Art Hostage Revealed Spook Heist History here: http://arthostage.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/stolen-art-watch-hatton-garden-raid-top.html
Hatton Garden robbers left 'hundreds' of items including gold bars and jewels behind on vault floor and may have been hunting for one specific prize
- Police reportedly told victims 'hundreds' of gold bars and jewels left behind
- One victim questioned whether gang had been looking for a specific prize
- Particularly as only 72 of 999 safe deposit boxes were opened in the raid
WHEN DID THE HEIST HAPPEN?
Stolen LS Lowry paintings traded as 'currency' and 'collateral' by criminal gangsWorks of art seized in a smash and grab raid nearly ten years ago at a Cheshire gallery are probably being passed between drug bosses as a form of “collateral”, he says.
Three Lowry works, one of which would today be valued at around £400,000, were among a cache of 13 paintings stolen from the Clark Art gallery in Hale in 2006.
The haul, worth around £500,000 at the time of the theft but now estimated at more than £1 million, has never been recovered.
Gallery owner Bill Clark was told by a loss adjuster who came to investigate the theft that the paintings – in particular the highly sought-after Lowrys – were probably being used as “currency” and “collateral” in down payments for drugs.
Stolen LS. Lowry, Two women and Children,1950 “The loss adjuster said stolen Lowry paintings are used as collateral within the criminal underground,” Clark told The Independent.
“They are traded against drugs and used as currency. Eventually the monetary value is realised and they sell them someone for cash.”
He is offering a £25,000 reward to anyone with information that will lead to their recovery.
“After this amount of time the thinking is that they will appear,” Clark said.
“At the time we did a Crime Watch programme which got surprisingly little back. It was suggested to us that they might have been stolen to order by someone very high up in the criminal underworld. Someone people don’t want to mess with.”
The theft took place just one week after the gallery opened at around 2am in September 2006.
Other works stolen were all by artists from the North of England which Clark suggests points to the thieves being local.
Stolen Lowry: Industrial Scene with Figure, 1949 He believes the paintings were stolen to order – something supported by witnesses who saw men browsing through a catalogue outside the gallery in the early hours on the night they were stolen.
Thieves are believed to have used a manhole cover stolen from a street a mile away to bash the windows of the gallery in before grabbing the paintings and escaping.
Bill Clark of Clark Art gallery
Police investigated at the time but Clark said he has heard nothing since. He remains “optimistic” that the paintings have not been destroyed and will eventually be recovered.
“It does sound a bit sensational but it is true that stolen paintings are used as collateral in exchange for drugs, weapons and sometimes as what we call ‘get out of jail free cards’ to bargain with the police,” said Christopher A. Marinello of Art Recovery International.
“We have been doing recovery work for a long time and have seen almost everything. Thieves sometimes contact us to ask about rewards. Since the creation of the ART Claim Database they have realised the world they operate in has got a lot smaller which sometimes frustrates their attempts to sell paintings quickly so they end up using them for bargaining purposes within the criminal underworld.”
Challenge for Bamber Gascoigne as thieves steal valuable auction items
Thieves steal antique garden statues Bamber Gascoigne planned to auction to raise money to restore a Grade I listed stately home inherited from the Duchess of Roxburghe
The early 18th century lead statue of Mercury stolen from from the grounds of West Horsley Place
The stolen items also included a 17th century bronze bell and a carved limestone and bronze sundial, each thought to be worth thousands of pounds.
The statue of Mercury was due to be sold at auction by Sotheby’s at the end of this month as part of a sale of 700 items of furniture, works of art and household fittings discovered at the home.
It was made by a member of the school of John Nost, a Flemish-born sculptor who workedin London during the second-half of the 17th century, and is worth an estimated £15,000.
The thieves are understood to have broken into the grounds of West Horsley Place sometime between 4.10PM on Wednesday, April 29, and 10am on Thursday, April 30.
The house - from which most of the valuable objects to be auctioned had already been removed - was not broken into and it appears the thieves chose to concentrate their attention on the items which remained in the gardens.
Police say the thieves would have needed to use a vehicle to remove the haul, which also included two lead fountain figures by H. Crowther and Son.
There are now fears the lead statues will be melted down for their scrap value and lost forever.
There is also speculation the gang may have been alerted to the potential value of objects at the stately home by the recent publicity surrounding Mr Gascoigne’s plans to restore it.
Surrey police appealed for the public to help track down the thieves and recover the items where there is still time.
