Cannes Jewel Heist: How to Protect Your Valuables

Novotel Hotel Cannes - P 2013
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Novotel Hotel Cannes - P 2013

Security experts tell THR it's best to never leave them unattended -- better yet, don't take them to your hotel room at all.

Worried about sticky fingers on your jewels when traveling? There are a number of steps jewelry houses and individuals can take to avoid the fate that befell Chopard, when a reported $1.4 million’s worth of its jewelry was taken from an employee’s hotel room in Cannes sometime between late Thursday evening and early Friday morning.

“The key vulnerability is leaving valuable product in a hotel room unattended,” says John Kennedy, president of the New York-based Jewelers’ Security Alliance. “You have to be with your product at all times.”

The Chopard staffer was not on the premises when the thief or thieves removed the safe, where the jewels were stored, from his room at the Suite Novotel Cannes Centre. And putting extreme valuables in a hotel room safe is never a good idea: They are notoriously easy for an experienced safecracker to defeat. Given their relatively small size and light weight, the entire thing can be smuggled out of a hotel fairly easily. (That was reportedly the case in the Chopard heist.) Kennedy recalls a recent case of his in which burglars carried a 400-pound safe out of a private home. “So carrying out a hotel safe does not surprise me,” he says.

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In fact, products taken to jewelry trade shows are never taken into a hotel room at all; instead, they are stored in designated vaults at the end of each day, he says. This is not just for product security but also for the safety of employees in the event they are present during a break-in. “You’re leaving yourself open for violence if you’re sleeping in the same room with valuables,” says JSA vp Scott Guginsky, a retired cop who served as commanding officer of the NYPD’s Organized Theft Squad. He points to the South American Theft Groups, which the FBI has identified as organized squads that target traveling jewelry salespeople for hotel room or parking lot robberies and burglaries.

Some jewelry insurance policies require valuables to be turned over to the hotel to place in its vault, but the most secure storage solution would be off-site. Kennedy advises hiring a private security company, one that offers off-site storage as well as armed escort services, especially for a high-profile event like Cannes, where attendees’ whereabouts are publicized and easily tracked.

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In these situations, discretion is especially critical. “I preach to the jewelry industry, you really have to keep your business to yourself,” Guginsky says. Whether in a local pub or on social media, an idle comment about your planned whereabouts can create an opportunity for crime.

“High-end events are a magnet for criminals,” Kennedy says. “There’s money there, people are drinking, people are out and about. It’s all photographed, where [celebrities] go, and at some point they’re gonna take their jewelry off.”