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The Great Clock Robbery

On a Sunday morning, April 17th, 1983, the staff of the Museum of Islamic Art were astonished when they discovered that 106 rare clocks, from the Sir David Salomons collection, worth tens of millions of dollars, including the unique Marie Antoinette clock, had disappeared into thin air. The rare clock collection of the British Jewish banker, was known the world over, and was considered one of the three rarest collections of clocks. His daughter, Vera Bryce Salomons, was the one who decided to display the collection in the museum she founded in Jerusalem, in memory of her father.

The unique collection contained clocks from the 18th and 19th centuries, including 200 spectacular and sophisticated clocks: simple clocks that are works of art, in both mechanical and aesthetic terms, clocks with automatic winding mechanisms (which were an innovation at the time), pendulum clocks and grandfather clocks, scientific measuring instruments, music boxes and painted enamel boxes with tiny mechanisms. These rare clocks were treated with great care and professionalism by Ohannes Yeghia Markarian, an expert watchmaker and a resident of the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, who treated the clocks as if they were his children.

The Israeli Police was contacted immediately, to help recover the rare treasure. The supposition was that a skilled team of burglars was behind the theft, but even 20 years later there will still no thread that led to them.

The Telephone Call That Led to a Solution to the Mystery

One day in August 2006 a Tel Aviv arts dealer went to the Museum for Islamic Art and related that he had seen part of the stolen clock collection. A short while later an anonymous lawyer called the museum offices with a similar story. She said that a client of hers, who refused to give her name, had inherited clocks from her recently deceased husband. She invited the museum managers to see them. Following brief negotiations, 39 items from the clock collection, including the Marie Antoinette clock, were returned to the museum.

A thorough investigation by the Israeli Police revealed that Naaman Diller (Lidor), a daring and sophisticated burglar, who gained notoriety in the 1960s and 1970s, managed to bypass all the museum’s security mechanisms, and steal the clocks. He carried out the heist single-handedly, and he kept the clocks in various safes in the United States, Europe and even in Ramla. A few days before he died of cancer, in 2004, Diller told his wife that he was the one who carried out the clock theft at the museum and that he was leaving the booty to her. Two years later the widow tried to anonymously sell the valuable clocks in her possession. She contacted her lawyer, and the lawyer called a Tel Aviv watchmaker to valuate the clocks. When the watchmaker realized he was dealing with the clocks stolen from the Sir David Salomons collection he contacted the museum management, and this led the way to the solution to the mystery.

The museum stuff, under the leadership of watchmaker Boris Sankov, worked on restoring the clocks, some of which had been dismantled, and damaged. Sankov used the detailed documentation of the clocks and helped to restore the Salomons collection to as close as possible to its original state. In July 2009 the display of the Sir David Salomons clock collection was reopened to the general public.