PC Jack Droy, who is investigating the thefts, said: “These items are distinctive, extremely heavy and are not the sort of items that are easily moved. I’m keen to hear from anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity in the area during the time period in which the offence took place.”
He added: “Maybe there was a vehicle or an unusual number of people in the vicinity who looked out of place. Similarly, if you have been offered any of these items for sale or have spotted them on a website, in an antique dealer’s window or scrapyard please call police.”
Mr Gascoigne, 80, said he was committed to ensuring the house “continues to stand as a monument of its remarkable past”
Mr Gascoigne said: “There was an incident in the grounds of West Horsley Place and we are of course saddened by the theft. The house remained secure and the objects to be sold in order to raise funds to carry out essential work to secure the future of the historic house have been removed ahead of the pre-sale exhibition at Sotheby’s in London.”
The theft is the second obstacle to Mr Gascoigne’s plans for West Horsley, following the removal of a number of items from the planned auction after their ownership was disputed by the current Duke of Roxburghe.
The Duke, Guy Innes-Ker, reportedly demanded that a 'quantity' of items be withdrawn, insisting they were his family's property from his father, the 9th Duke, whose first wife was Bamber's great aunt.
Mr Gascoigne had no idea he was to inherit West Horsley Place until he was contacted by a solicitor who informed him of the Duchess’s bequest.
Inside the home – which he used to visit as a teenager- Mr Gascoigne found a treasure trove of antiques, paintings, jewellery, furniture and artefacts collected by the Duchess, who died in July last year, aged 99.
These are being auctioned by Sotheby’s in London at the end of the month. Her collection of jewellery was being auctioned in Geneva on Tuesday evening.
Among the items are the sumptuous jewels and tiaras used for high society balls, gifts from the Royal family, and the gown worn by the Duchess when she bore the train of Queen Elizabeth at the coronation of George VI.
Bamber Gasgoigne has recently inherited West Horsley Place from his late aunt
Many of the items were discovered in situ, behind shuttered windows of the house, after the death of the Duchess, while others were carefully packed away in trunks and forgotten for decades.
Mr Gascoigne, 80, said he was committed to ensuring the house “continues to stand as a monument of its remarkable past”, and he hopes to eventually open it to the public.
He said: “It was completely unexpected by me that I would be heir to her estate. She had expressed that, given the work required to restore the house, she expected I would sell it.
“But it’s such an incredible place and we knew it well, so the idea of immediately selling it off seemed not only amazingly foolish but also missing the fun that was involved.”
He added: “Having spent many memorable times with my godmother here, and knowing how special the house was to her and her family, together with my wife I decided to take up the challenge of carrying out the essential work to the house to ensure that can withstand what may lie ahead over the course of its future.”
As the founder of London-based Art Recovery International, Marinello has solved art mysteries and recovered works by some of history’s most notable artists. Along with modern-day art heists, he has found and brought back stolen World War II era works, taken by the Nazis.
How does Marinello solve these art mysteries? In some cases, tips help him to track down the missing works. In 2014 Marinello received a tip from a source calling himself ‘Darko’. The tip claimed that a Los Angeles art thief had stolen works by artists such as Diego Rivera and Mark Chagall. The LA police and FBI used the tip to jump-start an undercover sting. The result? Nine artworks with a total value of $10 million were recovered.
Marinello doesn’t just solve the most current art crimes. He recovered a Braque almost four decades after its original theft. Some of his cases are even older. These often include Nazi-era thefts. After finding millions of dollars of paintings in home owned by the son of a Nazi art dealer, Marinello was able to facilitate the return of priceless pieces such as Henri Matisse’s 1921 Femme Assise.
Why are some of Marinello’s cases old and seemingly cold? It’s not from lack of work. Without detailed documentation, locating and verifying the works is often a challenge. Couple this with uncooperative ‘owners’ of the stolen works, and bringing home these priceless pieces is far from easy. One advantage that art detectives like Marinello have is technology. Art Recovery Group’s Art Claim website is the most technologically advanced privately-owned database of its kind on the planet. With high-definition image recognition software and the ability to use over 500 searchable fields, Art Claim (and their sleuthing experts) are helping put art back in its place. Art Recovery Group has helped rightful owners to recover works such as Paul Manship’s Central Figure of Day and Henri Martin’s impressionist Vue Generale de Saint Cirq Lapopie.
