Masked thieves heist jewels

The jeweler’s CEO joked that the theft resembled Hollywood films, like Ocean’s 11.

.MILAN, Italy (AP) – Masked thieves drilled a tunnel and broke into a jewelry showroom as employees were preparing for a VIP showing, making off with gold, diamonds and rubies in a brazen daylight heist, the jeweler said.

The bags of jewels stolen Sunday from Damiani – maker of the diamond bracelet that graced Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton’s wrist – included gold, platinum, diamonds and rubies, though apparently no pearls.

The losses are being inventoried and Damiani is not issuing estimates, but the jeweler’s chief executive dismissed a $7.52 million figure cited by the Italian media.

The safe normally would have had even more valuable, one-of-a-kind pieces – but a “significant number” were on loan to stars attending the Oscars on Sunday, including Swinton, or in Tokyo for the opening of a new boutique, CEO Guido Damiani said Wednesday.

“Luckily, many of these pieces were not in the safe,” he said in a telephone interview.

Lead investigator Francesco Messina said the heist was highly professional and that the robbers left few traces. “It will be a long investigation,” he said.

The four thieves did not brandish arms, but wore vests identifying themselves as Italy’s powerful financial police, Messina said.

The family-run business established 85 years ago by Damiani’s grandfather calls itself the jeweler of the stars, with Hollywood stars Isabella Rosellini, Brad Pitt, Gwyenth Paltrow and Sharon Stone among its celebrity promoters.

Employees in the central Milan showroom were preparing for a VIP showing when the thieves entered at around 10 a.m., Damiani said.

Wearing face masks and dark glasses, the robbers forced four showroom employees, a caterer and a cleaning woman into a room, where they were bound. One of the Damiani employees was forced to open the safe, but bound with the others during the theft.

“The timing was planned. They knew that there would be people in the building – otherwise they would not have been able to get into the safe – but that it would not be full,” Damiani said. “They were in the right place at the right moment. But I am confident that they will be found.”

Damiani said they had drilled into the basement from a neighboring building with nearly 4-foot-thick walls, gaining cover from renovation work in the adjacent structure. It was unclear how long they had been working.

“We’ve heard an account from one woman who heard noise in the early mornings, and had even complained to police. It was probably them,” Damiani said.

Because they entered from inside the building, the thieves did not pass armed guards posted at the entrance.

“A guard could have gone up at any minute, and one did go up by chance – but seconds after they left,” Damiani said. “It could have been a drama, so all the better that no one walked in.”

The whole operation took about half an hour. A neighbor who grew suspicious after seeing men load bags – presumably full of jewels – into a van, notified police, Damiani said.

The company, which is quoted on the Milan Stock exchange, has seen its shares rise since news of the theft broke. Since opening Monday at $2.80, the stock has risen as high as $3.13.

Although the company is shaken, Damiani said that because the employees were safe and the jewels were insured, they could joke about the similarities to some of Hollywood’s heist films.