The Great Pearl Robbery - Hatton Garden's First Major Theft

The Great Pearl Robbery - Hatton Garden's First Major Theft

Vivian Watson — who has worked in the Hatton Garden jewellery trade since the 1960s — writes about the first major robbery in the area, in this extract from his book, How Did Our Garden Grow?: The History of Hatton Garden.

Close up of a pearl necklace on a blue background
The necklace was known as the 'Mona Lisa of Pearls'. Image: Tiffany Anthony on Unsplash.

The Great Pearl Robbery of 1913 was one of the earliest crimes of significance in Hatton Garden.

One of the leading pearl merchants in Hatton Garden was Mr Max Mayer. His integrity was second to none and, like bona-fide dealers today, he would have considered his reputation to be his greatest asset.

Mayer was born in 1859, and from a young age and humble beginnings began trading in costume jewellery, all the while using his skills to build enough capital to invest in semi-precious stones. From semi-precious he graduated into dealing in diamonds. In each generation there are those whose success is enviable. Max Mayer was one of them, but this made him a target for any would-be criminal. As time went by, he branched out into pearls. At that time, cultured pearls had not been invented and 'oriental pearls', as they were known, were extremely valuable. Edwardian society had put great emphasis on pearls to display their wealth. By 1913, Mayer had become as well known as a pearl dealer as he had previously been a diamond merchant. His safes must have held some of the most valuable merchandise in the whole of Hatton Garden.

The theft was discovered on 16 July 1913. Mayer lost a pearl necklace that was reported to be worth more than the Hope Diamond. Known as the 'Mona Lisa of Pearls', the necklace consisted of 61 flawless, blush-pink pearls.

An illustrated poster offering £10,000 for the missing pearl necklace
Lloyds, who had insured the necklace for £135,000, offered a £10,000 reward for its recovery. Image recreated with permission from the book's publisher.

The necklace had been offered to a Paris jeweller, but the sale fell through and it was returned by registered post to Hatton Garden. However, when Mayer opened the three monogrammed seals on the package, he was shocked to find not the necklace but... eleven lumps of sugar.

Scotland Yard and Lloyds worked together to trace the stolen necklace. Lloyds, who had insured the necklace for £135,000, offered a £10,000 reward for its recovery.

The mastermind behind the theft was Joseph Grizzard. He had managed to have the parcel intercepted en route and arranged the substitution, which made the parcel the same weight. Posing as potential buyers, the police were able to lure the gang to a meeting near Chancery Lane Underground station. The gang members were arrested, however, the pearl necklace was still not recovered.

It would be almost impossible to sell the pearls legitimately as they were unique.

Two weeks after Grizzard's arrest, Mr Augustus Horne, a piano maker from Highbury, was on his way to work when he witnessed an unusual sight. Someone dropped a small package rather deliberately in the gutter and rushed away. Curiosity caused him to investigate and he found a broken row of pearls. He hadn't realised what he had found and assumed that they were fakes. He gave one to a street urchin to use as a marble and handed the rest in to the police, who informed him of what he had found.

How Did Our Garden Grow?: The History of Hatton Garden by Vivian Watson is published by The History Press

Last Updated 12 September 2022

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