Four men - three disguised as long blond-haired women with sunglasses - requested entry last December 4 to Harry Winston's Jewelers on super-posh Avenue Montaigne in Paris. As they were buzzed in, they pulled out a hand grenade and a .357 Magnum and started smashing the glass display cases. Fifteen minutes later they made a clean getaway in a waiting car with sacks of huge diamonds, emeralds and rubies worth a cool $115 million.
In a bizarre life-imitating-art scenario, Interpol has dubbed the suspected thieves the "Pink Panthers," referencing the phantom bandit of movie fame pursued by the comically jinxed Inspector Clouseau. The Pink Panthers are believed to be an international group, about 200 strong, of highly professional, meticulous and daring thieves. Hailing from Serbia, they are said to be responsible for high-profile heists worth more than $132 million at luxury "soft" targets in Dubai, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Spain and Monaco since 2003. Dusko Poznan and Goran Drazic, purported members of the group, were arrested before the Dec. 4 robbery. Lloyds of London, Winston's insurers, have issued a $1 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the jewels.
This was not the Pink Panthers' first heist. In Dubai last year, members of the group allegedly rammed through Graff's in two Audis, grasping $3.4 million in diamonds and exiting in the same cars. The event, captured on video, became a YouTube favorite with over 200,000 hits. In Graff's Tokyo, the Pink Panthers hit previously in 2004. In three minutes, they made off with $38 million in rare yellow diamonds, including a 125 carat necklace, the Comtesse de Vendome, worth $31.5 million, also captured on video.
The modus operandi of the Pink Panthers is "brazen, very fast, very well-organized," according to police sources. They characteristically case the targeted venues for a week or more, even learning the salespersons' names.
The bane of jewelers, the jewel thief, at times may achieve a colorful notoriety, earning a "treasured" spot in the pantheon of scoundrels. Movies glorify their cunning, daring and high-profile glamorous targets. Combining danger, fabulous jewels and meticulous execution, their heists are the stuff of legend. In a Bonnie and Clyde scenario, the thieves may become celebrated, even glorified. Boban Stojkovic, a member of the Pink Panthers cadre sentenced before the December 4 robbery, is described by his attorney as a "gentleman bandit... extremely polite and nice."
"Because that's where the money is," Willy Sutton, the thief, famously replied to the query "Why do you rob banks?" Jewelry stores are similarly natural targets. Jewelers take note. You can never be too careful. Although the Pink Panthers target the highest echelon of international targets, stores profiling coveted luxury items are always at risk. Closer to home, in Palm Beach this January Lee Havens Fine Jewelry on Worth Avenue was victimized - the robber reportedly escaping with $4 million in merchandise.
The December Harry Winston theft was the second burglary at the Paris store in a year. The previous year's heist netted over $13 million in jewels. The beleaguered jeweler seems to have adopted a note of caution. Immediately after the current robbery, passers-by the celebrated shop, now closed with shutters, viewed in its famed display case, rather than jewels, a large photograph of the missing pieces.