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Antique diamond jewellery worth as much as €1bn (£855m) was stolen in a spectacular robbery at one of Germany’s most famous museums on Monday.
A gang of thieves broke into Dresden’s renowned Green Vault in the early hours of the morning and escaped with three 18th century sets of diamond jewellery.
Roland Wöller, the regional interior minister, described the robbery as “an attack on the cultural identity of all Saxons,”.
There are fears the jewellery, described as “priceless” and “irreplaceable” by the German authorities, will be melted down so the gold and diamonds can be sold on the black market.
Police were combing the vault on Monday but are believed to have little clue to the identity of those behind the heist, which appears to have been meticulously planned.
Its treasures include the “Moor with Emeralds”, a golden statute encrusted with emeralds, rubies and sapphires, and a cabinet carved from pure amber that was a gift from the King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
But the thieves are believed to have ignored bulkier items and specifically targetted the three sets of diamond jewellery.
The Green Vault also houses the former Saxon crown jewels, but its most famous gemstones are not believed to be missing.
The 41-carat Dresden Green Diamond, believed to be the largest green diamond in the world, is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Musuem in New York.
The Dresden White, a 49.7 carat diamond, and a 648-carat sapphire that was a gift from Tsar Peter I of Russia are also believed to be safe.
There were unconfirmed reports that security cameras inside the museum may still have been operative, and that footage could help identify the perpetrators.
Police rushed to the scene as soon as the alarm was raised and the entrances to Dresden’s motorways were blocked, but it appears the thieves had already escaped.
The stolen jewellery is believed to be too famous to sell intact even on the black market, leading to fears it could be broken up.
“These perpetrators know most works of art can’t be sold as a whole, but can be broken down into their components to make money. But once the works are melted down or disassembled, the art is destroyed forever,” Arthur Brand, an art detective, told Spiegel magazine.
Other theories are that the jewellery may have been stolen to order for a private collector, or that the thieves could demand a ransom for its safe return.
“Not only the state art collections were robbed, but the Saxon people,” Michael Kretschmer, the regional prime minister of Saxony said. “The treaures that can be found in the Green Vault and the Royal Palace have been hardwon by the people of Saxony over many centuries.
“You can not understand the history of our land, of our state, without the Green Vault and the Saxon state art collections.”