With art theft on the rise, technology such as Art Claim and pros such as Marinello are becoming necessities. Marinello and his colleagues are helping to combat the growing number of criminal heists, forgeries and faked works that are becoming an increasing plague on the art world.
The rare $800,000 masterpiece, “Madonna and Child” by Italian master Duccio de Buoninsegna, was swiped by one of its owners from a safe deposit box in Switzerland in 1986, and he kept it hidden from the others until his widow put it up for auction at Sotheby’s in January 2014.
“It’s thought she rather bided her time before putting it back on the open market,” Jerome Hasler, of London’s Art Recovery International (ARI), which maintains a database of stolen works, told The Post on Tuesday.
The famed Upper East Side auction house — which was not accused of wrongdoing — discovered that the wood-panel oil painting was stolen during a check of the database.
Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara’s office seized the painting until the rightful owners or their heirs could be tracked down.
Under Monday’s settlement, the sole remaining living owner and the others’ heirs will each get a share when the work is auctioned off, said Douglas Kellner, the Manhattan lawyer who represented two of the heirs.
“They’re looking forward to the sale of the painting. They’re very happy the settlement has been resolved,” he told The Post on Tuesday.
The settlement ends nearly 30 years of litigation in the UK, Monaco, Switzerland, France and the US, according to ARI.
The painting was originally owned by Marie Rose Aprosio and partner John Cunningham, who each held a 50 percent share. Aprosio died in 1980, leaving her share to two relatives. But Aprosio’s heirs believed that “Cunningham had also ceded a percentage of his interest in the painting to two other individuals, Michael Hennessy and John Ryan.
“Hennessy and Ryan subsequently reported that Cunningham had removed the painting from the safe-deposit box to an account held at Lloyd’s Bank in Geneva and solely in Cunningham’s name,” court documents state.
He and his wife kept the painting hidden over the decades, and Cunningham even did six months in a UK jail for refusing to tell a court where it was.
Under the settlement, Aprosio’s heirs will get half while Cunningham’s widow and relatives of the two men who were swindled will get one-sixth each.
Oklahoma lawmakers call on school to return stolen Pissarro
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — More than two dozen Oklahoma legislators signed a resolution Monday calling for the University of Oklahoma to return a painting by Pissarro that was stolen by the Nazis during World War II and to research whether any of its other works may have been stolen.
The resolution by state Rep. Paul Wesselhöft is the Moore Republican's latest action involving impressionist Camille Pissarro 1886 painting "Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep," which hangs in the university's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
The university is enmeshed in a legal dispute with a French Holocaust survivor, Leone Meyer, who says she is the painting's rightful heir. She filed a federal lawsuit in New York seeking the painting's return, and the case was transferred last month to the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City.
The resolution, if approved, only expresses the will or intent of the Legislature and does not have the force and effect of law. It would have no bearing on the lawsuit.
The painting was purchased in 1957 for $14,000, but is now worth between $500,000 and $700,000, said Pierre Ciric, Meyer's attorney.
In a statement Monday, university officials contend that they have repeatedly tried to find a "mutually agreeable resolution" and had even agreed to meet with Meyer and her representatives in Paris.
"While that offer has not yet been accepted, our goal continues to be to seek a mutually acceptable resolution to Plaintiff's claim or, if she prefers, to continue with the legal process and abide by the results," the officials said.
Ciric met with Oklahoma lawmakers last month during a private screening of "Woman in Gold," a film starring Helen Mirren about an elderly Jewish woman's attempt to reclaim artwork stolen by the Nazis.
"My client only wants one thing — it's the painting back," Ciric told The Associated Press on Monday. "She's not looking for any financial settlement or anything like this. She wants her painting back before she dies."
Oklahoma oil tycoon Aaron Weitzenhoffer and his wife, Clara, bought the painting from a New York gallery in 1957. When Clara Weitzenhoffer died in 2000, the Pissarro painting was among more than 30 works valued at about $50 million that she donated to the university.
The university does not dispute that the painting was stolen by the Nazis, but it maintains that the full history of its ownership history is not yet known. The school cites a 1953 Swiss court ruling that the painting's post-war owners had properly established ownership and claims that the Weitnzenhoffer family purchased the painting in good faith from an art dealer "with legitimate and verified title consistent with the Swiss court decision."
"Simply transferring the painting, which was properly acquired, without first knowing all the facts would, among other things, set a very poor precedent and risk disgracing all prior good-faith purchasers and owners of the painting," the university said in its statement.
