Stolen Jewels, Art and Cash: World's Biggest Heists

The brazen daytime robbery of a London jewelry store last week is being called the biggest jewel heist in British history.

In just two minutes on Aug. 6, two robbers dressed in sharp business suits ripped off $65 million in jewelry from Graff Diamond's flagship store -- known for its clientele of the rich and famous.

In a series of events reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, the thieves left the store with 43 pieces of jewelry -- including earrings, watches, rings and a necklace made of 272 diamonds -- and a hostage in tow.

Police said the men arrived at the store in a London taxi and made an incredible getaway, changing cars three times over a distance measuring less than half a mile. They crashed once, handed a bag of jewels to an accomplice on a motorcycle and gave police the slip, despite being right in the center of London.

Police believe that a total of four men took part in the operation. The only thing they've recovered so far is one of the getaway cars.

The heist may be the most recent robbery to capture the world's imagination and the interest of an international team of investigators, but it's far from the first.

The following list rounds up some of the biggest and most daring capers in recent years from across the country and around the world.

The Heist of the Century: Antwerp Diamond Center ($189 million)

Perhaps the largest jewelry heist ever committed took place in Antwerp, Belgium -- the diamond capital of the world -- where more than $189 million (in 2009 dollars) worth of diamonds, gold and other jewels was stolen in February 2003.

Quickly dubbed the "heist of the century," a team of thieves simply walked into the city's highly guarded Diamond Center one night after it had closed and pilfered 123 of its 160 safety deposit boxes -- no guns, no bloodshed, no screeching tires.

Considered an impenetrable bank, the center's vaults were protected by 10 layers of security, "including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field and a lock with 100 million possible combinations," according to Wired magazine.

Italian Leonardo Notarbartolo was arrested several weeks after the heist. He later was convicted based on DNA evidence found on a sandwich left behind at the scene.

None of the jewels, however, have ever been recovered.

An Artful Caper: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum ($300 to $500 million)

At midnight on March 18, 1990, two men wearing police uniforms knocked on the door of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, informing the guard on duty that they had received a complaint about a disturbance on the premises.

Once inside, the thieves proceeded to perpetrate the greatest theft of artwork in history.

Making off with between $300 million and $500 million worth of masterpieces, the two thieves stole a Vermeer, three Rembrandts, five paintings by Degas and four other paintings.

The thieves never have been captured and the statute of limitations on prosecuting the perpetrators has passed.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, the museum's namesake, died in the early 1900s, stipulating in her will that nothing in the museum be changed following her death.

Today, 13 empty frames continue to hang on the museum's walls.

The Pink Panthers Strike Again: Harry Winston, Paris ($105 million)

Talk about brazen. In December 2008, four men dressed as women with long blonde wigs and sunglasses were nonchalantly buzzed in to the Paris shop of international high-end jeweler Harry Winston.

Armed with a hand grenade and pistols, the members of an international crime syndicate nicknamed the Pink Panthers stole sacks of emeralds, rubies and diamonds as large as birds' eggs to the tune of $105 million.

A number of the thieves -- all of whom were Serbian nationals -- were caught and convicted, but most of the money never was recovered.

In 2003, a Graff store in Japan was robbed in three minutes by armed thieves also believed to be members of the Pink Panthers and who made off with $37 million.

In October 2007, the same Harry Winston store in Paris was knocked over by a different group of robbers who made off with $20 million. Despite a $50,000 reward, no arrests have been made in that case.

Inside Job: Dunbar Armored ($18.9 million)

Though less well-known than the famous Brinks robbery of 1950 ($2 million) or the 1978 Lufthansa heist at JFK Airport in New York in 1978 ($6 million) that inspired several films, the largest cash robbery in U.S. history took place in 1997 at Dunbar Armored, an armored car company located in Los Angeles.

Company employee Alan Pace and a band of thieves entered the armored car depot using Pace's keys and timed the robbery to avoid being caught by security cameras.

Once inside, they assaulted the guards and raided the vault he knew was opened on Friday nights, making off with $18.9 million.

Pace and several other members of the gang were arrested, after one of them, Eugene Hill, paid someone with a stack of bills still wrapped with Dunbar-branded cash straps.

Pace was sentenced to 24 years in jail. Some $10 million remains unaccounted for.

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