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Robbers smash, grab way to huge holdup of Paris jeweler

PARIS -- As many as 15 robbers pulled off a spectacular holdup of one of Paris' finest jewelers Friday, smashing and grabbing their way to a million-dollar score.

Two suspects are in custody, French police said, but the others remain at large -- and the 20 or so luxury watches the gang stole remains missing.

Shortly before midday, two well-dressed men rang the doorbell of Vacheron Constantin boutique on the Rue de la Paix in the heart of Paris. When the sales clerk opened the front entrance, the men immediately blocked the door open, allowing a third man to rush in with a gun.

He was closely followed by seven or eight masked and armed men. With axes and baseball bats, they smashed jewelry counters and windows to steal the goods.

Early estimates put the value of the stolen watches at one million euros -- more than $1.3 million.

Witnesses said the robbery took place in under three minutes and that one of the thieves was timing the operation with a stopwatch. The gang broke the glass counters with such force that one of the boutique's sales woman was injured.

The gang fled the store and were joined by another five to six accomplices outside, who deployed smoke canisters on the sidewalk. The billowing smoke created a cover for the robbers to run away on foot and disappear into the busy Paris commercial street. 

Some of their material, including gloves and masks, were found afterwards in garbage cans along the street.

According to the website of Express magazine, a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old are in custody. French police say they are from an Eastern European country.

Police Commisaire Francis Vincenti told French media, "this attack signals a new operating mode."

He said it was rare to see a holdup include 15 people and just as rare to see them flee by foot into a neighborhood dense with surveillance cameras. 

Only two weeks ago, another store in the same neighborhood had $2.6 million worth of jewelry stolen after a SUV rammed into its front window in the middle of the night.

France has been been plagued by a series of spectacular heists in the past year. This past summer, two luxury hotels were hit when thieves walked away with tens of millions of euros worth of jewels during public exhibitions.

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