Ciric says the Swiss lawsuit was the result of litigation between Meyer's father, Raoul Meyer, and Christoph Bernoulli, an art dealer who sold the painting after World War II. In that case, Raoul Meyer was unsuccessful because he could not prove Bernoulli's bad faith in acquiring the painting, which Ciric says was the legal standard in place at the time.
But Ciric says a number of experts have widely recognized "that the legal system in Switzerland after World War II was not a fair forum for Holocaust survivors filing art claims."
Man Arrested in Spain for Stealing Art From Swedish Churches
Police believe burglars targeted the property in Love Lane, Bembridge, for the pictures as nothing else was taken.
They included a painting by Michelle Cadbury in a gilt frame worth around £4,000, an oil abstract by Heath Hearn worth around £3,500 and a poster print of Modighano worth around £30.
The other paintings included ones by artists Jim Neville and Victoria Ashe.
A photograph of a fisherman by photographer Piers Bertwhistle worth around £500 was also taken.
The burglary happened between April 20 and 21 and detectives are appealing for anyone who knows the whereabouts of the paintings or has any information about the theft.
People should contact the Isle of Wight CID office on 101 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Gauteng man pines for stolen nude painting
The 55-year-old Roodepoort man says he does not want to be named because he feels vulnerable after burglars gained entry to his house at the weekend and smashed his glass front door.
They took two flatscreen TVs, a camera, a laptop and jewellery, but the loss most keenly felt was his prized possession displayed in the foyer - a small oil painting aptly named How Fragile We Are by Cape Town artist Lizelle Kruger.
“It’s a very unique piece and I wouldn’t expect thieves to steal something like that. I am so surprised it is gone now and I was in love with that painting.
“I am very upset because it was the one thing which really spoke to me… it was my girl. My wife didn’t understand because she didn’t like it that much, but it was really something special.”
The 50cm by 28cm painting shows a nude woman lying in a foetal position on lichen-covered earth, her back and buttocks exposed and a white Voortrekker cap covering her head.
Kruger used an old piece of wood from a farm in the Karoo as a base and papier-mâchéd a part of it to provide a canvas to paint on.
The artwork forms part of Kruger’s Karoo Kado’tjies series.
A similar painting in the series, showing the same nude walking towards a windmill, caused some controversy in 2010 when it appeared on the cover of the art magazine Pomp, which was advertised on the NG Kerk’s website Kerkbode.
An anonymous woman launched a campaign after branding it “pornography”.
The man told News24 that he initially had his eye on the windmill painting, but it was too expensive and he settled on the next best.
“At the time, in 2010, I bought it for R18 000 and it’s now worth around R36 000,” he said.
“I am not some rich art collector. I would be prepared to offer a reward if I get information leading to the recovery of the painting, but I don’t want to mention an amount.”
Kruger seemed equally devastated by the disappearance of the painting.
Sitting on a couch with her hands clasped tight, she softly said: “I feel like I’ve lost a child. Each painting you do, especially like that one where you spend a lot of time on it, feels like you are giving birth to something new.”
“I feel fragile and exposed, like someone has been taken away.”
How Thieves Stole The Most Expensive Watch In The World: An Excerpt From Marie Antoinette’s Watch
Marie Antoinette’s Watch: Adultery, Larceny, & Perpetual Motion It details a 1983 break-in at the L.A. Mayer Museum in Jerusalem where some of the rarest, most expensive, and most striking watches ever built were on display. The rarest of all – the Marie Antoinette by Abraham-Louis Breguet, was lost in the theft… until twenty years later. The watch, which featured over 20 “complications” – mechanical tricks like a thermometer and stopwatch – was the Apple Watch of its day.
Now, Zadok walked past the staircase leading to the lower level and moved toward the family gallery, the room full of old clocks. Most mornings, he could hear them ticking, their strong springs still going after a night’s work. He knew that the family gallery held hundreds of horological marvels, and that most were in perfect condition. Sometimes they were a bit off, depending on the weather, but he could usually set his watch by them. The collection, people whispered, was estimated to be worth about $7.5 million.
As Zadok paused outside the gallery, he craned his head to listen. Silence. Maybe they had wound down. He stood there a few more minutes. No ticking. He put his key into the lock and turned. The heavy bolts slid back, and the door swung open. He caught a whiff of fresh air that gusted from the open window above the shattered glass cabinets and broken display tables. He rushed back up the stairs to the guard post, calling for Ephraim to contact Rachel Hasson, the museum curator.
