German authorities released surveillance video Monday that showed thieves using an ax to break into one of Europe’s most important collections of royal treasures and steal dozens of pieces of jewelry.
The video shows two people walking into Dresden’s Grünes Gewölbe museum, or the Green Vault, after smashing a window overnight to gain entry.
Using a flashlight, the pair appears to immediately target a display case. One of the thieves can then be seen repeatedly swinging an ax at it.
Authorities have said the thieves stole roughly 100 pieces of royal jewelry from the collection founded in the 18th century in the German state of Saxony by August the Strong, a Saxon ruler who later served as the king of Poland.
In an interview with the public broadcaster ZDF, State Art Collections Director Marion Ackermann said the burglars weren’t able to steal all of the pieces from the three sets of jewelry that they appear to have targeted.
The jewelry was sewn into the surface of the cabinet, she said, and some of those pieces remained at the museum Monday.
The burglary took just a few minutes, and witnesses described the thieves' getaway car as an Audi A6 — the same car that was found burnt out in an underground garage nearby, police in Dresden said Monday.
Authorities said the car was still being investigated, as was a fire at a power substation that shut down street lighting in the area.
German media have reported that the value of the stolen jewelry could top hundreds of millions of euros, though Ackerman has said their value was “priceless.”
Saxony’s interior minister, Roland Woeller, told reporters that the cultural loss was “inestimable.”
“The whole of Saxony was stolen from,” Woeller said. “This is an attack on the cultural identity of all Saxons and the state of Saxony.”
Among the museum's pieces are an 18th century golden coffee set and a table-size sculpture of an Indian royal court from the 18th century, made out of gold, silver, enamel, precious stones and pearls, The Associated Press reported.
One of the museum's most famous pieces, the 41-carat “Green Diamond,” was on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time of the heist.
In a statement, Met Director Max Hollein said the museum was “devastated to hear of this theft. The Met, and I am sure the entire museum community, is hoping for the immediate and safe return of these most important pieces.“