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27 January 2016

The biggest heist in history at the Hôtel de la Marine

It didn’t happen at Chopard, Cartier or Harry Winston, but on the corner of Place de la Concorde and the rue Saint-Florentin.

The monarchy has been abolished, it is September 1792 at the height of the Revolution. The Hôtel de la Marine is at this moment the Royal Furniture Repository where the Crown Jewels of France are kept. The burglary’s plan is incredible: the brigands enter by a rope attached to a lantern on the street corner. Once inside they settle in, sing and drink and create a stir during three nights undisturbed. Bit-by-bit, they cart off a priceless treasure consisting of seven tons of gold and more than 10,000 precious stones and pearls. Some of the true wonders among them: the “Regent” considered one of the world’s largest diamonds, the 107-carat “Côte de Bretagne” and the “Sancy”, which fortunately were both later recovered. Today, they are safe and secure in the Apollo Gallery in the Louvre Museum (Paris). Louis XIV’s 69-carat blue diamond is today at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, under a new form and called the “Hope”. As for the smaller and more easily disposed of stones, have they disappeared forever? Who was behind the theft? Why? The burglars arrested would have only been minor figures who benefited from the complicity of others in high places. Maybe the Royalists, to mount a revolutionary army? Danton, to buy the enemies of the Revolution? The English, to weaken its French enemy and prevent it from raising an army? This gigantic puzzle remains one of the greatest enigmas in the history of France.

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