous, Priceless (and Missing) Jewels
By Kristine Alexander, Toptenz, 28 May 2016.
By Kristine Alexander, Toptenz, 28 May 2016.
Mysterious tales of priceless stones and sparkling baubles going missing aren’t just for novels and movies. The ten exceptional pieces detailed below have three things in common: they are all extremely valuable, one-of-a-kind items; they all disappeared under suspicious circumstances; and while many theories surround their present whereabouts, they all remain missing.
10. Lost, Found, and Lost: The Emeralds of Tucker’s Cross
Teddy Tucker was Bermuda’s most well-known maritime explorer, discovering more than 100 shipwrecks in the waters surrounding Bermuda, an accomplishment that led Bermudan Premier Michael Dunkley to memorialize him as “one of the of the great Bermudans of our time” after Tucker’s 2014 death.
While Tucker fit a lot of treasure-hunting into his 89 years, his most famous find was one of his earliest - the 1955 discovery of a gold cross bearing seven large emeralds. Tucker spotted the gleaming crucifix, which came to be known as Tucker’s Cross and whose discovery made headlines around the world, amid debris from the Spanish wreck San Pedro. Wanting to keep the discovery in Bermuda, Tucker sold it to the government in 1959, and the cross was placed in a museum, where it was a popular attraction for locals and tourists.
In 1975, just before Queen Elizabeth II was due to view the piece during a state visit, it was discovered that Tucker’s Cross had been stolen, and replaced by a replica. While the sophisticated nature of the crime suggests that professional thieves were involved, an extensive international investigation failed to turn up any evidence that would pinpoint the identity of the culprit(s) or the location of Tucker’s Cross. The fate of this valuable shipwreck find remains unknown.
9. Massive, Uncut Pink Diamond Disappears in Transit
Scientists aren’t sure what causes the characteristic hue of natural pink diamonds. But like other colored diamonds, pink diamonds are rare, valuable, and highly sought after by collectors and consumers. Demonstrating the appeal of pink diamonds, in October of 2014, a pink diamond weighing more than 8 carats fetched an astounding US$17.77 million at auction.
Unfortunately, the same beauty and rarity that attracts investors and collectors to the stones also draws thieves. In January of 2001, despite being under the care of global security firm Brink’s, a raw pink diamond weighing in at an impressive 162.5 carats disappeared en route from Geneva to Johannesburg. The diamond, described by one expert as “of unbelievable purity and extremely rare” had an estimated value of US$6 million at the time of its disappearance, and its value could double once cut. The origins of the giant diamond are unknown, but likely Australian, as most pink diamonds are mined there. Despite a US$300,000 reward offered by Brink’s, the diamond’s whereabouts remain a mystery, though some jewelers speculate that the stone could have been cut for sale on the black market.
8. American Treasure, American Heist: The Eagle Diamond
At the time of its 1876 discovery, the Eagle Diamond was the second-largest diamond ever found in the United States. However, Charles Wood, who found the “transparent, wine-yellow pebble” while digging a well in Eagle, Wisconsin, had no idea of the value of his find, which he gifted to his wife Clarissa. The “pebble” spent the seven years among curios and shells on the Woods’ coffee table before Clarissa took it to a jeweler, who told her it was likely topaz and offered her US$1 for it. Clarissa accepted, though after it was appraised as a 16-carat diamond, she unsuccessfully sued the jeweler for the stone’s return. The jeweler sold the diamond to Tiffany & Co. for US$850, from which it was ultimately purchased by J.P. Morgan as a gift for the American Museum of Natural History.
The Eagle Diamond sat on display in the museum’s J.P. Morgan jewel collection until 1964, when beach-boy-turned-jewel-thief Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphy, along with accomplices Allan Kuhn and Roger Clark, committed an audacious heist. The trio, who scaled the museum’s stone walls to gain entry, made off with priceless jewels, including the Star of India sapphire, the DeLong Star Ruby, and the Eagle Diamond. Most of the gems were eventually recovered, but the diamonds, including the Eagle Diamond, remain missing, and it is feared that they may have been cut for resale.
