This is the moment thieves smashed their way into a cabinet to steal three “priceless” diamond jewellery sets from one of the world’s oldest museums.
CCTV footage has been released of the hooded burglars inside Dresden’s Green Vault in eastern Germany making off with three sets of 18th-century jewellery, each containing 37 parts, worth an estimated €1 billion.
Police in Germany have also released images of some of the pieces of jewellery that were taken in the break-in on Monday morning.
These include a diamond-encrusted sword and an epaulet containing more than 200 diamonds.
The collection was created by Saxony’s ruler, Augustus the Strong, in 1723.
Rubies, emeralds and sapphires are also reported to be among the stolen sets from the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe).
Officials say the items are too well known to be sold on the black market, but could be broken down.
The thieves, who are still at large, entered the vault by removing part of an iron grille on a ground-floor window before smashing the glass.
Authorities said it appeared the thieves had broken open only one glass case containing three sets of Baroque jewellery made up of dozens of gems each. They later escaped in a getaway car.
“This is a bitter day for the cultural heritage of Saxony,” the state’s interior minister, Roland Woeller, said.
He said the thieves “stole cultural treasures of immeasurable worth — that is not only the material worth but also the intangible worth to the state of Saxony, which is impossible to estimate.”
Police are still carrying out forensic exams of the crime scene and museum officials said they have not yet been able to determine whether all the 100-or-so pieces were missing, but that the sets included intricate and dazzling broaches, buttons, buckles and other items.
Green Vault director Dirk Syndram stressed that the collections in the museum have “invaluable cultural value” — particularly their completeness.
“Nowhere in any other collection in Europe have jewels or sets of jewels been preserved in this form and quantity,” he said.
“The value is really in the ensemble.”
Police said they were alerted shortly before 5am on Monday by museum security guards who had spotted two burglars inside the museum on CCTV cameras.
The first officers arrived on the scene within minutes but the thieves had already fled in a waiting getaway car, which managed to elude immediate attempts to find it in the surrounding area.
“It’s not just the State Art Collections that was robbed, but us Saxons,” Michael Kretschmer, the governor of Saxony, where Dresden is located, tweeted.
“One can’t understand the history of Saxony without the Green Vault.”
Investigators are currently looking into whether a fire at an electrical junction box near the museum, which took out the streetlights at the time of the robbery, was linked to the crime.
Police said the outage affected lights in front of a window through which the thieves gained entrance, somehow getting through bars and safety glass.
Police said they were also trying to determine whether an unregistered car, found on fire nearby with all four doors open and smelling of petrol, may have been the getaway car.
Dresden’s State Art Collections director, Marion Ackermann, said it was impossible to estimate the value of the items.
“We cannot give a value because it is impossible to sell,” she said, appealing to the thieves not to break the ensembles into pieces.
“The material value doesn’t reflect the historic meaning.”
A special team of investigators has been set up to track down the thieves.
One of the museum’s most famous and precious treasures, the Dresden Green Diamond, is currently on loan with other valuable pieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for an exhibit.
The 41-carat green diamond was acquired by Augustus III, the son of Augustus the Strong, in 1742, according to the museum.