You’re Planning A Heist. What Buildings Have The World’s Most Valuable Contents?
Diamond giant De Beers said last month it was going to be redeveloping its London HQ, a building with a vault that once contained diamonds worth an estimated £5B, or nearly US$6.79B.
That got Bisnow thinking: Forget about the world’s most valuable buildings, which buildings house the most valuable contents?
Here is a list of the facilities you should be targeting if the day job is not going so well and you are looking for a valuable heist.
1. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
When people think of gold deposits, they usually think of Fort Knox. But the vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is where the action really is — it contains around 6,200 bars with a value of around $250B, according to the Fed.
The Fed stores the gold 80 feet below street level at its headquarters at 33 Liberty St. Around 2% to 5% of it is owned by the U.S. and the rest by foreign nations. If a gold trade between two countries occurs, the actual gold bars in question are moved from one part of the vault to another, but transactions are rare, sometimes as few as one a year.
The Fed has never provided any proof that the gold is really all there, and only a tiny number of staff and auditors are allowed access to the vault. A Wall Street Journal Freedom of Information request found that a break-in had never been attempted.
2. De Beers sorting and sales facility, Diamond Park, Gaborone, Botswana
De Beers’ building in London is no longer the center of the diamond universe. In 2012 the company moved its sorting, aggregation and sales operation to Gaborone in Botswana, closer to the mines across Africa where the precious stones are found. The sale of gems from the building are around $6.5B annually.
The clients who buy De Beers’ diamonds are called sightholders, and there are around 75 of them worldwide, authorized by the company to buy rough, uncut stones. They visit De Beers around 10 times a year to view the diamonds and make offers on how much they want to buy, in an industry that still works in an archaic way that has changed little in hundreds of years.
3. Geneva Free Port
The greatest art collection in the world is not in the Louvre or the Guggenheim — it is kept behind a barbed wire fence in a drab industrial area of Geneva in Switzerland. Geneva’s free port is estimated to contain more than 1.2 million pieces of art, as well as gold and more than 3 million bottles of wine.
Rather than hang them at home or in galleries, collectors keep their art in free ports because they do not have to pay tax on them when they are bought or sold. How much is the collection worth? Hard to say, but at one point Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev kept his collection, valued at $2B, there. It is estimated that more than 1,000 paintings just by Picasso are kept there, as well as treasures from ancient Rome and more modern paintings by Warhol.
4. Data Center, East Wenatchee, Washington State
What is the most valuable data in the world, and where is it kept? That is something of a subjective call. U.S. government intelligence services use a data center in Utah to store their secret information. WikiLeaks’ servers were previously housed inside a mountain near Stockholm.
But for pure financial value, the most valuable data in the world is housed in a data center in East Wenatchee in Washington State. That is where the servers that form BlackRock’s Aladdin computing and risk management system are housed. Aladdin is the system BlackRock uses to manage its own roughly $5 trillion of assets, and other money managers who manage a further $10 trillion also use the system. That means the system essentially analyzes and manages about 7% of the world’s financial assets.
5. Pantex Plant, Amarillo, Texas
Back to the physical world, and the Pantex nuclear plant in Texas contains one of the world’s most valuable commodities stores, and almost certainly the most deadly. The U.S. Department of Energy facility is estimated to store around 6,000 pits of plutonium, a pit being the core of a nuclear weapon. With plutonium priced at about $4K/gram, and a pit weighing about 2.5 kilograms, some top-quality back-of-a-napkin math puts the value of the stockpile there at about $60B. The Department of Energy will probably not sell you this plutonium even if you were to make it a good offer.
6. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Arctic Circle
After a major global disaster, we will need to help the planet live again, and that is where the global seed bank in the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the Arctic comes in. More than 100 meters below a mountain buried in permafrost is a seed vault with the capacity to store more than 4.5 million varieties of crop, and which houses almost 1 million. The permafrost means that even if the power goes down the seeds will be preserved. How well protected the seeds are remains to be seen, since abnormally high temperatures this year have caused the permafrost to melt and infiltrate the seed vault (though the water did not make it as far in as the seeds). Little monetary value now, but the most invaluable contents of any building in the world after the apocalypse.