Art crime

Thieves steal priceless Baroque jewels from Dresden museum

After breaking in through a window at the Green Vault, the intruders grabbed three royal jewellery ensembles containing diamonds and pearls

A forensic expert searches the area around the Royal Palace that houses the Green Vault in Dresden © Photo Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/AFP/Getty

Thieves have broken into Dresden’s Green Vault museum, one of the richest treasure chambers in Europe, and stolen priceless 18th-century jewellery crafted for the Saxon elector August the Strong and his family.

Police said they were alerted at 4.59am by security personnel at the city’s Residential Palace after they saw two intruders on security cameras. The intruders broke into the museum, getting through bars on the window and reinforced glass, and then smashed a vitrine housing three ensembles of royal jewels comprising diamonds and pearls, police said. By the time police arrived on the scene five minutes later, the burglars had gone.

“The value of the pieces individually is not nearly as much as their historic value as ensembles,” says Marion Ackermann, the director of the Dresden museum authority. “We hope that their international fame will preclude their being offered on the market.” Asked whether she could imagine the thieves might melt down the jewellery to sell pieces individually, she responded that is an “awful thought”.

The Green Vault displays the baroque treasury of August the Strong—an extraordinary collection of gold, silver, diamonds, rock crystal and other precious materials crafted into unique objects. One of its key exhibits, the 41-carat Green Diamond, is currently on display in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York called Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe.

Police said that at around the same time the break-in was reported, fire fighters were called to tackle a blaze at a nearby electricity distribution box. They are investigating whether the fire, which led to a power-cut that eliminated street-lighting near the museum, is linked to the break-in. “It was completely dark,” said Volker Lange of the Dresden police.

The thieves may have escaped in a getaway car parked nearby, Lange said. Fifteen minutes after the break-in, a car with four doors open and doused with petrol was found burning in an underground garage a few kilometres away, on the way to the motorway.

“The news from Dresden is appalling and shocking,” said the German culture minister Monika Grütters in a statement. “This robbery of pieces which define our identity as a nation of culture breaks our hearts.”