Five bling bandits walked into the Cartier jewelry store in Midtown Manhattan yesterday at lunchtime, smashed a glass display case with ball-peen hammers, and scooped up 16 watches worth $700,000. Investigators say that the men entered the landmark Fifth Avenue store through a side door around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. The robbery crew pushed past an unarmed guard, stole the watches and left the establishment before the other guards had sufficient time to react.
About half a dozen customers and a dozen workers were inside the store when the low-end smash and grab occurred. Workers and customers alike stared startled as perpetrators smashed a half-inch-thick glass that was on top of a four-by-five-foot display case near the door. From the shard-strewn detritus that lay amidst three cushioned, beige trays, the jewelry thieves picked out almost everything of value. No one was hurt and everything was insured, said a worker. Only one timepiece remained in the case after the attack. A worker said that no other pieces besides watches had been in that particular case.
A construction worker nearby believes he saw the crew casing the store, commenting that they were looking through the window but did not, from appearances, seem like they had the means to afford anything in that store. The worker added that the group were not big guys. Other sources said that another watch and jewelry store, Wempe, was the robbers’ first attempt, but that they were ousted by a security guard. They arrived at Cartier mere minutes later.
Police sources believe that the Cartier theft is likely linked to at least a half dozen other recent smash and grabs. Previous hauls include $40,000 from the Golden Nugget in downtown and and $37,000 in Rolexes from a Tourneau display case located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Columbus Circle.
Cartier, with its large U.S., French and British flags and famed red awnings, was opened in 1917 and is housed in what was once the mansion of the son of railroad tycoon Henry Plant at 653 Fifth Avenue by East 52nd Street. It sits on one of the most high-end retail blocks in the city, and it is one of the most heavily guarded as well. Workers said that the police response was fast, and the manager at Hellenis Jewelry nearby commented that the these types of robberies are extremely rare. Another bystander added that the police are always around and that the heist was shocking considering the abundance of guards and the fact that it was done in broad daylight and at lunchtime.
A nearby security worker posited that the thieves’ brazenness may be due to the saturation of police officers in Times Square who were overseeing the pre-Super Bowl festivities. The worker said that the robbers probably saw that Broadway was packed with police officers and figured they could get away with hitting a Fifth Avenue jewelry store.
Cartier remained open for the rest of the day, despite the robbery. About 15 employees were observed by a Post reporter drinking wine and champagne in the shop. A worker said that the libations were part of a pre-scheduled meeting.
As of Thursday night, the robbery crew was still at large. Police are reviewing security footage in an effort to identify the perpetrators.
By Donna Westlund