Germany jewelry heist surveillance video shows thieves break case with ax before swiping ‘priceless’ gems

Brazen thieves who stole priceless 18th-century diamonds from a museum in Germany used an ax to break down a glass case, surveillance video shows.

German police released the video as they searched for the professional crooks who broke into Dresden's Green Vault – one of the world’s oldest museums – around 5 a.m. Monday and took 100 pieces from three diamond ensembles. Germany media value the loss at $1.4 billion.

“In total, the entire crime only took a few minutes,” police said in a statement. Photos of the priceless jewels were also released.

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This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows a big breast bow from the jewelry that was stolen from the Green Vault early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden. 

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows a big breast bow from the jewelry that was stolen from the Green Vault early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden.  (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/Juergen Karpinski via AP)

In the video, two crooks can be seen using a flashlight before one of them is spotted swinging an ax multiple times at the displace case.

Unarmed museum guards called police after spotting the burglars inside the downtown museum.

The first officers arrived on the scene within minutes but the thieves had already fled in a waiting car.

Police confirmed that the thieves’ getaway car, an Audi A6, was found in an underground garage where it has been torched.

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows jewels that were stolen from the Green Vault early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden, Germany.

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows jewels that were stolen from the Green Vault early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden, Germany. (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/Juergen Karpinski via AP)

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The treasury of Augustus the Strong of Saxony was established in 1723 and today contains around 4,000 objects of gold, precious stones and other materials on display.

One of its most famous and precious treasures, the Dresden Green Diamond, is currently on loan with other valuable pieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for an exhibit.

The 41-carat green diamond was acquired by Augustus III, the son of Augustus the Strong, in 1742, according to the museum.

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows jewels that were stolen from the Green Vault early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden, Germany.

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows jewels that were stolen from the Green Vault early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden, Germany. (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/Juergen Karpinski via AP)

Experts believe that the stolen jewels may never be seen again as they would be impossible to sell on the open market. They are so recognizable, the thieves are likely to break them up.

Destroying the gems would be a terrible idea, Dresden state museums head Marion Ackermann told the BBC.

"We are talking here about items of inestimable art-historical and cultural-historical value," she said. "We cannot put an exact value on them because they are priceless."

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Green Vault director Dirk Syndram stressed that the collections in the museum have “invaluable cultural value” — particularly their completeness.

“Nowhere in any other collection in Europe have jewels or sets of jewels been preserved in this form and quantity,” he said. “The value is really in the ensemble.”

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows the Jewellery Room of the Green Vault with the display cases, left, showing the part of the collection that was affected by the robbery early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden. (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/David Brandt via AP)

This undated photo provided by the State Art Collection in Dresden on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, shows the Jewellery Room of the Green Vault with the display cases, left, showing the part of the collection that was affected by the robbery early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019 morning in Dresden. (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden/David Brandt via AP)

Investigators suspect that a fire at an electrical junction box near the museum, which took out the streetlights at the time of the robbery, was linked to the crime, police said. The outage affected lights in front of a window through which the thieves gained entrance, somehow getting through bars and safety glass to reach the Jewel Room.

The founder of Art Recovery International, Christopher Marinello, told the BBC that museums like the Green Vault were "under siege by barbarian criminal gangs who melt down gold and carve out precious stones with no regard to the importance of cultural heritage."

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The firm describes itself as "a behind the scenes force" in the art world.

"I knew exactly what was going to happen once I heard what was taken - that we were not going to see these items remain intact,” Marinello told the BBC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.