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View into the Jewel Room of the historic Green Vault. Source: Hans Christian Krass / © Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

Billion-Dollar Jewelry Heist from Green Vault in Germany

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Thieves have stolen a vast number of priceless jewels in Germany that were part of one of the most important art collections in Europe. Some have estimated that the stolen items may be valued at up to one billion dollars.

The robbery took place at the world-renowned Royal Palace in the eastern German city of Dresden. They were taken from the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe’s) at the palace, which was built by Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony, one of the most important German rulers in the 18th century. He was later elected king of Poland.

The Green Vault Holds the Royal Palace Treasures

The Green Vault is one of the oldest museums in Europe and contains many treasures, it was first opened in 1723. It has two sections, a modern and historic section and is part of the acclaimed Dresden State Art Collections.

Green Vault floorplan from 1727 with handwritten notes by Augustus the Strong marking his intentions. (Linear77 / Public Domain)

Green Vault floorplan from 1727 with handwritten notes by Augustus the Strong marking his intentions. (Linear77 / Public Domain )

The historic section of the vault is where “three-quarters of the museum’s treasures are” reports The Guardian and it is tightly guarded. The Green Vault and Royal Palace were rebuilt after they were destroyed by Allied bombing in the final days of WWII.

The daring robbery took place after there was a fire at an electrical distribution point that knocked out the alarm and left the area in darkness. Two thieves entered the museum by cutting through a fence and breaking a rear corner window. They then smashed a specially built cabinet in the Jewel Room of the Green Vault to get at the precious items .

The Well-Planned Green Vault Heist

The burglars made a quick getaway and were gone by the time the police arrived. The raid only took roughly five minutes and it was carried out in a “targeted manner” according to The Guardian . A burned-out car was found nearby and this may have been the getaway vehicle.

There is an autobahn or freeway nearby and the thieves probably used this to leave the Dresden area. It appears that they managed to escape before the police were able to set up roadblocks. However, despite the power outage, the surveillance cameras were still working and managed to record the thieves stealing the artifacts. This may provide important evidence for the investigators.

Priceless Treasures Were Stolen From the Green Vault

The thieves “made off with three collections of jewelry from the Royal House of Saxony, made of gold and precious stones ”, reports the New York Times . Among the items that were stolen were a dagger studded with diamonds, a pearl necklace, brooch, sword, and dozens of other priceless items that were once owned by the Royal House of Saxony.

The diamond rose set from 1719 was stored in the Green Vault. (Jürgen Karpinski / © SKD)

The diamond rose set from 1719 was stored in the Green Vault. ( Jürgen Karpinski / © SKD)

Three sets of diamonds, some of them brilliant-cut diamonds, that had been cut in a particularly beautiful way, were also stolen. However, a full inventory of what was taken has not been compiled and more priceless artifacts could be missing.

According to NBC News , “Some German media have reported that the value of the jewelry could top hundreds of millions of euros”. While some news outlets claim that they are worth up to a billion dollars (980 million USD / 890 million euro).

However, they are priceless to the people of Saxony and Germany and have immense cultural and historic value. The Guardian quotes the Minister-President of Saxony Michael Kretschmer, as stating that “Not only the gallery has been robbed, but also the Saxonians”.

Historic Green Vault, Jewel Room Showcase with 3 sets: The Diamond Jewelry and the Pearls of the Queens (left), Brilliant Set (center), Diamond Rose Trim (right). (Hans Christian Krass / © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden)

Historic Green Vault, Jewel Room Showcase with 3 sets: The Diamond Jewelry and the Pearls of the Queens (left), Brilliant Set (center), Diamond Rose Trim (right). (Hans Christian Krass / © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden )

Fears For The Treasure

It is highly likely that the thieves will sell the stolen treasure on the black market . Some experts fear that they will destroy the artifacts in order to sell-off the gemstones on an individual basis. If they were melted down and the stones sold off the thieves could earn themselves up to $112 million (100 million euro).

If this happens then the priceless artifacts will be lost forever. However, selling the gemstones will not be easy for the robbers, because of the cut of the stones, which means that they are easy to identify. Julian Radcliffe of The Art Loss Register stated that “Because these are 18 th century cut, they are not common for current use” reports NBC News .

Breast Star of the Polish White Eagle Order. (Jürgen Karpinski / © Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden)

Breast Star of the Polish White Eagle Order. ( Jürgen Karpinski / © Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden )

Review of Security at Museums

There is another problem for the authorities - it appears that the stolen treasures were uninsured. The government of Saxony “carried no insurance on the jewels, standard practice because the premiums typically exceed the potential damages in the longer-term” according to Bloomberg. This means that the local authorities will receive no compensation to possibly replace the stolen artifacts .

The police are urging the public to come forward with any information but there is a real possibility that the jewels may not be recovered. The thieves are likely only interested in money and do not care for the historic and cultural value of the stolen treasures.

There is now going to be a review of security at all state museums in Germany. In 2017, a huge gold coin was stolen from a museum in Berlin and the latest theft is regarded as a huge embarrassment.

Top image: View into the Jewel Room of the historic Green Vault. Source: Hans Christian Krass / © Grünes Gewölbe, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden .

By Ed Whelan

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