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Great pearl robbery

This notorious and dramatic theft lead to Lloyd’s largest claim from a jewellery policy

Hatton Garden diamond trader Max Mayer had a Lloyd’s policy for all risks anywhere in Europe. His stock included a stunning necklace of 61 flawless, blush-pink pearls. Known as the ‘Mona Lisa of pearls’ the necklace was fabulously precious, and its reputation spread around the world.

Mayer had offered it to a Paris dealer to view. The sale fell through, and the dealer returned the necklace by registered post. But when Mayer broke open the three intact, monogrammed seals, he saw not the necklace, but 11 lumps of sugar.

A special committee of Lloyd’s underwriters was set up, headed by one Montague Evans, to work with Scotland Yard in solving the case – and an astonishing story unfolded.

At its centre was Joseph Grizzard, a charming and debonair man and noted jewel thief. This criminal mastermind had had the necklace intercepted, taken from its package and replaced with a string of sugar lumps that weighed exactly the same as the pearls. At the end of a long investigation, the criminal gang was at last lured to a meeting at Chancery Lane tube station, where Grizzard was arrested – but still no necklace.

Two weeks later, piano-maker Augustus Horne was walking to work in Highbury when he saw a man drop a something very deliberately in the gutter and dash away. He opened the matchbox and saw a broken string of pearls. Assuming them to be imitation, he gave one to a street urchin to use as a marble, and handed the rest to the police – whereupon he found it was Mayer’s necklace.

It seems the final gang member had felt the police net closing in, and judged it best to get rid of the ill-gotten gains.

The pearls were safe – but Lloyd’s still paid the reward. It was large but quite a lot less than the £150,000 they’d have paid but for Mr Horne.