Cannes Jewelry Heists: Experts Call Region's Crime 'A Way of Life'

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PICTURE, PERFECT: Steps from the beach in Cannes is the 100-year-old Carlton Hotel, the site of Sunday's record $136 million jewel heist.

Daring thefts have the region on high alert; says New York City jewelry security expert John Kennedy, "Brands will take this seriously ... but they’re not going to stop selling in Cannes.”

These days, any mention of Cannes and the Cote d’Azur conjures visions of dazzling diamonds, cops, robbers and Inspector Clouseau. But theft in the land of the Cannes Film Festival is nothing new. In fact, sources tell THR, it’s the cost of doing business.

“It’s like a way of life out there, these heists,” says Martin Katz, the Beverly Hills-based jeweler known for icing up Angelina Jolie and Carey Mulligan on major red carpets. “I’ve never been comfortable doing jewelry shows in Cannes.”

Wednesday morning, the area's crime spree — which gained momentum during the Cannes Film Festival in May and reached a climax with Sunday's $136 million job — continued. Two armed men took what police only described as a “significant amount” of watches from luxury watch dealer Kronometry, which carries timepieces ranging from $20,000 to $1 million. The store sits a mere 750 meters down the boulevard from the swanky, 100-year-old Carlton Intercontinental Hotel, the site of Sunday’s $136 million, 34-piece Leviev jewel heist — the largest in the French Riviera’s storied history.

Though Katz enjoys vacationing along the Croisette and spent ten years participating in jewelry exhibits in Monte Carlo, he decided to call the region quits when his uneasiness got the best of him.

STORY: After Carlton Heist, Crime Spree Continues

“It’s an industry there. It isn’t worth it to me,” he says, mentioning that he doesn’t — and won’t — show his wares at the Cannes Film Festival. “It’s not safe.”

He’s not the only one concerned with safety on the Croisette.

“I was always nervous,” says the former public relations head of a major jewelry brand, who used to hit the Cannes red carpet year after year. But she thinks that good guards — which reports are now saying were lacking during Sunday’s heist — go a long way. “If I had more than $50 million worth [of merchandise] at any given time there would be 24-hour security. And if we were ever in a location where we didn’t have a boutique we would have two armed guards in the room.”

Jewel-related crime in the region has a deep history. In 1989, two men impersonating police officers stripped Van Cleef & Arpels’ Cannes boutique of $10 million in gems, while four years later late oil-billionaire and former Twentieth Century Fox head Marvin Davis and wife Barbara were robbed of $10 million in jewelry at gunpoint while strolling from Nice to Antibes. More recently, in 2009, the Cartier shop in Cannes fell victim to a 15 million-euro heist. A year later found a wholesale jeweler losing seven million euros in merchandise after being taken hostage in a town near Marseille.

This year’s Cannes Film Festival was particularly unsafe for bling, too. Chopard was the victim of $1 million in losses when a safe was stolen from an employee’s hotel room, while that same week Geneva-based de Grisogono fell prey when a $2 million necklace was stolen during a Sharon Stone-hosted party at the tony Eden Roc Hotel in Cap d’Antibes.

STORY: Authorities: $136 Million in Jewels Stolen from Carlton Hotel in Cannes 

“Of course it has impacted our security measures going forward,” says de Grisogono founder Fawaz Gruosi, referring to plans surrounding his own loss and the region’s general high profile threat. But despite the danger, he won’t be pulling out of the Cote d’Azur market any time soon.

“The Cannes Film Festival is a great moment to showcase our collections to the world and communicate on the glamour side of our brand,” he says. “It’s an important impact in both revenue and brand awareness."

Indeed, France is a small but swiftly rising player in the fine bauble game. According to jewelry industry trade publication JCK, the French jewelry and watch market is currently worth a combined $6.9 billion, or nearly three percent of a global fine jewelry market that has grown 46 percent since 2007. And the boldfaced nature of the most recent crimes, especially during the film festival, keep big jewel houses in the news.


BLING RING: Above, a model wearing the $2 million de Grisogono necklace that was stolen at the brand's 20th anniversary party on May 21, 2013.


“Maybe this is better marketing,” muses JCK senior editor Rob Bates, who frequently reports on security within the jewelry industry retail space. He doesn’t think much will actually change in the way jewels get shown in the South of France. Nor does he think rows of armed guards will be added to the security agenda of next year’s film fest — the reason for which, is quite simple: “Insurance."

Area exhibits and events similar to the Leviev diamond showcase that suffered Sunday's historic loss are not uncommon, with de Grisogono hosting an exhibition in Monte Carlo last month as well as two annual initiatives timed to the Cannes Film Festival — a press and client suite at the Hotel Martinez as well as the yearly Eden Roc affair, which served as the scene for this year’s $2 million theft, which occurred despite the brand’s use of 80 on-site security guards in addition to local police patrols.

“I think brands will take this seriously,” says John J. Kennedy, president of nonprofit New York-based industry group Jewelers’ Security Alliance. Kennedy says that so-called smaller jobs like the ones cited above — while unpleasant — are de rigueur for the high stakes world of valuable gems. But Sunday’s multimillion-dollar haul is a game changer due to the sheer magnitude of its value. He adds that jewelry crime in France is roughly five times higher than in the U.S.

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“But when you have very rich buyers concentrated in the city for a month or two in the summer, you’re going to have to put resources there,” adds Kennedy. “The amount of money that can be spent by the buying public in France is amazing."

L.A.-based high-end jewelry designer Loree Rodkin, whose rocker-infused, everyday cocktail rings can be had for $26,000 a pop and have been worn by Michelle Obama, was one of Sunday’s heist victims, with a handful of pieces stolen from the exhibit. It was her first time showing jewelry in the South of France.

“Fortunately no one got hurt,” Rodkin tells THR, declining to elaborate on her future business plans for the region. 

With no end in site to the brazen, Hollywood-esque nature of crimes in the Cote d’Azur (Wednesday’s watch job featured two armed, masked men and, reportedly, a grenade), will major jewelry players including Montblanc, Boucheron and Damiani — who each routinely have significant celebrity placements at the film festival each year —stay away? Kennedy is doubtful.

“There’s always a balance between marketing and security. But they’re not going to stop selling in Cannes.”