Last month, a one-of-a-kind Doruko (“skull”) ring created by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami was serendipitously recovered from Costa de Oro, a South Beach pawn shop just steps away from the Miami Beach Police Department’s Washington Avenue headquarters. The platinum and diamond artwork, which features Murakami’s iconic smiling daisies, had reportedly been stolen from the Delano Hotel’s Florida Room back in December 2008, after the conclusion of the Art Basel satellite fair, Design Miami.
It was spotted in the shop’s window by David Tamargo, the art director at the World Erotic Art Museum, and an upstairs neighbor to Costa de Oro. Tamargo, an artist in his own right, whose Urban Hunting has been featured here in BlackBook, stumbled upon the infamous ring purely by accident. He was surprised as anyone else to see it in a pawn shop window.
“First, I did a double take,” he told us. “Then I got closer to the window for a better look. Immediately I knew it was a Murakami. What I couldn’t imagine was why it was there. I mean, he’s one of the most famous artists on the planet!”
Murakami’s works are indeed collected by some of the world’s most recognizable names and generally sell for well into the six figures. Last month, at Christie’s auction house in London, a 2004 painting by the artist entitled “Skulls Rock” sold for 493,250 pounds (approximately $796, 651). According to police reports, the Dokuro ring’s value was estimated at $72,500. But neither Tamargo nor Costa de Oro’s Angel Parets knew that at the time.
“The shop owner told me he wanted $6000 for the ring,” continued Tamargo. “$6000! I couldn’t believe it! It was then that I knew something was wrong. So I immediately went upstairs and called Murakami’s New York office to tell them what I’d found.”
Unfortunately it was President’s Day, and the person who answered the telephone at Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki studio told Tamargo no one was in. So he left a message with his contact information and a word about his discovery. A few days later, Tamargo learned that the ring was about to be shipped to a Tokyo jewelry expo, to be either sold or scrapped, so he tried again, this time with some urgency.
“There was no way I was going to let this ring out of the country,” said Tamargo. “When no one from Murakami’s camp got in touch after the second call, I went to the bank and withdrew enough to buy it myself. By the time I got to the pawn shop I heard a Miami Beach detective had been by the museum to see me. That’s when I got the full story.”
That detective was 23-year veteran Pete Rodriguez, who handles pawn shops on Miami Beach. After Tamargo’s calls, Kaikai Kiki had contacted him regarding the theft. The detective wanted know how Tamargo had found something that was stolen over two years ago.
“The people at Kaikai Kiki were understandably suspicious,” said Detective Rodriguez. “I think they’d long written off the loss. So when David phoned claiming to know the whereabouts of the ring, they called me.”
Together, Tamargo and Rodriguez went to Costa de Oro, where owner Angel Parets not only put the ring on hold, but provided Rodriguez with the name, address and photo of the man who’d pawned it. A suspect was in custody within 48 hours.
“If you sell stolen goods to Costa de Oro,” said Parets, “you not only will be prosecuted; you will be convicted.”
While the fate of the suspect in the Murakami theft is still in question, Parets does mention that since Rodriguez came on to the detail in January of 2010 there’s been a “one hundred percent conviction rate.” Considering the way pawn shop owners are often portrayed or considered, it is an achievement Parets is understandably proud to share. The 33-year veteran of the trade is equally proud of his relationship with the Miami Beach Police Department, specifically Detective Rodriquez, who he considers “exemplary” and “outstanding.”
“Without a good relationship,” says Parets, “there’s no retrieval, no returns and no conviction. Since Pete has come on board we’ve worked closely together. And between our documentation and his resources and talents, we’re able to favorably resolve any questionable transaction.”
The detective, in turn, is equally effusive about Parets, who he credits with due diligence and eager assistance. Rodriguez also says Parets is “an upstanding citizen” and “a pretty nice guy.”
Tamargo also received Rodriquez’s thanks, as well as some credit for his “vital role” in the ring’s recovery. As the detective would come to learn from Parets, had Tamargo not stumbled upon the ring, it’s likely no one would’ve ever seen it again.
“I didn’t know Takashi Murakami,” said Parets, who still sounded surprised by the whole ordeal. “I was going to sell it for scrap. That David happened to see the ring before I could was a one-in-a-million shot. One-in-a-million. I’m glad he did though.”
We can only assume Kaikai Kiki, who had “no comment” for the story, are happy with the results. Photo Credit: Robert Harbour