7. MIA: The Ivory Coast Crown Jewels
After a disputed election in 2011, deadly conflict raged across the Ivory Coast, escalating to a battle for control of the country’s largest city, Abidjan, between forces loyal to new President Alassane Ouattara and those who sought to retain control for former leader Laurent Gbagbo. In addition to the lives lost to the conflict and the sense of upheaval created by the violent political dispute, Ivorians faced another loss: that of the priceless national relics that were stolen during the chaos.
Intense fighting between the factions left the country’s Museum of Civilizations, which dates to the French colonial area, scarred with bullet holes and mortar damage. The museum’s proximity to a military base, once thought to lend it additional protection, actually meant that the museum was at the center of the firefight. While the battle raged, thieves took advantage of the chaos to enter the museum and take off with over 80 objects, priceless in their historic value and with an estimated monetary value of over US$6 million. The stolen objects included gold royal jewelry, some dating to the 17th century, as well as masks, crowns, and gold-handled flyswatters; a blow the museum’s director director described as “a huge loss,” noting that, “A piece of our history has been wiped out.”
The museum’s lead curator and director believe that the thieves may have had inside help, because they left less valuable objects behind and were able to avoid breaking glass as they forced open cases to get at their targets. The trove was quickly entered into an international Interpol database of stolen art, meaning that thieves will have a hard time unloading distinctive objects, like those gold flyswatters, unless the objects are melted down and sold merely for the value of the gold.
6. Twisted History: The Florentine Diamond
The Florentine Diamond has a long, confusing, and disputed history. What is clear, however is that it was (and perhaps still is…somewhere) a majestic stone - a massive (137 carats when cut) deep yellow diamond with green overtones, cut in a 9-sided, 126-facet double rose cut. This stone comes with its own plethora of aliases; it has been alternately known by names including the Florentine Diamond, the Tuscan, and the Austrian Yellow Diamond.
There are many legends around its early ownership - Charles the Bold, Pope Julius II, and the Indian King of Vijayangar are all reputed owners, though there is no definitive documentation until Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French jeweler, saw it amongst the treasures of Ferdinando Il de’Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1657. It then moved around various royal owners, ending up in the Hapsburg Crown Jewels in Austria, eventually being displayed in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum in a hat ornament until 1918. After the fall of the Austrian Empire at the end of WWI, the gem, along with other royal jewels, accompanied former King Charles I during his exile to Switzerland.
From there, the trail of this stunning yellow diamond grows cold, with rumors that the gem was stolen, moved to South America, and eventually taken to the US, where it was recut. While no one can say for sure what happened to the diamond, an organization named Gem Sleuth evaluated all the known yellow diamonds over 70 carats (believing that because of the unusual original cut, a recut incarnation would be substantially smaller than the original 137 carats), finding only one: an 80-carat diamond which had been sold at auction in 1981, with a provenance that could make it possible that it was a remnant of the Florentine diamond. Unfortunately for those of us who would like this mystery solved, the current whereabouts of that diamond are also unknown.
5. Scandal on Top of Scandal: The Irish Crown Jewels
The Ivory Coast isn’t alone in having its crown jewels disappear without a trace. Ireland’s crown jewels also went missing in 1907, in a heist surrounded by so much intrigue and scandal that it reads more like a soap opera. The 394 precious jewels stolen in the heist decorated all manner of royal accessories, including maces and swords, and would be worth an estimated €14m today. The centerpiece of the collection were the Star of St. Patrick, a hand-sized broach decorated with a shamrock of emeralds, a ruby cross, and the motto of the Order of St. Patrick spelled out in pink Brazilian diamonds, and the Badge of St. Patrick, which bore a similar design, also including a crown and harp of diamonds.
In 1903, the jewels, which had previously been kept in a bank vault, were moved to Dublin Castle, the center of British rule in Ireland, which had not yet gained its independence. Dublin Castle had recently had a special strong room constructed for the jewels. However, when they arrived at the caste, the safe they were in was too large to fit through the door to the room. Instead, Ulster King of Arms, Sir Arthur Vicars, placed the safe in the castle library, which was accessible to several people. The jewels were discovered missing July 6, 1907, just four days before a state visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, leaving the king furious and suspicions running rampant.