Ephraim, after taking in the scene for himself, described it over the phone to Hasson: locks broken, trash scattered on the floor. The guard couldn’t say exactly what was missing, but it was clearly most of the collection. Hasson, “shocked” by what she heard, asked about the queen, the most important watch in the group. Zadok re-created the scene in his head, but he couldn’t remember seeing the watch amid the jumble of glass and wood.
Hasson phoned the keeper of the watches, Ohannes Markarian, then drove the few kilometers from her home in Rehavia, north of the museum. The then thirty-nine-year-old Hasson had started working at the museum in 1967, while it was still under construction, but even after all these years, her familiarity with the family gallery was limited. Her background was in Islamic art, and her mission was to bring Arab art to Israel. The watches, to her, had always been an afterthought. When she arrived, Markarian was already in the family gallery, running a tally of the missing pieces. He hid his eyes, for as they swept across the broken expanse of empty exhibits, they began to tear up.
If Breguet had been reincarnated, it might have been as Ohannes Markarian, the portly, bespectacled watchmaker who had maintained the L.A. Mayer collection for a decade before losing it on that morning in April.
In Armenian, Markarian’s language of birth, he was called a hanchar, a word that translated to “a genius who took great care of the talent that God gave him.” In Israel, for at least twenty-five years, he was considered the one man who could fix a timepiece and never have it break, a claim that his many satisfied customers repeated after leaving Jerusalem with their newly cleaned and tightly wound watches.
He was born in Istanbul in 1923. His family had survived the Armenian genocide, and after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Markarians left Turkey. They settled in Jerusalem when Ohannes was four. At fifteen, he began his training in Old Jaffa, where he learned the prerequisites for watchmaking from a “very old man” who taught him carpentry, goldsmithing, and toolmaking. As he grew older and became more established in the watchmaking world, he realized that all of the ancillary techniques he learned from his master helped in his craft. Carpentry helped him rebuild broken clock cases, while goldsmithing taught him to be scrupulous with his materials. He learned to make very small things and very large things, and also learned to create his own tools when there were none to be found in the impoverished Old City.
He was talented at math and science and maintained high enough marks so that when he graduated he could have studied to become a doctor. But that type of training would have required him to leave the country. His grandfather, however, still bore the mental scars of the Armenian Genocide and said, “I have lost one family in Turkey. I’m not losing this one in Jerusalem.” Ohannes stayed put, instead becoming a doctor to old clocks.
At seventeen, he moved to Jerusalem’s Old City and apprenticed with a series of watchmakers who still kept stalls there. The winding passages of the ancient neighborhood were, like Breguet’s Place Dauphin, chock full of experts in every field. Markarian was able to refine his craft by working on ancient clockwork and modern wristwatches alike. There were two other watchmakers in the Old City at the time and they guarded their business jealously, an attitude still encountered there today. When I wandered into a watch repair shop by the Tower of David one summer afternoon to ask about Markarian’s old shop, the proprietor pretended not to know the location and then said “I’m the only Markarian you need,” as if the name of the master watchmaker now described a profession in itself.
As a teenager, Markarian turned his love of clockwork into a paid position with the British High Command, where he maintained office clocks and other delicate mechanical instruments used by the British authorities in Palestine. During World War II he worked for the British Army repairing naval and artillery instruments.
At twenty-five, he opened his own store in the Old City, on Christian Quarter Road, in a small, rounded stall with a large front room, a 10-by-20-foot rear storage area, and a small corner containing a restroom. Here he cared for and maintained a number of ancient clocks and watches brought to him by distraught curators. And here he kept his replacement parts – a collection that would soon engulf the entire shop – as well as all of his notes. He was a bookworm and meticulous note-taker, examining each piece of a watch and noting its design and problems in a series of notebooks. This habit helped him rebuild the watch when it was time to put all of the pieces together, and it also gave him an intimate understanding of every gear and cog in some of the greatest watches ever made.
He also helped maintain the bronze artifacts at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and recorded, in his head, a rich history of Jerusalem that he would expound upon from his small shop or over long lunches with friends and admirers. He amassed a personal collection that ran from thirteenth-century carriage clocks to modern quartz pieces. He began wearing a ring of watch keys on his belt, and as his business – and belly – grew he added more and more keys, resulting in a jingling, heavy collection that he carried with him at all times.
