GIA Makes a Gem of a Crime-Fighting Partner

Local institute trains cops in pursuit of jewel thieves

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    NEWSLETTERS

    GIA

    They say it takes a thief to catch a thief, but when it comes to catching jewel thieves, law enforcement looks for legitimate help here in San Diego County -- to the Gemological Institute of America.

    GIA, based in Carlsbad, has become a key partner in solving bling-related crimes.

    GIA Makes a Gem of a Crime-Fighting Partner

    [DGO] GIA Makes a Gem of a Crime-Fighting Partner
    GIA, based in Carlsbad, has become a key partner in solving bling-related crimes. Source: GIA Makes a Gem of a Crime-Fighting Partner | NBC San Diego (Published Friday, May 21, 2010)

    It's widely known as the international diamond standard in the gemstone trade; its grading and scientific protocols have been relied on for eight decades.

    Twenty-one F-B-I agents and detectives from major-city police departments and seven foreign countries have just completed two weeks of gem training at GIA headquarters -- looking to get the goods on a worldful of jewel thieves.

    "Diamonds are a very concentrated form of wealth," GIA gemology instructor Brenda Harwick said. "And so you can easily put millions of dollars right in your pocket."

    The jewel-thief syndicates that make off with this caliber of merchandise are light years ahead of the smash-and-grab thugs who fence their take through pawn shops.

    "Nowadays, a jewel thief is very good," Harwick noted in an interview Friday. "Not only do they have advanced sleight-of-hand but they also do surveillance. They are very, very talented."

    The high-end fences in the jewel trade are many miles beyond back-alley chop-shop artists, too.

    "And they can actually have [an ornate piece of jewelry] stripped, torn apart and in a different country within a few hours,"  Harwick said.

    To help to keep law enforcement within striking distance, the GIA puts on seminars for specialized detectives from around the world, polishing the expertise of the good guys so that they can better match up with the bad guys.

    "My take is: That it becomes quite a chess game between the two," GIA corporate security director Larry Wright said. "They know each other often, and they know each other's techniques. And so, based on what I've heard, it becomes very, very intriguing."

    The institute has 19 locations and labs in 14 countries, helping coordinate the pursuit and recovery of stolen jewelry through its vast database of grading records and gem features.

    In many cases, Harwick said, jewelry "can be stolen one month, and three months later it comes right through our lab again."