In the aftermath, rumors flew about the role of Vicars, including allegations that he had previously gotten so drunk partying that friends had been able to get the keys to the safe, take the jewels out, and adorn a sleeping Vicars, who woke up wearing the crown jewels. Vicars, however, steadfastly maintained his innocence, even when he was found culpable for failing to exercise the proper care in securing the jewels. He instead pointed to Francis Shackleton (brother of the Antarctic explorer), who routinely had access to the library, as the culprit. In his will, Vicars blamed the King and the Irish government for scapegoating him and shielding Shackleton (perhaps because they feared that a public inquiry would expose sordid rumors about Shackleton’s homosexuality and sexual exploits in the palace), an allegation that was considered so inflammatory that Vicars’ will was sealed until 1976. The whereabouts of the stolen jewels remain unknown.
4. A Half-Egg of Mystery: The Great Mogul Diamond
The Great Mogul diamond was discovered at some point in the early 1600s, in southern India, likely in the Golcanda region’s Kollur Mine. In its rough form, the diamond weighed in at an astonishing 787 carats. This massive, rough stone served as a (generous!) diplomatic gift from Emir Jemla to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The Emperor sent the stone to Venice to be cut, but was horrified when the cutter reduced the stone’s final size to 280 carats, ordering the artisan responsible to be whipped and fined. Even still, a 280-carat diamond is not too shabby; traveling expert jeweler Tavernier described the jewel’s shape and size as “as of an egg cut in two.”
This half-egg of diamond, with its distinctive bluish tinge, is believed to have come into Persian ruler Nadir Shah’s possession during his invasion of India, and returned with him to his home in 1739. However, after Nadir Shah’s 1747 assassination, the Mogul Diamond completely disappeared from the records. Some have suggested it was recut into smaller gems, while others point to several other sizable diamonds that could be the Mogul Diamond. Many experts conclude that the Mogul Diamond was likely recut into the similarly-shaped 190-carat Orlov Diamond, which is part of a museum collection of Russian jewels. However, the questions around where, when, and why the jewel was recut in this potential scenario make it impossible to definitively solve the mystery of the Great Mogul Diamond.
3. An International Incident: The Blue Diamond Affair
This 50-carat diamond is at the center of a jewel heist, which came to be known as “The Blue Diamond Affair,” that left a mystery that has endured for more than 25 years, resulting in several murders, the involvement of organized crime, and a weakened diplomatic and economic relationship between Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
The story starts simply enough. A Thai gardener/custodian, Kriangkrai Techamong, who was working in the palace of a Saudi prince, decided that theft was an easier path to riches than tending to the royal flower beds. Kriangkrai climbed into the palace through a second-story window, broke into a safe using a screwdriver, and stole more than 200 pounds of precious gems, shoving egg-sized rubies and the almost-flawless 50-carat blue diamond - one of the world’s largest blue diamonds - into his vacuum bag. He used DHL to mail the jewels to his home in Thailand, and shortly thereafter, he returned to Thailand as well.
Kriangkrai sold the stolen jewels to a local jeweler, Santhi Sithanakan, for pennies on the dollar. The Saudis were able to quickly ascertain what had happened, and demanded Kriangkrai’s arrest and the return of their gems. Both of those were quickly served up, with the Thai police returning the stolen jewels to Saudi Arabia. However, the tidy ending to this case quickly unraveled, when the Saudis claimed that most of the returned jewels were fakes, and the blue diamond was missing. Further stoking Saudi diplomatic ire were rumors that wives of Thai bureaucrats were spotted wearing some new jewelry that bore a remarkable resemblance to the missing baubles. The Saudis decided they needed to conduct their own investigation, sending three diplomats and a businessman with ties to the royal family to Thailand.