The two rival watchmakers in the Christian Quarter tried to keep up with Ohannes, but “everyone realized he was better than them,” said his daughter. Markarian became known as a horological miracle worker. A relative claimed that “when he fixed a watch once, it never needed repairs again,” and he was considered a master of mathematics, engineering and art. Those skills, coupled with his experience in metalwork, enamel and woodwork, encompassed everything he needed to know to be a master watchmaker.
His reputation expanded from his little shop and into the wider world. Slowly, business trickled in from Paris and London, then America and Asia. He was very protective of his watches, treating them like tiny, broken birds requiring a calm, careful hand. When he received a new watch for repair, he would spend hours – if not days – brooding over his bench. He sometimes brought his work home with him, but often left priceless horological masterpieces in his little shop. He trusted his neighbors implicitly, and knew they would deal quickly with anyone attempting to steal his broken treasures. When he finished with a watch, he would say, simply, “I made it tick again.” He said this thousands of times over his long career. When nearby shopkeepers came in to swap stories and gossip, if they saw him working at his bench they would quickly scamper off rather than risk his wrath at being disturbed.
In 1970, Vera Salomons hired him to prepare her father’s watch collection for viewing at the L.A. Mayer Museum, and from its opening in 1974, Markarian presided over the family gallery, maintaining watches so precious and delicate that he was often loath to wind them. But he visited at least twice weekly to wind, oil, and dust off the specimens. Many of them, Markarian said, kept time as well as a “brand new Seiko.”
With the esteemed Breguet expert George Daniels, Markarian created a color catalog of the Salomons Collection. Published in 1980 in West Germany, the 318-page book featured notes and images for every item, from the mechanical “Singing-bird in a cage,” a nearly life-sized bird that twittered and tweeted with the turn of a clockwork key, to the crown jewel, the watch they called the Queen.
On the morning of the theft, Markarian arrived at 11:39 — he was characteristically precise in noting when events transpired — as the sun was high over the pale stone of the museum. He ran to the family gallery and was horrified. The room had been ransacked, but he was surprised by how orderly it still was, even amid the chaos. There was little broken glass, just pita-sized circles cut out from the vitrines and placed carefully on the floor. Some empty food wrappers, Coke cans, and cigarette butts lay there, too, along with something that looked like a blanket, but nothing else was amiss. It was as if someone had come in, made very specific choices about what to take, and then calmly departed with the haul of a lifetime and one of the biggest watch heists in world history.
He saw where a line of modeling clay had been placed along the inside edge of the room’s door to prevent the guards from seeing light inside. The clay was devoid of fingerprints. A piece of black cardboard lay below a window that was slightly ajar. A seventeenth-century French table had been broken, probably when the thief dropped a bag onto it as he jumped down into the room from the window. The damage was limited but the theft complete. Markarian could hardly believe it; a large portion of the contents of the family museum, which had survived undisturbed for nearly a century, had vanished overnight. He walked wistfully past the holes and stands that once held the watches and clocks he had maintained for over a decade. He brushed his hand over the empty spaces and idly thumbed the curatorial notes that remained.
Moments later, the head of the museum board, Dr. Gavriel Moriah, arrived and surveyed the damage. Right away, he saw that the most magnificent pieces were gone: A singing bird gun (a clockwork novelty by the Roche Brothers, which played a jaunty tune on tiny whistles when wound and fired); a Swiss-made automaton of a walking woman; and almost all of the Breguet timepieces, including the Sympathetique, which used a main clock to wind and set a perfectly matched pocket watch, and, most devastatingly, the Queen. In all, the thief had taken one hundred watches, four oil paintings, and three antique books.
An air mattress lay unfurled on the floor, probably used to cushion the fall of the equipment pushed through the small window. A can of Coca-Cola and a bag of sandwiches lay unfinished near one of the cases, and a bag nearby contained long-handled pliers and a heavy hammer. A rope ladder, probably a spare, was still in its original packaging.
By the size of the job, it looked to the police as if at least three men had been involved. That they were able to make off with over half of the collection in the course of an evening suggested that they had gathered all of the clocks together first, then quickly moved them out through the window. One man would have been inside, pushing the bags out, another outside, grabbing them, and a third one sitting in the car waiting for the getaway.
