HOWTO rob the world's most secure diamond vault

Writing in next month's Wired, Joshua Davis presents a superb feature -- the first person account of Leonardo Notarbartolo, who was convicted of robbing the Antwerp Diamond Center vault of $100 million worth of inventory. Notarbartolo's story is colorful and fascinating -- and may even be true. It matches any heist flick for geekery and plot-twists:

Next, the King of Keys played out a hunch. In Notarbartolo's videos, the guard usually visited a utility room just before opening the vault. When the thieves searched the room, they found a major security lapse: The original vault key was hanging inside.

The King of Keys grabbed the original. There was no point in letting the safe manufacturers know that their precious key could be copied, and the police still don't know that a duplicate was made.

The King of Keys slotted the original in the keyhole and waited while the Genius dialed in the combination they had gleaned from the video. A moment later, the Genius nodded. The Monster turned off the lights–they didn't want to trigger the light detector in the vault when the door opened. In the darkness, the King of Keys turned the key and spun a four-pronged handle. The bolts that secured the door retracted and it swung heavily open.

Speedy ran up the stairwell. It was his job to stay in touch with Notarbartolo, but there was no cell phone reception down in the vault. Upstairs, he got a signal and dialed his old friend.

"We're in," he said and hung up.

The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist (via Schneier)


  1. I noticed the original reports of this robbery: and noticed too how strangely little media play it received at the time, considering how spectacular a caper it was: perhaps the media did not wish to offend those who had lost their diamonds?

  2. After watching a few Ocean’s Eleven movies or seeing the Italina Job, one would think that stuff like this would be of little interest. Still, this story is truly and engaging piece of article. It is quite a kong story, but the realism of it all made it a good read.

    The open ending is also superb. It makes the reader think whether something else is at play as the protagonist (the thief) of the story mentioned.

  3. I love that there are still successful (well, for a while at least) no-kill mega-heists. Hail Eris!

  4. I imagine this guy could have made a bundle selling his story to Hollywood if they hadn’t made this movie several dozen times already.

  5. that was a great read.

    my only issue is with how the site is set up. when i went to click a picture, it’d move the page back to the top ( in Firefox at least). i’d lose my place while reading.

  6. “and the police still don’t know that a duplicate was made.”

    I’m guessing that they know now.

  7. They would probably have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for the mentally-unstable friend’s panic attack.

  8. So, why didn’t they simply use a thin cord, a common household appliance, and a cockroach?
    (It worked in 11 Harrowhouse.)

  9. “They would probably have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for the mentally-unstable friend’s panic attack.”

    Doesn’t that phrase usually involve those damn kids and their dog, Scooby-Doo?

  10. I think that vault could have really benefited from having a complete front wall. Just sayin’…..

  11. It isn’t quite perfect for a movie. It is missing the wisecracking guy and the mysterious, dangerous and beautiful lady.

    Also, the criminals need to get out of the jail and do another large heist to get revenge on the dealer who set them up in the first place.

  12. Interestingly enough, it seems this vault was easier to get into than any of those portrayed in the Ocean’s n heists.

    *contemplates career change*

  13. Speedy ran up the stairwell. It was his job to stay in touch with Notarbartolo, but there was no cell phone reception down in the vault.


    De Bruycker called headquarters, asking for a nationwide alert: The Antwerp Diamond Center had been brazenly robbed. Then he dialed Securilink, the vault’s alarm company.

    “What is the status of the alarm?” he asked.

    “Fully functional,” the operator said, checking the signals coming in from the Diamond Center. “The vault is secure.”

    “Then how is it that the door is wide open and I’m standing inside the vault?” De Bruycker demanded, glancing at the devastation all around him.

  14. The duffel bags couldn’t have been empty. Even working in the dark, how could anyone spend hours pouring air out of empty safe deposit boxes into the bag, and then hauling the empty bag to the car, and failed to notice that the bag was empty. I’d be more incline to suspect the person carrying the bag, or the person telling the tale. If some of the boxes did not have diamonds, their contents would be randomly distributed amongst the duffel bags.

    Some of the box owners “in” on the scam did not get to make any insurance claim. The thieves did not have time to open 80 of the 189 boxes. Did they then approach the mastermind for a share of the profit?

    The box owners “in” on the scam wouldn’t have left their boxes empty. There’ll be some replaceable paper, and perhaps some cheaper stones. It would not be full of air or pebbles from the road side. The thieves did not have time to open 80 of the 189 boxes. If any of these boxes were found full of pebbles, on the day after the break in, there’ll be some explaining to do.

    Given that you’ve rented an office in a high security building like his, it may have been better to keep your valuables in your own office safe. It certainly presents a smaller target. The thieves would have to break into one office, break into it’s safe, and repeat. No way they could have hit 109 separate safes in different offices in a single night.

    Lastly, I would think that getting 142 out of 189 tenants to conspire in an insurance scam is kind of difficult.

  15. @ANONYMOUS: Perhaps they had different cell phone companies, or perhaps there was a landline in the vault.

    I think the hardest part to believe is that the company that installed the vault would place the magnetic hall-effect sensors on the OUTSIDE of the door where it can be tampered with. It seems obvious that you want your sensors inside the secure area.

  16. If you are interested in the Antwerp Diamond Center heist, a book on the subject is coming out in February called “Flawless: Inside the World’s Largest Diamond Heist.”

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