The crown jewels and Mona lisa

Securing the world’s most valuable artefacts

Peter Houlis

Chartered Security Professional (CSyP) and certified technical security professional (CTSP)

Author Bio ▼

Peter is an expert in the physical security industry having spent 35 years gaining considerable knowledge and understanding of security technology and the principles and practices of protecting people and assets, along with the ethics necessary for leading a respected company. Over 20 years as MD of multi-award-winning security system integrator 2020 Vision Systems, the company achieved a high standard of recognition and the patronage of many respected organizations. Through his dedication and leadership, 2020 obtained industry approval with the SSAIB and Quality, Environmental, and Health and Safety accreditations.Peter is a member of the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB), a UKAS accredited Certification Body, and its representative on the British Standards Institute (BSI) technical committee responsible for drafting European CCTV Standards. He is also a member of the Security Institute and Security Leaders Technology forum and the author of a number of published security articles.
January 24, 2019

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Working with the insider threat

From intricate jewels to fine art high value items means high insurance costs – and sometimes they’re uninsurable.

With cinemas screening several blockbuster heist movies this year, such as Ocean’s 8 and Marvel’s Black Panther, you may wonder just how such assets are kept secure.

UK Crown Jewels

So many special pieces of treasure have been acquired by the United Kingdom’s royal family throughout the past few centuries, including the Sovereign’s Orb and the Imperial State Crown. With 23,578 delicate stones and over 140 objects, putting an exact price on the jewels has been difficult but estimates value them at over £3bn.

It has also proven impossible to insure them because of their immense value.

The crown jewels are protected by bombproof glass and watched by more than 100 hidden cameras

Heightened security is obviously required. Therefore, the collection is locked away in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. The crown jewels are protected by bombproof glass and, although the tower is open to the public, they’re watched by more than 100 hidden CCTV cameras.

There’s a 22-strong Tower Guard present at the Tower of London too. This is a detachment of the British Army, who has a sole purpose of protecting the Crown Jewels on behalf of the Ministry of Defense.

Additionally, these guards are accompanied by 38 Yeomen Warders, who are ex-military personnel who manage the large numbers of visitors. The Yeomen are permanently present and live in the tower itself.

You’ll only ever see the Crown Jewels during special occasions. Coronation and State Opening ceremonies are two such instances, while they can be only removed under the authority of the Lord Chamberlain who is the head of the Royal Household. However, when this type of activity occurs, armed police officers must be present.

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is a famous painting created by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. It was crafted between 1503 and 1517 and is known as one of the most recognisable pieces of art in the world.

In fact, the piece itself is the most known, most visited and most written about in modern times.

The Mona Lisa has the highest known insurance valuation ever been recorded

According to the Guinness World Records, the painting also has the highest known insurance valuation ever recorded. The valuation stood at $100 million in 1962, but accounting for inflation rate takes this up to $821,746,666.67 in 2018, making it one of the most valuable items in the world.

Two other interesting facts about the Mona Lisa are that it was never signed by da Vinci and that it was never delivered to its intended owner. Instead, the work of art was sold to King Francis I and supposedly entered the Royal Collection in 1518.

After the French Revolution, the painting was moved to the Louvre, what was thought – mistakenly – to be a safe-haven for the piece.

The painting was stolen in 1911. However, it took a few hours to realise. French painter Louis Béroud visited The Louvre and found that the painting was missing — he asked the guards about its whereabouts and they weren’t entirely sure and assumed that it was being photographed for museum advertisements. Béroud returned a few hours later and the painting had not been returned; it had been stolen.

While investigations took place, The Louvre had to close for a whole week. There were many now famous-faces on the suspect list for the theft of this masterpiece, including Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso, but they were both cleared of all charges.

The real thief, Vicenzo Peruggia, was found two years later when he attempted to sell the painting to a museum in Florence. It’s often described as one of the greatest thefts in the 20th century, as Peruggia stole the piece during working hours, hid in a broom closet and waited until after hours to walk out of the museum with the painting positioned under his coat.

However, the thief was only jailed for six months as it was defined as an act of patriotism for Italy. The painting returned to its home in Paris.

An estimated six million visitors take in the Mona Lisa every year today. What’s more, it sits behind a bulletproof glass because of past vandalism attempts (throwing stones, acid etc.).

The glass is reportedly almost two centimetres thick and the painting is held in a special sealed box that protects it from vibrations and humidity. Public visitors are separated from the piece by a queue barrier, but that is only one aspect of the state-of-the-art security systems that the Louvre has put in place.

Also present around the 70,000 square metres of museum are access control systems, a 24-hour surveillance of closed-circuit TV cameras and a collection of intruder-detection equipment which includes video analytics. They all help to protect some of the finest pieces of art in the world.

Sweden’s Crown Jewels

The security measures put in place to protect Sweden’s Crown Jewels have certainly been questioned. In August 2018, two crowns and a royal orb which belonged to King Charles IX of Sweden and his wife Christina of Holstein-Gottorp were stolen in what looked like an amateur heist.

The Strangnas Cathedral wasn’t always the location to display these 400-year-old jewels in public though. The gems were originally created as funeral pieces and were buried in the tomb with them but were later unearthed. Although the theft was premediated, it was extremely insufficient.

Two men walked into the cathedral around midday and smashed the glass where the contents were held — causing alarms to go off around the building. The duo escaped from the crime scene by bicycles and then by a motorboat along Lake Malaren, entering Stockholm’s archipelago.

In 2012, a 19-year-old refugee claimed to be a friend of a member of the royal family and stole £73,700 worth of jewels — but sold them for £730 to drug dealers

However, one of the thieves was soon tracked down because of blood left at the crime scene and the jewels were partly recovered.

Even with the crown jewels within their possession, the men would have found it a very tough task to sell the items on the black market. This is purely because government authorities would be out looking for them — and no one wants to put themselves at risk of being caught.

As well as this, they’re extremely valuable and the thieves would have to find the right buyers. The jewels are made from the noblest metals and the gold value is worth around £43,000.

Sweden’s royal jewels have been stolen on more occasions than just this one time though. In 2012, a 19-year-old refugee claimed to be a friend of a member of the royal family and stole £73,700 worth of jewels — but sold them only for £730 to drug dealers for marijuana. The thief also reportedly stole a £30,350 tiara and threw it off a bridge.

Instances such as these leaves question marks over Sweden’s security measures. Although the stolen crown jewels from the cathedral were on public display, they weren’t properly protected, and the thieves should have been detected as they walked in.

With artefacts of immense value situated in the building, the cathedral should be looking at installing walk-through security door frames and regular visitor searches. In terms of the theft in 2012, people with the right credentials should only be able to enter certain areas of the palace.

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