Protecting Europe’s greatest treasures

Posted On 27 Nov 2018
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Whether it’s astonishing art collections or one-of-a-kind jewels – it’s never an easy gig protecting the world’s greatest treasures.  As heist movies make their way back into our cinemas — recently with the Ocean’s reboot (Ocean’s 8) and an epic sting scene in Marvel’s Black Panther – some might be wondering how we actually protect these types of assets and keep those scenarios fictional. In this article, 2020 Vision check out some of Europe’s most protected artefacts, the security measures in place and how these prevent criminal activity.

The Mona Lisa

This painting is probably the most famous in the world, and the most visited. Crafted by Leonardo da Vinci, it is estimated that it took the artist around 14 years to complete and is now one of the most recognisable pieces of art in the world.

Reportedly insured for $100 million in 1962, the insurance valuation for The Mona Lisa has varied over time.  However, the inflation rate takes the 1962 valuation up to $821,746,666.67 in 2018, making it one of the most valuable items in the world.

King Francis I so admired the masterpiece that the paining entered the Royal Collection in 1518.  However, after the French Revolution, the painting was moved to the Louvre; which was thought to be a safe-haven for the piece — but it wasn’t.

Did you know the painting was stolen in 1911? However, it took a few hours to realise so. 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.

The Louvre closed for a week for investigations to be carried out. 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.

Vicenzo Peruggia was caught in Florence two years later.  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.

The Mona Lisa has over six million yearly visitors, but because of vandalism attacks – the art work sits behind bulletproof glass. 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 security systems that the Louvre has put in place.

The Louvre – all 70,000 square meters of the museum – is covered by 24-hour surveillance; closed-circuit TV cameras – including access control systems, cloud CCTV storage, and intruder-detection equipment (incorporating video analytics) to help keep safe  some of the world’s finest pieces of art.

The Swedish Crown Jewels

Security covering the Swedish crown jewels appears to be rather lax compared to other countries around the world. 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.

Although in existence for hundreds of years, the jewels weren’t constantly on display at Strangnas Cathedral. 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 thieves were able to evade capture, just by using a combination of bicycles and a motorboat.  However, one of the thieves was soon tracked down because of blood left at the crime scene and the jewels were partly recovered.

Because of the notoriety of the crime, and because government authorities were hunting them, the jewels would obviously have been extremely difficult to sell on the black market. 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.

Believe it or not, this has actually happened before in Sweden. 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. As well as this, the thief also reportedly stole a £30,350 tiara and threw it off a bridge.

Despite being on public display in the cathedral, the jewels weren’t adequately protected, and the thieves should have been detected as they entered.  With artefacts of immense value situated in the building, the cathedral should be looking at installing walkthrough 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.

The UK Crown Jewels 

With 23,578 delicate stones and over 140 objects, putting an exact price on the crown jewels has been difficult but estimates have been made stating that they are worth over £3bn. As well as this, it has also proven impossible to insure them because of their immense value.

Today, Jewel House within the Tower of London hosts the valuables. Believe it or not, 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.

With 22 Tower Guards, on loan from the British Army, the Crown Jewels are protected better than ever before. 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.

Also, were you aware the Crown Jewels can only be removed by the head of the Royal Household? However, when this type of activity occurs, armed police officers must be present.