DRESDEN, Germany — Ax-wielding thieves broke into a historic German museum Monday and made off with parts of three jewelry sets studded with 18th-century diamonds.

The theft at the Green Vault in Dresden was completed in just a few minutes, before the suspects fled in an Audi A6, the police said Monday evening.

The value of the stolen goods is inestimable, Marion Ackermann, director general of the Dresden State Art Collections, told journalists during a joint news conference with police in the east German city.

Up to 100 objects may have been stolen from the sets, which consist of clasps, buttons, medals, epaulettes, sashes and ornaments for hats and canes, studded with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires.

According to the State Art Collections, the items stolen are some of the most valuable of the collection, including sets of diamonds, the jewel and breast star of the Polish White Eagle Order, the Great Breast Ribbon, a necklace of Saxon pearls, an epaulette and a sword set with more than 770 diamonds.

At the news conference, Ackermann said it would be impossible to sell the stolen goods on the open market due to their fame.

“Luckily, not everything was taken, much is still here,” Ackermann said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF. “Each item was individually sewn into the display.”

The Green Vault museum houses one of Europe’s oldest and best-preserved collections of treasures. The rooms of the museum feature strict controls, and during the break-in, several alarms went off, alerting the police as events unfolded.

The police were notified at 4:59 a.m. local time of the break-in, and first sent out one patrol car, then all 16 that the city had available.

Now, questions are being raised about whether the museum’s security measures were adequate.

The police have set up a special, 20-strong commission called “Epaulette,” named after the stolen goods, to track down the art thieves.

Volker Langem, the head of the criminal investigation department, said two suspects were caught on camera in the jewel chamber.

The police have released an excerpt of the video in an appeal for witnesses who can help their investigation.

The suspects entered the building through a window after cutting through a grid and breaking the glass. They used an ax to smash the glass case containing the jewels.

They are believed to have entered the “Precious Hall” and to have left through the Coat of Arms Room. “They must have known their way around,” said Dirk Syndram, the director of the museum.

The museum’s security staff members are not armed, and, Ackermann said, usually in such cases, the police are called and the staff members protected to prevent loss of life.

According to newspaper reports, the power supply to Dresden’s museum complex may have been interrupted because of a fire in an electrical box.

A spokeswoman for the Drewag energy provider confirmed that the box had to be disabled. It was not immediately clear if there was a link to the break-in but Lange said the street lights in the area were off, and the area was “completely dark.”

Police are investigating whether a vehicle found burning in an underground car park in Dresden shortly after the theft was the getaway car.

On Monday, forensics experts were at the scene, with parts of the museum cordoned off by police. The Dresden Royal Palace housing the Green Vault was closed to visitors. The sign written in English stated this was for “organizational reasons.”

Staff stood by, some in tears. One said, “It’s like a bad movie. I never thought I would have to see something like this.”

The premier of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, said that it was Saxons as a whole that had been stolen from.

The treasury was created between 1723 and 1730 at the behest of Augustus the Strong, the elector of Saxony. Competing with Louis XIV, he had sought to outshine the Sun King with his impressive array of jewels.

Nowadays, the treasury is exhibited in two sections: the Historic Green Vault is located in authentically restored rooms on the ground floor of the Dresden Royal Palace, while special individual items are exhibited in the New Green Vault one floor above.

One of the Green Vault’s most valuable pieces, a 41-carat green diamond, is currently being exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as part of its show “Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe.”

Max Hollein, the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, said, “We are 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.”

Other objects in the Dresden vault’s sumptuously decorated, ornately-gilded rooms are jewel-encrusted figurines, Martin Luther’s ring, rhinoceros-horn goblets and gold-mounted ostrich eggs.


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