The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!

Now, on with story… (Please read parts I and II first)
The Great Horological Heist - The Players and the Playing Field

The Great Horological Heist - La Reine (The Queen)

The crime was never solved by the police. Rather, it sort of solved itself. In August 2006, a lawyer contacted a small antique and watch shop in Tel Aviv run by Zion Yakubov. The lawyer, Hila Efron-Gabai wanted Yakubov to evaluate some antique watches that belonged to a client. The client was an American woman from Los Angeles who had inherited a number of watches from her late husband that she wished to return to the L.A. Mayer Museum anonymously. Her husband had left them to her, having told her about them before he died of cancer. The boxes containing the watches were in Tel Aviv. She knew where they were and had seen them. But the client felt that they should be returned to their rightful owner. Yakubov attended the lawyers office to view the watches and upon viewing them realized quickly what they were. There in the box, wrapped in aging, yellowing newspaper like some discarded flea market bauble was “La Reine”, the Marie-Antoinette watch. Rachel Hasson, the museum’s artistic director and Eli Kahan, chair of the museum’s board were the next to be contacted by the lawyer. They too visited her office. Hasson recalled: “I opened the boxes and identified them by their numbers. Most were in good shape. Some were damaged. When I came to the Marie-Antoinette, I couldn’t help crying. It was so moving and exciting to see it after so many years.” The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!

The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!
The collection, or part of it was back, but the museum officials were at a loss on how to proceed. From August til November nothing was said. The an article revealing their rediscovery was leaked to a local newspaper. And now the police became interested.

The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!

They reopened their investigation, but initially could get nothing from the lawyer or the museum authorities who had signed a non-disclosure agreement to maintain the anonymity of the woman who had returned the watches. But when they approached Yakubov, he was able to provide them with enough information to find the storage facility where the watches had been kept. From documents left in the warehouse, the investigators were finally able to discover the identity of the woman as Nili Shamrat, an ex-pat Israeli living in Los Angeles. Further investigations showed that she had no criminal background but was in fact married to the notorious “celebrity”, Na’aman Diller. The two lived apart but were in constant daily contact and he had confided to her that he was the one who had robbed the L.A. Mayer Museum. Diller died of cancer in Tel Aviv in 2004 where he had lived quietly for years. On her last visit to him before his death in May, they moved some of the watches to a safe deposit box, and then she returned to Los Angeles. She came back to Israel briefly for his funeral.
The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!
Soon after, the cache of watches stored in Israel were back at the museum, the Los Angeles Police Department paid Shamrat a visit, with a search warrant, and discovered more watches, a music box, Islamic artifacts and two paintings, one by Breughel and another by Fantin-Latour. Several months later relatives of Diller sent the police his documents and papers which led to the discovery of bank accounts and and hiding places throughout Europe. Watches were discovered in The Hague, Munich, Basle; and the largest cache of 53 in two banks in Paris. Of the original collection ten have not been found. It is a bit unclear as to whether they were sold or are still hidden away somewhere. Diller had been not only a master thief but a master forger, visiting Europe many times under assumed names and forged passports in order to hide his “treasure”. He had also cleverly forged the documents indicating that he had been out of the country in April 1983. He had stolen the watches as an intellectual exercise and not out of any motive of greed. It was clear that they had been something which Diller had enjoyed looking after and examining with intellectual curiosity and from a scientific point of view. I believe that the longer he possessed them, the more he enjoyed them realizing over time the brilliance of their construction as well as their beauty. Hasson when examining some of the watches, found that they contained tiny strips of paper on whicht Diller had written in a miniscule spidery handwriting, and reverent tone, instructions on how to care for the watches, how to disassemble and reassemble them. He had been meticulous to the end. The Salomons collection is again on display at the Mayer Museum under significantly better security. They have recently published a new edition of the collection and have kept Daniels’ original introduction and history of Breguet. And as a real bonus, the entire collection is in colour, making it a real feast for the eyes. Some of the illustrations I used are from that catalogue. (It can be ordered through the museum’s website). The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!

Here is a brief tour of the collection from YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbYOsMa4HTY