When the diplomats were assassinated and the businessman vanished, the Saudis blamed corruption within the Thai government. In retaliation, the furious Saudi government recalled its ambassador from Thailand, deported more than 90% of the over 200,000 Thai guest workers in Saudi Arabia, and cut off almost all trade with Thailand. Further raising suspicions about the case were the kidnapping and murders of the wife and son of the jeweler who bought the stolen gems from Kriangkrai, a crime the detective in charge of the original heist investigation was eventually convicted of orchestrating.
The Blue Diamond Affair remains far from being resolved. As of 2016, the murders of the Saudi diplomats and the disappearance of the Saudi businessman remain unsolved, relations between Thailand and Saudi Arabia are still frosty, and the location of the beautiful blue diamond that set so many ugly events in motion remains an enduring mystery.
2. Pink Panther Caper: The Comtesse de Vendome US$31M Necklace
The Comtesse de Vendome necklace is not a subtle piece of jewelry. Comprised of 116 diamonds, including a 125-carat oval-cut diamond in the center, this dazzling beauty was valued at more than US$30 million in 2004, when it was snatched from a Tokyo jewelry store.
Who would have the audacity to steal such a valuable piece from such a secure location? In the aftermath of Japan’s biggest heist, police work identified a gang of hundreds of Serbian thieves known as the Pink Panthers, a criminal network responsible for dozens (perhaps hundreds) of high-profile heists across Europe and Asia. In Toyko, two members of the gang scouted out the store, posing as a couple and purchasing jewelry while they evaluated the security of the store and the location of the necklace. The duo noted that the necklace was kept in a glass display case on the third floor, guarded by only an electronic alarm. On March 5, 2004, two members of the gang, Djorde Rasovic and Aleksander Radulovic, disguised in wigs, entered the store. After disorienting the shop’s staff with pepper spray, the two smashed through display cases, making off with more than 20 pieces of jewelry, including the Comtesse de Vendome, and fleeing on motorbikes.
What, you were expecting something a little more Ocean’s 11-style from a group called the Pink Panthers? Well, so were we, to be honest. What a disappointment.
While the culprits were eventually apprehended, at trial they maintained that the necklace had been stolen at the behest of the store’s owners, who, facing financial troubles, sought to collect on their insurance, and returned to a dumpster for a US$100,000 ransom. The Japanese police and prosecutors dispute this version of events. Either way, the one-of-a-kind necklace remains missing, perhaps hidden in an illicit private collection, or perhaps broken up so that the stones could be sold without being identified.
1. Gone in an Instant: The Marlborough Diamond
The Marlborough Diamond, a 45-carat diamond, was once set in the brooch pendent of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, a cousin of Winston Churchill’s. After her death, the gem was purchased by high-end jeweler Graff’s, where it was reset into a necklace surrounded by other diamonds. In 1980, the piece was valued at over US$900,000.
On September 11, 1980, a well-dressed man was admitted to the London store by a security guard. After entering, the man pulled out a gun and ordered the store’s patrons and staff to lie on the ground. An accomplice brandishing a hand grenade rushed in, and the two looted more than US$1.4 million (in 1980) worth of jewels, including the Marlborough Diamond, in less than a minute, shoving them into a briefcase and fleeing. The two men, Joseph “Jerry” Scalise and Arthur “the Genius” Rachel, who had Chicago mob connections, were arrested on their return flight from London and imprisoned. The gems were never found, though a London cabbie later reported to the police that the duo had asked him to post a package to the United States for them.
After being released from prison, the pair, then over 70, were again arrested in 2010, along with a third accomplice, as they plotted to break into the house of their late former boss, Angelo LaPietro. While this new scheme raised suspicions that the diamond was hidden on the premises of the LaPietro estate, an FBI search turned up nothing. The whereabouts of the Marlborough Diamond remain unknown. When asked in 2012 whether the diamond would ever be found, Scalise replied, “If Lloyd’s [Lloyd’s of London, the insurance company who insured the jewel] wanted to pay enough money, maybe they could.”
Top image: Florentine Diamond. Credit: Ahnode/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]