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North Side jewelry heist like something out of ‘Mission: Impossible'

Melissa Quick, co-owner of Steve Quick Jeweler, 2471 N. Clark Street in Chicago, shows the safe and location where burglars drilled their way into a safe by gaining access through a next door restaurant and stealing $500,000 in jewels earlier this week. February 10, 2012 | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

The room still carried the acrid smell of scorched metal – two days after the heist.

Around the edges of the fist-sized hole gouged through three inches of steel and concrete in the back of the safe, something glittered in the dust – tiny jewels the thieves didn’t want.

“They knew exactly what they were doing and exactly what they were looking for,” Steve Quick, co-owner of the Lincoln Park jewelry store of the same name, explained Friday.

Sometime before the jeweler’s opened Wednesday morning, thieves broke into Quick’s store, at 2471 N. Clark, making off with about $500,000 in rare, loose gems and gold.

It wasn’t so much what was stolen, but how the burglary went down that amazes Quick.

“I don’t want to get all ‘Mission: Impossible,’ but someone either knew where they were going, which would mean they had inside information . . . or they were extremely savvy criminals,” Quick said.

As best as Quick can figure: The thieves broke into the sushi restaurant next door after hours; cut through the drywall between the two businesses; crawled along the floor inside the jewelry store, evading the infrared motion sensors; and then used a diamond saw blade to cut into the back of the two-ton safe.

A wet carpet behind the safe and scattered Miller Lite beer bottles are evidence the thieves likely used the beer – taken from the restaurant – to cool the blade as it cut into the steel and concrete, Quick said.

Blinking infrared sensors dot the walls of the office where the safe is kept. There’s only a tiny strip – the five-foot-long distance from the hole in the sushi restaurant wall to the back of the safe – that provides any cover from the sensors, something the thieves must have known, Quick said.

“It was a very tiny blind spot we didn’t realize we had,” said Melissa Quick, the store’s co-owner and Steve Quick’s wife.

Chicago Police had little information about the burglary Friday, other than to say no one is in custody.

The thieves left behind pearls, citrine and some small tanzanite beads. They tossed aside the gold-plated jewelry. Among the items they stole were rare gems Quick had spent decades collecting – mint-colored tourmaline from Afghanistan, several opals, a violet-colored sapphire.

“They were things he’d really fallen in love with and bought, knowing he might design a piece of jewelry, and now it’s all gone,” Melissa Quick said.

Insurance will cover some, but not all of the loss, Steve Quick said.

It isn’t the first time things have been plundered from the store.

The Quicks, who have been in business for 25 years, were robbed in 1996.

“We’ve had people come in and switch diamonds – you name it, it happens,” Steve Quick said. “It’s part of what we do.”