References: Breguet by Sir David Lionel Salomons. This book has been digitized and can be downloaded free of charge in various formats including PDF and Kindle from this site:  https://archive.org/details/breguet01salo Watches & Clocks in the Sir David Salomons Collection by Daniels and Markarian The Art of Breguet by George Daniels, published Sotheby’s 1975 The Art of Time Published by the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem Various newspaper reports and articles in the Telegraph, the Guardian, Wired Magazine  and Ha’aretz. Website of the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art:  http://www.islamicart.co.il/en/
JB
02/18/2014 - 16:16
JB
02/18/2014 - 16:20
JB
02/18/2014 - 16:24
JB
02/18/2014 - 16:27
02/18/2014 - 12:53
JB
02/18/2014 - 16:38
JB
02/18/2014 - 16:44
02/18/2014 - 21:27
JB
02/19/2014 - 15:42
JB
02/19/2014 - 15:43
Great detective work, Joseph
02/17/2014 - 21:01
Love these horological mystery stories yes
Thanks, Dean
02/18/2014 - 16:16
I do too. And this one fascinating!
A captivating, three-part, narrative...
02/17/2014 - 22:08
Joseph, I have thoroughly enjoyed your article - what an extraordinary series of events! Marshalling the chapters and the relative dates, plus gathering such beautiful photographs, made for excellent reading and viewing. I'd love to know what sparked the adventure on your part. Thank you again for a magnificent contribution. Much appreciated. Kind regards Tony 
Re: A captivating, three-part, narrative...
02/18/2014 - 16:19
Thank you for your kind words, Tony. I was made aware of the new catalogue for the collection on another thread. In the intro there was a brief mention of the theft. The original, published in 1980, of coures, made no mention since the theft occurred a few years later. Well, I started to dig into it a bit and it got curiouser and curiouser surprise. I left out a bit of background on Diller who  really was an interesting character.
Thanks for putting all this together Joseph,
02/17/2014 - 22:24
really a great read and as I had only seen bits and pieces, it is nice to have everything now on The Hour Lounge.  You are a treasure to all of us here, taking such care with articles like this one! Many thanks and best to all, Tim
You are too kind, Tim!
02/18/2014 - 16:20
Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Joseph
Re: The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!
02/18/2014 - 00:21
How does one adequately express gratitude for this sort of contribution, suffused as it is with such passion, thoughtful explication, and thorough research? Thank you, JB, for your time and your generosity. I can only echo tick-talk's congratulations, tony chance's eloquent appreciation, and timerider's heartfelt sentiments. May I also say how saddened I was to read that such intelligence, planning, and expertise as N. Diller's had been subverted to the callous, antisocial, selfish, and cruel exercise of absconding with Vera Bryce Salomon's generous bequest? Though relieved of course at the collection's recovery (or most of it, anyway), I was disheartened to learn that more than two decades had elapsed before this came to pass.
Re: Re: Thank you Kunal
02/18/2014 - 16:24
It is a fascinating story and Diller was a complex individual. But the best thing is the collection is back and can be viewed by many in what is a very interesting and educating museum. Their other collections of Islamic art, from the photos I've seen are also tremendously interesting.
Re: Re: Re: Thank you Kunal
02/18/2014 - 16:27
Sorry, Manoj. That should have been "Thank you Manoj" I haven't had my coffee yet! blush Best, Joseph
Re: The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!
02/18/2014 - 08:18
wow. looks like an episode from White Collar coming to reality! 
Re: Re: The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!
02/18/2014 - 16:25
I'm quite surprised that the story was not made into a movie. It certainly would make a great thriller.
Re: The Great Horological Heist Part III Time Runs Out!
02/18/2014 - 09:50
JB, excellent three part story. You are quite the Horological Detective. Well done.
Many thanks for your kind words!
02/18/2014 - 16:28
It was great fun to do! Best, Joseph
an astounding detective read! You did it again Joseph :-) What is
02/18/2014 - 10:21
really interesting is that the Marie antonette was found more or less at the same time Breguet came out with a modern reionterpretation based just on the few photographs available! I'm also surprised that Diller went through so much risk robbing and hiding his loot just for his personnal pleasure, makes him a somewhat romantic thief!
Re: an astounding detective read! You did it again Joseph :-) What is
02/18/2014 - 16:38
Thanks Alex, I found that a bit curious too. But I think he started the duplicate before he knew the original had been recovered. I think Breguet had much more information about the watch than Hayek let on. Daniels has a lot of detailed illustrations in his "The Art of Breguet" so the design and the models, which Breguet had already used in other watches were well known. I'm sure Daniels could have built one. What I found interesting is that the watch does not have a tourbillion. I can't remember when Breguet developed that but since he died only a few years before the watch was completed, he must have already built one. As for Diller, he was portrayed in the press after his activities in the 1960's and 70's as a kind of Robin Hood. Given his background, one motivating factor for his thievery was to poke his thumb in the eye of authority. I think once he had the watches he became captivated by them. Best, Joseph
Breguet patented the tourbillon in 1801 almost 20 years after he
02/18/2014 - 17:17
started working on the "Marie Antoinette" maybe he was too advanced in the watch to modify the escapement?
A thoroughly enjoyable read
02/18/2014 - 12:53
Thanks JB.
My pleasure, Hamish (nt)
02/18/2014 - 16:38
 
A great read - do such discerning thieves still exist?
02/18/2014 - 13:35
Definitely would have called for David Niven if ever a film version had been made.Thanks Ed
Re: A great read - do such discerning thieves still exist?
02/18/2014 - 16:43
Just in movies! (LOL) David Niven, Douglas Fairbanks, Malcolm MacDowell, Terrance Stamp etc. (but all in their younger days smiley
Diller’s story is an example
02/18/2014 - 13:41
Diller’s story is an example of how fascinating watches are to man, they are human ingenuity at its very best. Watches grow on you!   Joseph, a big thank you for sharing this great story.   Best,   Stan
Thank you Stan
02/18/2014 - 16:44
I think you are correct. I believe that is what happened. That and saving up for retirement! (LOL)! Best, Joseph
Wonderful, Joseph!
02/18/2014 - 21:27
I finally took the time to read through all three parts of this fascinating story.  Thank you for writing and posting this.  It is fascinating.  I want to see the movie version, too.  wink Best, Robert
Re: Wonderful, Joseph!
02/19/2014 - 15:42
Thanks Robert. It's an amazing story. In all these years since the return of the loot, I am surprised that no one has either written a book of considered a movie. Best, Joseph
Great Trilogy Joseph
02/19/2014 - 04:47
It was wonderful reading all 3 parts, especially one right after another...without having to wait for the sequel. Thanks!
Re: Great Trilogy Joseph
02/19/2014 - 15:43
Thanks Dan, I did consider introducing the parts more slowly, but I'm not one for not knowing what happens at the end (LOL). I'm very happy you enjoyed the story. Joseph