Texas Ranchers, Saudi Princess Put Jewels in Traum Safes

Photographer: Byron Company/Museum of the City of New York

When did safes become objects so luxurious you almost want to put them in another safe?

Traum Safe, based in New York, lets you stash those gold bars and gems inside interiors of the most gorgeous wood and leather. One safe features a revolving watch winder; another has hidden compartments for documents or seldom-worn jewelry. Safes intended for vacation homes can be programmed so that they’re impossible to open between the months of September and May.

Loot spoke with Traum’s owner, Sheela Murthy, about some of the quirks of the trade.

Loot: Most of what I know about safes comes from the movies. Is the security really so high-tech?

Murthy: You have to be quite careful with new technology -- if it’s new, it’s a technology that might fail. So there’s a whole rash of biometric safes, and if we’re asked we would provide a client with a biometric lock on a lower-end safe, but we’ll also install an alternate system in case it fails.

Loot: How much would a lower-end safe actually cost?

Murthy: Our range is from about $35,000 to $205,000, for standard sizes.

Loot: Why such a range in price?

Murthy: A $35,000 safe is much smaller, it’s lighter-weight, and it’s meant more for a condo in New York City, whereas if you have a ranch in Texas -- well, the jewelry in it can be worth the same amount, but you have less security. So you’ll need a much heavier safe.

Loot: Could someone pick the small safe up and take it away?

Murthy: It’s not just a challenge for the small safes; it’s a challenge for the 2,000-pound (907 kilos) safes as well. If you put wheels underneath it, anything can be taken away. So we bolt safes to the floor with special bolts, and in addition we have the clients connect them to their alarm system.

Loot: Do you have stories of people trying to crack your safes?

Murthy: People have tried to do things like pry one open with a crowbar, but they can’t even get started with that.

Loot: No high-end heists?

Murthy: Our safe is protected by two glass plates. So if you try to drill the lock, unless you have the exact 132nd-of-an-inch location to drill, you’re going to shatter the glass, and then the wires and deadbolts are released and the safe can’t be opened. So with two glass plates, even if you get past one, you have to know where the other one is. Nothing is impossible to open, but it’s virtually impossible.

Loot: What kind of scenario could you envision where someone actually would break into the safe?

Murthy: What opens the safe is if someone has a gun to you or your family members. Then you open the safe. If someone is looking for jewelry, we suggest you just give it to them. It’s just not worth it. By the same token, though, you can type in a special code that opens the safe, but sends an alarm that there’s a burglary in progress.

Loot: What’s the most elaborate safe you’ve ever done for a male client?

Murthy: It was in Tijuana. One of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen, and surrounded by giraffes and zebras. In his closet we built a custom walk-in safe, which is harder to do than you would imagine -- it still has to be fireproof and secure.

Loot: And for women, I assume it’s custom jewelry?

Murthy: Someone came into the store with a sack full of jewelry, a king’s ransom, and asked, “Oh, could you design a safe for this?” I said to my assistant: “Lock the door to the store, right now.”

Loot: What’s the most outrageous piece of jewelry you’ve designed a safe for?

Murthy: There was a Saudi princess living in Washington, D.C. She had a bracelet which went from her wrist to her forearm, completely hand done, with the most exquisite rubies, sapphires and emeralds. We made a little home for it in the safe.

James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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