updated 2/27/2008 2:48:28 PM ET 2008-02-27T19:48:28

Masked thieves drilled a tunnel and broke into a jewelry showroom as employees were preparing for a VIP showing, making off with gold, diamonds and emeralds in a brazen daylight heist, the jeweler said.

The bags of jewels stolen Sunday from Damiani — maker of the diamond bracelet that graced Oscar winner Tilda Swinton's wrist — included gold, platinum, diamonds and emeralds, though apparently no pearls.

The losses are being inventoried and Damiani is not issuing estimates, but the jeweler's chief executive dismissed a $7.52 million figure cited by the Italian media.

The safe normally would have had even more valuable, one-of-a-kind pieces — but a "significant number" were on loan to stars attending the Oscars, including Swinton, or in Tokyo for the opening of a new boutique, Guido Damiani said Wednesday.

"Luckily, many of these pieces were not in the safe," he said in a telephone interview.

Caters to celebrities
The family-run business established 85 years ago by Damiani's grandfather calls itself the jeweler of the stars, with Hollywood stars Isabella Rosellini, Brad Pitt, Gwyenth Paltrow and Sharon Stone among its celebrity promoters.

For the last several years, Damiani has been bejeweling stars for Oscar night, including Sunday.

Employees in the central Milan showroom were preparing for a VIP showing when the thieves entered at around 10 a.m. Sunday, Damiani said.

The thieves, wearing face masks and dark glasses, forced four showroom employees, a caterer and a cleaning woman into a room, where they were bound. One of the Damiani employees was forced to open the safe, but bound with the others during the theft.

No one was harmed and no clients had yet arrived, Damiani said.

"The timing was planned. They knew that there would be people in the building — otherwise they would not have been able to get into the safe — but that it would not be full," Damiani said. "They were in the right place at the right moment. ... But I am confident that they will be found."

Damiani said they had drilled into the basement from a neighboring building with nearly 4-foot-thick walls — so sturdy the cellar had been designated a bomb shelter — gaining cover from renovation work in the adjacent structure. It was unclear how long they had been working.

"We've heard an account from one woman who heard noise in the early mornings, and had even complained to police. It was probably them," Damiani said.

Guards were sidestepped
Because they entered from inside the building, the thieves did not pass armed guards posted at the entrance. Newspapers have reported four thieves, but Damiani said the number was still unclear.

"A guard could have gone up at any minute, and one did go up by chance _ but seconds after they left," Damiani said. "It could have been a drama, so all the better that no one walked in."

The whole operation took about half an hour. A neighbor who grew suspicious after seeing men load bags — presumably full of jewels — into a van notified police, Damiani said.

No one saw weapons, but Damiani presumes they were present. The jewels are insured by Allianz and Lloyds of London, he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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