• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Geneva jeweller tracks stolen sapphire to US
Missing sapphire was on a bracelet made by Cartier, the luxury brand owned by Geneva-based company Richemont. Photo: AFP

Geneva jeweller tracks stolen sapphire to US

Nina Larson/AFP · 19 Jan 2016, 08:47

Published: 19 Jan 2016 08:47 GMT+01:00

The large glimmering blue sapphire pictured in the prospective from the Phillips auction house was, he was convinced, a gem his company once owned before it was audaciously snatched from a Milan hotel nearly two decades earlier.
   
"I looked at the certificate, and I had this feeling. I said to myself: 'That's it. That's it'," he told AFP in an interview.
   
The story reads like the plot of a mystery novel, with a multitude of twists and turns, a second disappearance and an as yet unresolved ending centred around a New York pawn shop.
   
It all started in 1996, when the Horovitz & Totah (H&T) jewellers had offered for auction a Cartier bracelet bearing a stunning 65.16-carat unheated Kashmir sapphire with an unusual elongated cushion-cut.
   
On November 14th that year, days before the anticipated sale in Geneva focused exclusively on Cartier jewels, auction house Antiquorum displayed the pieces at the Four Seasons hotel in Milan.
   
According to Swiss daily Le Temps, more than 50 people were in the viewing room when the bracelet, the main attraction of the show, vanished.

 'A shock' 

"It was terrible," Totah said.

"It is always a shock when you get robbed."
   
H&T's insurers dished out the $1.8 million — the price they had expected to fetch at the time — and Totah and his colleagues put the uncomfortable incident behind them.
   
Until November 8th 2015, when he received an email from Phillips offering a Geneva viewing of a 59.57-carat Kashmir Sapphire ahead of an auction in New York.
   
Totah did not view the stone, but studied the certificate carefully.
   
Considering "there are basically no stones with this origin, weight and shape out there . . . it is "very, very, very probably" the stolen H&T sapphire, he said.
   
The fact that the gem in the prospectus was a little smaller than the one stolen 19 years earlier did not make Totah less suspicious, since jewel thieves will often file down a stone to alter its weight or shape.
   
He suggested the sapphire being offered by Phillips had been filed down to just under the 60-carat mark to make it less spectacular and noteworthy.
   
Renowned US gem expert Donald Palmieri agreed.
   
"The Stolen H&T Sapphire and the Subject Sapphire that Phillips intended to auction are much more likely than not to be one and the same stone, albeit after an apparent re-cutting or re-polishing," he said in an affidavit.
   
He pointed out that in his 45-year career, "I have never seen evidence of a faceted Kashmir sapphire approaching or exceeding 60 carats in weight," besides those "two" stones.
   
Soon after receiving the viewing invitation, Totah contacted Phillips to voice his suspicions, and also put in a call to his insurers, who had become the rightful owners of the stolen gem.
   
But when the insurers contacted Phillips, they learned that the auction house had withdrawn the sapphire from the sale, and sent it back to its alleged, undisclosed owner in New York.

 Pawn broker 

Story continues below…

Worried the stone had vanished again, the insurers hired New York lawyer Owen Carragher to help track it down.
   
According to court filings, he determined that a company named Auction House 43, based in New York's diamond district, had presented the sapphire to Phillips for auction.
   
The firm is owned by a Boris Aronov, who also owns a number of other companies, including Modern Pawn Broker, listed at the same address.
   
Court filings indicate that the pawn broker received the sapphire and other jewels from a man named Rafael Koblence in 2011 as collateral for a $3.75-million loan.
   
Koblence, who according to Le Temps is in fact a business partner of Aronov, failed to repay the loan, offered at an annual interest rate of 60 percent — or more than $6,000 a day.
   
Modern Pawn foreclosed and said his collateral would be sold at auction, court documents showed.
   
Carragher obtained a court order on December 23 calling for Modern Pawn to turn over the sapphire for examination and blocking "the defendants from transferring, selling, altering or in any way disposing of" the stone.
   
Modern Pawn has until January 29th to oppose that order.
   
When an AFP reporter recently visited the small, brightly lit shop on a stretch of 47th Street lined with jewellery stores, staff politely declined to answer questions due to the ongoing lawsuit.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Nina Larson/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swiss politician argues against hijab in ID photos
The official guidelines should what ID photos allow. Photo: FedPol

Should the Islamic headscarf be banned in photographs for official Swiss documents?

Swiss driverless bus trial suspended after crash
Photo: PostBus

The pioneering self-driving bus was involved in a minor collision with a van.

Swiss supermarkets to charge for plastic bags
Photo: Migros

Migros and Coop will introduce charges for single-use plastic bags this year.

Swiss police arrest Algerian rebel wanted in France
Merouane Benahmed in 2015. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

Merouane Benahmed has filed a claim for asylum in Switzerland.

In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: Royal Savoy

On the eve of its inauguration, The Local takes a peek inside the Royal Savoy in Lausanne.

Swiss-EU relations
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
The Swiss President and EU leaders cosy up at the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in June. Photo: Ruben Sprich/AFP

Is the Brexit camp taking note?

Valais man caught driving 100km/hr over speed limit
The speed was recorded by a police radar camera. Photo: Valais police

He could face a four-year prison sentence.

Swiss-EU relations
Row as Swiss MPs give in on EU migrant curbs
The debate over EU immigration became heated in parliament on Wednesday. File photo: Justus Blumer

Is parliament's proposal a necessary solution or the “death of direct democracy”?

Wawrinka continues winning streak in Russia
The Swiss champ during his US Open title match. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP

Top seeded US Open champion Stan Wawrinka cruised comfortably into the last eight at the Saint Petersburg Open.

Bern debates raising health insurance excess
File photo: Jasleen Kaur

A higher minimum deductible could help reduce the cost of premiums, feel some politicians.

Sponsored Article
7 tips for learning Swiss French
Photo: AFP
National
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
National
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Photo: File
Politics
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Education
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
Photo: AFP
Society
Swiss ‘slave children’ to finally get compensation
Photo: Jan Geerk/Swiss-image.ch
Lifestyle
Zurich named ‘greenest’ city on the planet
Photo: Swiss
National
Brawl over seats forces Swiss to abort flight
Photo: Daniel Stockhammer
Culture
Research shows typical Swiss chalets ‘not actually Swiss’
Photo: AFP
National
Switzerland to get nationwide disaster alert system
Photo: S3
National
Swiss space firm boss left badly injured in violent attack
Photo: ETH Zurich
Education
ETH Zurich crowned best uni in continental Europe – again
File photo: Martin Abegglen
National
Report: Swiss citizenship rules leave some stateless
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
National
Fatal crash: pilot told to fly below safe altitude
Photo: Peter Linke
Business & Money
Elderly Italian on benefits stashed €1m in Swiss bank
Photo: Stuart Richards
Society
Court sides with chickens in dispute over noisy henhouse
Photo: SAC
Lifestyle
Hiking: 7 incredible Swiss Alpine Club cabins
Photo: David Abercrombie
National
Swiss politician arrested over illegal entry of migrants
Photo: Coiffure X
National
Chewbacca stolen in ‘terrorist attack’ on Swiss hair salon
Photo: AFP
National
Foreigners in Switzerland surpass 2 million mark
Photo: AFP
National
Expert predicts major quake for Switzerland by 2040
Photo: The Local
National
Geneva runs out of permits for non-EU workers
Photo:C Carlstead
National
Geneva advises teachers on religion in school
4,360
jobs available