First reactions are instinctive, not intellectual. So when we first learned that Kim Kardashian had been robbed at gunpoint in her Paris hotel suite, everyone – except the swivel-eyed trolls who said she deserved it – was horrified.
But later, we started thinking. We couldn’t help it: the five-strong band of thieves reportedly took jewellery worth more than $10m (almost £8m), including a ring reputedly worth between $4m and $5m. Can jewellery really be worth that much?
“The term ‘value’ is incredibly ambiguous,” says Max Ullmann, a jeweller at AR Ullmann, a family-run antique jewellers in London’s Hatton Garden. “Who’s to say what individual pieces are worth? Is the figure retail or wholesale?” He compares the frenzy around Kardashian’s ordeal to the Hatton Garden heist. “They were saying numbers like £400m. It’s impossible to know.”
Valuation is less a science than a form of mysticism, though there are certain criteria. “A name brand affects the value,” Ullmann says. “Put the Cartier signature on a necklace and it can go from £100,000 to £200,000.” Raw materials matter less than brands: people buy into cultural resonance and status.
Provenance is another leitmotif: an interesting legacy increases value. Ullmann cites the 2011 auction of Liz Taylor’s collection. “There, it wasn’t the brand names – Taylor went for interesting stones. But if the story says it was one of the pieces that Richard Burton gave her, that piece is going to skyrocket. It’s like a priceless work of art.”
It’s all fantastical. Aptly, then, many celebrities are, in fact, playing dress-up: much of the jewellery worn on red carpets is borrowed, not bought. Some designers will select several celebrity ambassadors; savvy legacy brand Harry Winston typically handpicks Oscar favourites to wear its jewels.
Peacocking is risky, though, and not just for the very famous and very exposed. In February, Westminster police announced it was investigating a run of robberies in which thieves targeted lone women for their jewellery, after five incidents in a five-month period. This week, a court heard that jewellery reputedly worth £1m was stolen from Simon Cowell’s west London home. He slept through the robbery.
Accordingly, insurers are cautious about high-value jewellery. They consider the “client’s wearing habits, travel patterns, general security, and how the jewellery is stored,” explains Sam Gardiner, an underwriter at insurance firm Hiscox, where they take a forensic look at the risk associated with each item and situation, in order to “reduce the chance of the client becoming a target”. Many jewellers have block policies covering their collections, and in the case of brands such as Harry Winston or Tiffany’s, which habitually lend pieces, this covers loans. Many celebrities have their own “valuables coverage” policy: it is difficult to insure something for a single event. If the star doesn’t, they will have to sign a contract assuming responsibility for the piece. Critics argue that Kardashian’s social media use made her an inevitable target: hours before the hold-up she shared a video on Snapchat in which the ring that was reportedly stolen was visible.
Is it outlandish, then, to suggest that jewels merit their own protection? No – at this year’s Cannes film festival, elite brands including Chopard provided bodyguards to monitor their glittering charges as keenly as covetous magpies.
Is there an equation? If £1m jewels warrant one bodyguard, do £4m rings need four? Lee Turner, the founder of London Security Syndicate, offers a calculation.“[For] Kim Kardashian, we would have 10 close-protection officers on day duties, and five at night,” he says. “When the client is sleeping we would ensure two night officers are outside the bedroom, [with] the other three officers patrolling the premises and carrying out surveillance.”
Some clients employ his firm to watch expensive items at secure locations. Obviously, details are confidential. There is no evidence that celebrities wear fakes; although, presumably, if they did, they wouldn’t advertise it. “There is always a risk when wearing expensive jewellery. You are a potential target for thieves, but also, more worryingly, organised crime,” says Turner. The props are glamorous, their value inscrutable, and the stakes are perilously high.
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