The 7 Biggest Diamond Heists in Recent Memory

Multi-million dollar diamond heists aren't reserved to Hollywood.

Eight masked gunmen made a hole in a security fence at Brussels' international airport, drove onto the tarmac and snatched $50 million worth of diamonds from a Swiss-bound plane on Feb. 18, 2013.
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Heavily armed robbers disguised as police stole millions of dollars worth of diamonds from a Belgian airport Monday night without firing a shot, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In two cars, the eight robbers pulled along side a Swiss-bound airplane in the Brussels airport around 8 p.m. local time Monday night, took more than 120 packages of diamonds from the plane while holding up security with machine guns, and sped away through a hole in the security fence, according to Belgian authorities.

"It was well-prepared and very professional," Belgium prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch told WSJ. "The whole operation took just a few minutes."

The suspects went to great lengths to mimic Belgian law enforcement. They wore police uniforms and the armbands of airport police and drove a black Mercedes van and a black Audi A8 sedan, each equipped with blue lights—the same models used by Belgian authorities.

[READ: What You Should Know Before Robbing a Bank]

The diamonds were en route to Switzerland from Antwerp, where eight of every 10 uncut diamonds in the world pass through it at some point, according to Reuters.

Appraisals of the total worth of the haul vary. A WSJ source estimated the diamonds were worth $350 million, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp Diamond Center told Reuters about $50 million, and Belgian news agency VRT estimated 350 million Euros, or about $467 million, according to the Financial Times.

If the precise figure falls anywhere near that range, the heist would be one of the most lucrative diamond robberies of all time. Here's a list of the seven biggest diamond heists in recent memory, in some of these instances the thieves and the diamonds remain at large:

Safety boxes, jewelry, money, and diamonds sit on the floor of a safe in the high-security vaults of Antwerp's Diamond Center on Feb. 27, 2003.

Antwerp Diamond Center heist: In 2003, a group of Italian thieves known as the "The School of Turin" broke into the underground vault of the Antwerp Diamond Center, then protected by infrared heat detectors, sophisticated locks, and eight other layers of security. Despite this, the gang successfully looted 123 of the vault's 160 safes without setting off any alarms or leaving behind any signs of forced entry—security did not notice until the following day.

Estimated haul: $100+ million

Press photographers take photos through the gate of the entrance of the Harry Winston jewelry store near the Champs-Elysees in Paris after it was robbed during a heist on Dec. 5, 2008.

Paris Harry Winston's heist: In a high stakes smash-and-grab, four men wearing wigs and female clothing entered a Harry Winston jewelry store in a posh Paris neighborhood in 2008 and stripped it bare. French authorities believe it was an inside job—the robbers called store employees by their first names and knew exactly where to find its secret storage boxes, according to The Guardian.

Estimated haul: $102 million

Tailwings of Boeing 737 airplanes of the Dutch airline company KLM are seen at the Amsterdam-Schipol international airport.

Amsterdam airport hijacking: Monday night's heist in Brussels mirrored a similar job from 2005, when men stole a Dutch airline vehicle at the Amsterdam airport and drove it straight to a diamond-loaded truck in the cargo area. The two men reportedly held up the truck's driver, hijacked the truck, and drove away.

Estimated haul: $77 million

Cannes Carlton Hotel in France.

Cannes hotel jewelry store robbery: In another French smash-and-grab in 1994, three masked men burst into the jewelry store of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France shooting machine guns. The men made away with some $60 million in jewels, and French authorities later determined the guns had been firing blanks, according to CNN.

Estimated haul: $60 million

In this image released by London's Metropolitan Police on Aug. 11, 2009, two men are seen entering Graf Diamonds in central London before a heist on Aug. 6, 2009.

Pink Panthers Graff's Diamonds heist: Two sharply-dressed men arrived by taxi to a Graff's Diamonds in London in 2009 and robbed it of 43 different pieces of jewelry, according to The Telegraph. The men, part of the infamous "Pink Panthers" robbery crew, brandished handguns and took hostages in the store, before driving off in a series of getaway cars. Theirs is considered the largest jewel heist in British history.

Estimated haul: $53 million

A branch of the Dutch bank ABN Amro in the northern Belgian city of Antwerp is seen closed on March 12, 2007, after diamonds were stolen from a safe.

Antwerp Bank heist: A man who called himself Carlos Hector Flomenbaum ingratiated himself with the staff of an ABM Amro bank in Antwerp, Belgium. Under that identity the suspect was a regular customer of the bank and a trusted diamond trader, which allowed him access to the vault. One Monday the bank discovered the man had made off with 120,000 carats worth of diamonds over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.