27 November 2019

Royal Jewel Heist in Dresden

Grünes Gewölbe/Polizeidirektion Dresden

One of the world's oldest museums was the latest institution to suffer a royal jewelry theft when burglars stole millions of dollars worth of royal diamonds on Monday. Here are some of the details we know so far.




Grünes Gewölbe/Polizeidirektion Dresden

Thieves removed iron grates and smashed glass to gain access to the Green Vault, the treasury within Dresden Castle. A fire had disabled the alarm system, and of course police have speculated that the fire and burglary may have been coordinated events. The robbers then smashed the glass of one of the museum's display cases with an axe. The case contained more than 100 jeweled pieces, and the thieves managed to grab several diamond-encrusted items from the display before security guards alerted the police to the break-in. As of this writing, the thieves are still at large, and the jewels have not been recovered.


Grünes Gewölbe/Polizeidirektion Dresden

Several experts, including the head of Dresden's state museums, have described the stolen pieces as "priceless." The jewels date to the eighteenth century, part of a large and impressive collection assembled by Elector Augustus II of Saxony, who was also King of Poland (and known to history as "Augustus the Strong." In 1723, Augustus opened several exhibition rooms, known as the Green Vault because of the color of the walls, in Dresden Castle to the public, showing off his incredible collection of jewelry and art objects. The Green Vault was severely damaged during World War II, and the historic rooms were only reopened to the public thirteen years ago.


Grünes Gewölbe/Polizeidirektion Dresden

Police have released images of the stolen jewels. Unlike many of the tiaras and jewels often discussed here, the pieces are largely made to be worn by men. A jeweled sword, epaulettes, and order stars are among the missing items. Many of the pieces are studded with rose-cut diamonds. As my friend Svenja noted on Twitter, the three sets that were displayed in the burgled case are unique because they are "almost complete." However, only some pieces from each set were stolen; one museum official told the BBC that "criminals would have escaped with more jewelry had objects not been so well secured within their cases."


Grünes Gewölbe/Polizeidirektion Dresden

A few of the stolen pieces are jewels made for a royal woman, including a gorgeous diamond bow brooch and a stunning necklace of Saxon pearls.


Grünes Gewölbe/Polizeidirektion Dresden

The authorities have provided pictures of the stolen items, in hopes that they'll be identified and found. But many -- including me -- fear that the items pieces have already been broken up. The diamonds themselves, possibly re-cut to avoid identification, will likely be sold instead. Here's hoping that we're all wrong and the jewels are recovered.


Wikimedia Commons

But there is one bright spot in this terrible news story. The Dresden Green, one of the rarest green diamonds in the world, wasn't in its usual home in the Green Vault during this week's theft. Instead, it's currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and it's currently safe and sound.