On monday february 17th 2003, Antwerp police discovered that a heavily secured subterranean vault in the Diamond District had been robbed. $100 million in diamonds, gold and jewels was missing. Wired journalist Joshua Davis investigated the story and wrote one of the most enjoyable articles I’ve ever read.
About 18 months earlier, five Italians started to prepare the heist. They knew that 80% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through the Antwerp Diamond District every year. This three-square-block area is under 24-hour police surveillance and monitored by 63 video cameras.
It all started when a jewish diamond dealer approached Leonardo Notarbartolo, an Italian petty thief, with the question whether the vault in the Antwerp Diamond Center be robbed. The dealer offered him an initial payment of 100,000 euros to answer the question. Notarbartolo accepted the assignment and began his reconnaissance of the heavily secured vault:
He took the elevator, descending two floors underground to a small, claustrophobic room—the vault antechamber. A 3-ton steel vault door dominated the far wall. It alone had six layers of security. There was a combination wheel with numbers from 0 to 99. To enter, four numbers had to be dialed, and the digits could be seen only through a small lens on the top of the wheel. There were 100 million possible combinations.
Power tools wouldn’t do the trick. The door was rated to withstand 12 hours of nonstop drilling. Of course, the first vibrations of a drill bit would set off the embedded seismic alarm anyway.
The vault actually was secured with ten different security measures
After he saw this, Notarbartolo was convinced this couldn’t be done. But after five months the jewish dealer called him back to come to an abandoned warehouse
Inside, a massive structure was covered with black plastic tarps. The dealer pulled back a corner and they ducked underneath.
At first, Notarbartolo was confused. He seemed to be standing in the vault antechamber. To his left, he saw the vault door. He was inside an exact replica of the Diamond Center’s vault level. Everything was the same. As far as Notarbartolo could tell, the dealer had reconstructed it based on the photographs he had provided. Notarbartolo felt like he had stepped into a movie.
This is when the plot actually starts to sound like a classic heist movie featuring a team of specialists with nicknames as The Genius and The King of Keys. There are several amazing plot twists that you can read in the full article. It’s an amazing story.