Felix Saban, Deputy Commander of the Jerusalem police, soon arrived with a mobile forensics van. His team traced the thieves’ steps from the side of the museum, where they must have parked, to the bent bars in the fence, to the climb through the thin window leading into the clock room. They began dusting for fingerprints, but this effort quickly proved fruitless — the room was already full of prints, and the thief had been unusually careful. The police were also surprised to find a listening device: a microphone by the door, attached to a wire running to an amplifier and a pair of headphones that the thief used to listen for the sound of footsteps through the door; there were some prints on the cable, but they were too fragmentary to be useful. Later, as the legend of the theft grew, some police officers would report seeing a half-eaten ham-and-cheese sandwich on the floor, seemingly a taunting gesture given the location and heritage of the museum. In truth, it was quite difficult, if not impossible, to get sliced ham in Jerusalem.
“This theft was more daring than sophisticated,” Ezekial McCarthy, the spokesperson for the Jerusalem police, told a Sunday newspaper. “The burglars knew the place well and did not leave themselves open to surprise. It is possible that they visited the exhibit several times and they may have also walked in with a catalog in hand and took only what was ordered by their higher-ups. They chose an amazing collection of watches and left a number of uninteresting ones, which suggests a selective knowledge.”
Another clue came from the tags stolen. Most of the watches and clocks had English and Hebrew curatorial notes, but the thieves had taken only a few, leaving behind the notes for paintings they took and some of the clockwork. This led police to believe it was a planned job, probably commissioned by a dealer in Europe. “They stole what was on their list, and would have been expecting payment for those items,” said a police officer. “The extra stuff [like the paintings] was, well, extra.”
On further investigation, the police discovered that, almost ten years after the museum’s opening, its directors were still bickering over what kind of security system to install. As a result, there was almost no security at all. The Jerusalem Post reported that “there was a single alarm for the entire building and this had never worked from the day it was installed.” Without the alarm active, the museum had security “about equivalent to that of a medium-sized kindergarten in an old neighborhood,” as one investigator said.
News of the theft spread quickly through the watch world and beyond. The Swiss watch industry was already suffering a major downturn and consolidation. Japanese quartz watches had decimated the market for low-cost mechanical watches. Smaller houses like Breguet, which had been in continuous business for two centuries, were out of money, and investors were swooping in to buy them in what amounted to a fire sale. Stories about the break-in appeared in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. Watchmakers were put on high alert; Interpol scrambled to monitor all prominent collectors moving in and out of Israel.
Gavriel Moriah, the museum board chairman, was certain that the thieves could not be working for a collector. “There’s no such thing as a collector who keeps his most prized possessions in a safe and never shows them to anybody,” he said. “A collector collects for gratification, and part of that gratification is to be able to show them off.”
An Associated Press story, which appeared the week after the theft, pegged the stolen collection’s value at $5 million and mentioned the most famous of the missing watches only in passing, describing it as built of “gold, crystal and glass.”
Ohannes returned home on Sunday after almost twenty-four hours of nonstop work. He fell, exhausted, into one of the kitchen chairs. His wife, after hearing the story of the break-in, stood quietly looking at her husband.
“You won’t have a job, now,” she said, finally. “What will you do?”
He shook his head. “They’re accusing me of the theft,” he said. The police had taken every staffer’s fingerprints, including his, but, for obvious reasons, his were the prints that showed up the most in the family gallery.
His daughter, Araxi, remembers the weekend vividly.
“He was very, very upset. I didn’t understand at the time, because I was too young. Nobody spoke to him in the house,” she said.
Mrs. Markarian told the children to play quietly. “Keep away from your daddy, he is very upset. The watches and the clocks have been stolen and they think he stole them,” she told them. Araxi’s sister Silva laughed.
“Why would he ever steal them? He’s the one who loves them the most!”
After the theft, Markarian did the best he could with the remaining timepieces, continuing to visit weekly to wind them. The museum loaned two of the clocks, one made by Hinton Brown of England in 1770, to the presidential palace, where they would presumably be safer.
Markarian gave tours of the remaining collection by appointment only, and one visitor remembers him sighing when he pulled open a drawer containing the boxes that once held some of horology’s most beloved masterpieces. He ran his hand along the indentations in the soft red silk where the watches once lay and then shut the drawer firmly, as if trying to forget the loss of his beautiful charges.
He missed all of the watches but the watch that pained him the most, the watch that would later be valued at $11 million dollars and hold the world, for a time, in a thrall, was the Queen, the eighteenth century’s most complex artifact, a watch of such beauty and precision and freighted with such tragedy that it would later become known simply as the Marie-Antoinette.