Diamond Life

The Cannes Jewelry Heist: Who Did It?

A hotel safe full of jewelry, stolen right under Hollywood’s nose. Dana Kennedy on the Riviera mystery.

Clutching umbrellas and shivering, Hollywood heavyweights like Nicole Kidman, Harvey Weinstein, Colin Firth, Rooney Mara, Sofia Coppola, and Emma Watson braved the rain and unseasonable cold Thursday night at A-list parties ranging from a rooftop soiree sponsored by Bulgari to a beachside bash held by Calvin Klein at the far end of the Croisette.

While a black-leather-clad Kidman worried about her pin-straight hair frizzing up in the rain at Klein’s Women in Film party, neither she nor anyone else at the swanky event on the Plage d’Ecrin had an inkling that one of the biggest jewelry heists in Cannes history was about to unfold a little more than a mile away.

True, as daring Riviera capers go, this one was not nearly as elegant as the one that unspooled in To Catch a Thief, when Grace Kelly showed off her diamond necklace to the dashing former cat burglar Cary Grant in her suite at the famed Carlton Hotel, only to discover the next morning that her mother’s jewels were missing and Cary was the chief suspect.

Thursday’s heist—just hours after the world premiere of Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, based on the true-life tale of Los Angeles teenagers robbing the homes of Hollywood stars—occurred about a mile from the Carlton in the decidedly pedestrian Novotel Hotel on Cannes’ crowded main drag, Boulevard Carnot, almost right across from the police station. The gems belonged to Chopard, the world-famous Swiss jeweler.

Initial reports from a police source who spoke to The Daily Beast and from investigators quoted in the major French newspapers indicated that the jewels were destined to be worn by some of the actresses during the rest of the festival. Chopard issued a statement late Friday that the jewels were not part of the collection to be worn by the stars and may not be worth as much as is being reported.

Police said a woman, believed to be an American and who is a Chopard employee, kept the jewels in a safe in a Novotel hotel room and then went off to dinner Thursday night, not returning until much later Friday morning. By that time, she told police that someone had apparently torn off the safe from the wall and taken off with the goods. Police said the theft occurred sometime before 5 a.m.

Authorities spent much of Friday interviewing the woman and reviewing CCTV footage from the hotel, while festival buzz switched from movies and fashion to nonstop chatter about the theft.

“It’s all anyone is talking about,” said a publicist for one of the biggest parties planned for the weekend.

Film festival officials said that the coveted Palme d’Or, a trophy awarded to the best film every year, was safe. The Palme d’Or is designed by Chopard and contains 118 grams of yellow gold, valued at about $30,000.

Cannes locals, accustomed to high-profile heists in the area, speculated about who was responsible—and no theory was too dramatic.

The robbery could have been pulled off by the Pink Panthers, a storied international ring of Serbian jewel thieves known to target the Riviera, some said. Or Colombians known to travel the world in search of gems to steal. Or it was an inside job.

Many wondered why anyone would leave jewels valued at so much money in a hotel safe more commonly used to stash a wallet or passport.

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John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers Security Alliance in New York City, which represents 23,000 jewelry firms and advises them on crime prevention, said they have one crucial rule they tell all their clients to follow.

“You can’t leave goods unattended in a hotel room,” said Kennedy, who paused and repeated, “You can’t leave goods unattended in a hotel room.”

Kennedy said it’s not unusual for individuals to travel around with pricey jewelry or cash and be so lax that they leave it in a car or hotel room. But he said it was a little strange that there was not more security involved in protecting the jewels at Cannes.

“I don’t know what their insurance protocol called for, but you’d think there would be some measures in place,” he said. “There are tens of millions of diamonds and jewels out at the Academy Awards and they have armed guards, vaults, big security firms, everything you can think of.”

Kennedy said he doubted the Pink Panthers, known for daring multimillion-dollar heists right out of Mission: Impossible from Tokyo to Dubai, would take on such a small job, even though the Riviera is one of their preferred stomping grounds. He said South American gang members who travel the world, quietly targeting their victims at jewelry trade shows, would be more likely suspects—again, if it wasn’t an inside job.

Riviera-based filmmaker Miodrag Certic said he wasn’t at all surprised at the news of the robbery.

“This week is like the Olympic Games for thieves of the world,” said Certic. “The Monaco Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival all at once. It doesn’t get any better than this. There are suckers galore. My villa was robbed twice during this same week two years ago.”

Certic is fairly typical of the Riviera habitué who knows all too well the dark underside to the chic resort towns along the Cote d’Azur.

Antonia Scott-Clark, who spent almost 30 years in Cannes before returning to her native New Zealand last year, said the jewelry heist was the kind of thing that “happens in Cannes with almost boring regularity.”

Years ago, Scott-Clark said, jewel thieves used large, SUV-like vehicles and actually backed up to jewelry stores along the Croisette, smashing through the windows and grabbing the merchandise before fleeing.

“A lot of times it was in broad daylight and people thought they were filming a movie and did nothing,” Scott-Clark said. “Now they have a little barrier up that runs on the sidewalk all along the Croisette in front of the stores. Most people have no idea the barriers were put there to keep the thieves from crashing cars into the jewelry stores.”