Studio Notes: Be Careful Out There, Your Artistic Jewelry is Valuable and Desired

I’ve noticed a rash of robberies lately at art fairs and rock shows. Two artistic jewelers were robbed at a convenience store after a show ended. Another had a case cleaned out during a busy event. They are all too afraid to talk.

Then there were two recent crimes in Oregon.

Sept. 3, 2017 – two jewelry artists had their entire inventories stolen from their locked car after a show. Their vehicle was parked in a blind spot in a garage that could not be monitored by cameras. The artists valued the theft at $300,000 and did not have insurance.

Oct. 15, 2017 – A Montana couple participated in a regional rock show at a fairgrounds. On the way home they stopped at a fast food restaurant to get a bite to eat. Although they could see their car, thieves broke in and stole their collection of Yogo sapphires. The couple valued the stones at $300,000 to $500,000.

Here is what is weird. Around 2002, I heard something similar while I was a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. A pearl dealer lost $300,000 worth of merchandise, which he couldn’t insure. He had been showing his merchandise to the owner of a fine jewelry store. Then he and his associate got in their car and drove away, eventually stopping to get something to eat. He parked his car so he could keep an eye on it from the restaurant. And about the only odd thing he saw was a brief flash in the car window. But it wasn’t enough to make him suspicious. However, when he returned to his car, he found the thieves had entered into the passenger compartment through a ski storage opening the trunk. The flash may have been a reflection when the trunk was opened. Later, he learned the jewelry store staff saw him being followed by another car as he left, but had no way to warn him. Cellphones were not readily available then. The belief then was that Colombian nationals were behind this heist.

Here are some educated conclusions on my part:
  • This trend will continue.
  • No one is really aware of this yet. There are no major organizations dedicated to solving crimes involving artistic jewelry.
  • There are probably several individuals or groups of thieves working around the country. They pay attention to when shows take place.
  • Jewelry stores and wholesale gem shows are harder to rob these days, because vendors and organizers are now highly aware of the risks and are vigilant. They have taken smarter precautions to protect themselves. They also are members of organizations like the Jewelers’ Security Alliance.
  • New electronic technology is being used to track and open locked cars.
  • Thieves watch while artistic jewelers pack up inventory after a show and know exactly where everything is placed in the vehicle.
  • Thieves are probably driving stolen cars.
  • Shows and fairs are easy pickings for these criminals, because many organizers aren’t aware of this trend yet.
What can you do?
  • Work with a booth mate, especially at major shows.
  • Be hyper alert at the end of a show. This is when you’re tired, hungry and most vulnerable.
  • Look around you when you are packing up and moving your inventory.
  • Watch people who are watching you. Beware of distractions, such as a loud noise, someone falling, or too many people crowded around one of your displays.
  • Park your vehicle in a well-lit space within view of security cameras.
  • Think about investing in new technology, which can help police to find the thieves. This might include a “game cam” in your booth or electronic tracking devices tucked in to your jewelry storage cases. Even a fake security camera might help.
  • Set up your show area so that you can see your entire inventory at a glance, even when writing up a bill of sale.
  • Do what jewelry stores do: show only one piece of jewelry at a time. And arrange your displays so you know immediately if a piece is missing.
  • Keep a friendly, watchful eye on all people visiting your booth. Say “hi” to everyone and look them in the eye.
  • Get to know vendors in the booths next to you. Watch out for each other.
  • Don’t resist an armed robber.
  • Think through in advance how you would handle a crime at each show venue you participate in. Include plans for unloading and loading.
  • Contact police immediately if you are a victim or if an item has been stolen. Contact show organizers.
  • Spread the word and share this post. The more people know, the harder they will make it for thieves.

Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. Her story on Colorado diamonds appears in the September-October issue and she will be writing about her experience in Kate Wolf’s class in 2018, along with her grant-writing adventures as a silversmith. You can reach her at betsylehndorff@gmail.com.

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