By  on February 20, 2013

PARIS — The latest in a rash of jewelry heists on both sides of the Atlantic took place when two men held up the De Beers boutique in Printemps department store here and made off with jewelry worth between 1 million and 3 million euros, or $2.7 million and $4 million at current exchange, in the early evening hours Tuesday.

Armed with handguns and equipped with bulletproof vests, the robbers entered the South African diamond dealer’s stand, located on the first floor of the department store, at around 6:45 p.m., a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office in Paris confirmed. They did not fire their weapons and no one was harmed, she said.

According to French media reports, the thieves left shortly after, nearly unnoticed, through the personnel exit at the back of the store, which could suggest they were familiar with the premises.

The men were unmasked and disguised only in wigs. Whether their identities could be deduced from the department store’s surveillance system the spokeswoman for the district attorney would not tell, stating the “investigation is still ongoing.”

In France the number of jewelry robberies jumped 61 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to a study published earlier this month by the French National Institute for Advanced Studies in Security and Justice.

The De Beers heist in Paris came less than 24 hours after a spectacular hit and run at the airport in Brussels, where a gang of heavily armed men disguised as policemen made off with a haul of rough and polished diamonds estimated to be worth 37 million euros, or $49.4 million, en route from Antwerp to Zurich. The raid, which is said to have lasted only three minutes and went down shortly before takeoff, is one of the biggest diamond heists ever reported.

Caroline De Wolf, spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, said she was “shocked by the brutal heist.”

“We find it hard to understand how a robbery such as [Monday’s] heist could take place,” De Wolf continued. “We are currently awaiting the results of the investigation, but we do fear the damage for Antwerp, the world’s leading trade center, is significant.”

Although eight in 10 of all rough and half of all polished diamonds are still traded in Antwerp, the Belgian community faces fierce competition from predominantly Indian diamond cutters producing at lower cost.

Brussels’ brazen holdup poses serious questions concerning loopholes in airport security. Judging from the boldness and the precision of the hit and run, security experts have suggested it must have been an “inside job.”

Brink’s Co., a provider of secure transportation and cash management services that shipped a portion of the stolen cargo, issued a profit warning on Wednesday, stating it “expects the loss to have a significant impact on its first-quarter earnings,” though “the robbery does not materially affect its full-year profit forecast.” The company also assured it had “a long-standing insurance program in place to cover its losses.”

It is unclear which diamond dealers the stolen gems were heading to in Zurich.

Jewelry heists haven’t been restricted to Europe. This past weekend, in New York, thieves stole over $166,000 worth of jewelry from the Jacob & Co. store in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street. 

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