Jewelers Find a Real Gem
Chamblee store owners and an Atlanta jewelry dealer help authorities find millions in stolen precious stones.
As a jeweler for 18 years, Randy Jones gets paid to study the beauty and detail of fine jewelry. So in December, when Jones recognized the beauty of an emerald he had been hired to reset in a ring, he also noticed the ring's awkward craftsmanship. That, coupled with a chance spotting of the emerald on the internet by a friend in the gem business, led police and FBI agents to a Florida man accused of stealing $7 million worth of jewels from a member of the Ford Motor Co. family. Jones and Shawn Slep, co-owners of Global Gems in Chamblee, and Jeff Meyer, an Atlanta jewelry dealer, are in line to split $1 million reward for helping police track down the jewels, stolen from the home of Kathleen Ford, the widow of Henry Ford II.
"I feel good about it," said Jones. "These are fabulous museum- type pieces that have been destroyed. Anyone who appreciates this type of jewelry would get disgusted at this." On Wednesday, Palm Beach, FL, police and FBI agents used information gathered from Jones to track down and arrest 51-year-old Alvara Valdez, of Margate, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, FL
Valdez is charged with interstate transport of stolen items worth more than $5,000. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The jewels were part of the $7 million collection taken from the Ford home in January 1997. The recovered items are worth about $2 million, police said.
For Jones, it started when Barry Marshall, a 51-year-old Florida gem dealer, gave him pieces of the Ford collection on consignment. Marshall later told police that he had purchased the pieces from Valdez. Jones was given the emerald ring to convert into a pendant. The emerald in the ring matched those in a 16-piece necklace and earrings. He also was given three loose diamonds for a 7-carat ring he was to design. Jones said he remembered the diamonds because they were cut in a way that hasn't been popular since the turn of the century. Jones said that because of the size and beauty of the emerald from the ring, he put the stone on display to attract possible buyers for Marshall.
His colleague Meyer had admired the gem and was surfing the Internet one day when he saw what looked like a similar one. He found it posted on the Palm Beach Police Department's Web site, which was displaying photographs of jewels stolen in the Ford heist. The items included necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings made of gold, precious stones and other materials. The Web site photos included a necklace set with 45 black pearls and 89 round diamonds, and a lapel watch decorated with gold, rubies, diamonds and green enamel.
Jones said that he, Meyer and Slep compared the emerald to the photo on the Internet and, although it was grainy, "it looked close." They informed the police and the FBI, which made a positive identification of the pieces. "They told us that they had gotten about 100 leads that had gone nowhere," Jones said. "These were the first pieces that led to the recovery of anything."
Jones said that because the pieces he received had been cut up to disguise them, he found it hard to put a price tag on the items he had in his shop. "The necklace was worth $1.5 million, but once you start breaking it down, the pieces are not worth that much," Jones said. "It's like taking the Mona Lisa and cutting her face off it."
Copyright 1998, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, All rights reserved.
Ernie Suggs STAFF WRITER, JEWELERS FIND A REAL GEM: Chamblee store owners and an Atlanta jewelry dealer help authorities find: millions in stolen precious stones.., 01-16-1998, pp D01.