In the early hours of Monday morning, exquisite diamond jewellery of “immeasurable worth” was stolen from the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden. The dramatic heist is possibly the largest post-war art theft in history.
“This is a bitter day for the cultural heritage of Saxony,” declared Roland Wöller, Saxony’s Interior Minister.
Audacious thieves broke into the museum, also known as the Green Vault, in a “targeted manner.” Police believe that a localised blaze was set in a nearby electricity junction box to disable alarm systems.
After removing an iron grill from a ground-floor window, the burglars entered the Baroque-style jewellery room unnoticed. CCTV footage then captures the torch-wielding suspects using an axe to smash through the museum cases. Firemen and police arrived at the Green Vault within minutes, but the suspects had already escaped the scene of the crime.
“Three out of 10 diamond sets have gone,” reported Marion Ackermann, head of the Dresden State Museums, who was “shocked by the brutality of the break-in”. Diamond encrusted swords have been stolen alongside over 100 pieces of 18th-century jewellery.
“Not only the gallery has been robbed, but also the Saxonians,” said Michael Kretschmer, Saxony’s Minister President, “you cannot understand the history of our country, or the free state of Saxony, without the Grünes Gewölbe and the state art collections of Saxony.”
As well as the immeasurable cultural value of these priceless treasures, a German newspaper has estimated that the stolen goods are worth up to €1 billion (£855 million).
Founded in 1723 by Augustus the Strong, the Green Vault is one of the world’s oldest museums and holds Europe’s largest treasure collection. The building itself is a former royal palace that has since been separated into two opulent sections.
Experts believe the thieves will find it difficult to legally sell the treasures due to their world-renowned fame and suspect that they might be broken up instead.
Dutch art crime investigator Arthur Brand supposed the “worst scenario would be professional robbers who just want the objects for their material value, the melted down gold or silver, who would take out the diamonds and sell them separately.” Ackermann reluctantly agreed with Brand, stating “that would be terrible to imagine.”
With fears that the historic jewels might be lost forever, attention now turns to preventing future thefts. “An incident like this naturally raises the question as to what can be improved, what can be done differently in future,” acknowledged Ackermann, “but there’s no such thing as 100% security.”