Burglars have stolen three diamond jewelery sets from one of Europe’s largest treasure collections – the Dresden Green Vault in eastern Germany.
The sets consist of 37 parts each, and the thieves may try to break them up.
Dresden police and museum officials say they are still trying to establish exactly how much was stolen in the break-in early on Monday.
Saxony’s ruler, Augustus the Strong, created the collection in the 18 Th Century.
“Three out of 10 diamond sets have gone, “said Marion Ackermann, head of the Dresden state museums.
The 18 th-Century sets are reported to also include some rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
Dozens of police cars are at the scene and the Green Vault is now shut. The thieves – still on the run – got in by removing part of an iron grille on a ground-floor window, then smashing the glass.
Ms Ackermann described the jewels as “priceless – we can’t put a figure on it”.
Earlier, the popular German daily Bild saidthe thieves had grabbed jewelsworth € 1bn (£ 855 m).
“The items cannot be sold on the art market legally – they’re too well known,” said Ms Ackermann.
She said the cultural value of the unique collection was far greater than its material value.
Police are examining CCTV footage, which shows two suspects in the dark. But there could have been more involved in the robbery.
Ms Ackermann said the museum had guards on duty at night.
It is called the Green Vault because some rooms were decorated with malachite-green paint. It is housed in the Residenzschloss – a former royal palace.
At about 05: 00 (04: 00 GMT) on Monday, firefighters were called to tackle a fire in a nearby electricity junction box. There is speculation that the fire disabled the museum’s alarm system. It put out some of the street lights.
The most valuable items are in the palace’s historic section on the ground floor.
Police say a car found to be burning in Dresden early on Monday may have been the getaway vehicle set ablaze by the burglars.
The treasures include a figure of a moor studded with emeralds and a 648 – carat sapphire – a royal gift from Russia’s Tsar Peter the Great.
Saxony’s minister-president, Michael Kretschmer, voiced outrage at the crime, saying “not only were the state art collections burgled, but the people of Saxony too “.
“The valuables housed in the Green Vault and Residenzschloss were acquired by people in the Saxony Free State with difficulty, over many centuries.” He said the collection was an integral part of Saxony’s history.
The Green Vault collection is housed in eight ornate rooms. Three were destroyed by Allied bombing in World War Two, but after the war, the museum was restored to its previous glory.
The collection was founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723. He was Elector of Saxony (a German prince entitled to take part in the election of the emperor) and later King of Poland.
There are about 3, 00 0 items of jewelery and other treasures decorated with gold, silver, ivory and pearl.
One of the most valuable jewels is a 41 – carat green diamond currently on show in New York.
More major jewel heists
July 2018 –Thieves take two 17 th-Century crowns and an orb worth millions of dollars from a cathedral near Stockholm before making a dramatic escape by a speedboat; a Swedish man is later jailed for the theft
April 2015– A group of men – mostly in their 60 s and 70 s – drill into a safety deposit vault in London’s Hatton Garden, taking £ 13 .7m ($ 18 m; € 15. 4m) in gold, cash and gems
July 2013– An armed man takes jewels worth about € (m ($) m; £ 36 m) from a hotel jewelery exhibition in the French Riviera resort of Cannes
August 2009– Armed men take jewelery worth £ 40 m ($) m; € 45 m) in a raid on the Graff Diamonds shop in central London
February 2005 –An armed gang disguised as airport workers hijack a lorry carrying € 75 m ($) m; £ 67 m) of diamonds and other jewels at Amsterdam airport
February 2003– Robbers steal jewels, then worth € 100 m (now $ M; £ (m), from the Antwerp Diamond Center in Belgium