'Priceless' cultural treasures stolen in German jewellery heist

The jewels was taken from the Grüne Gewölbe (Green Vault).
The jewels was taken from the Grüne Gewölbe (Green Vault). Photo credit: Getty

A jewellery heist in Germany has seen thieves nab cultural treasures worth as much as 1 billion euro (NZ$ 1.7 billion).

The jewellery - which has "immeasurable worth" - was taken from the Grüne Gewölbe (Green Vault) in the city of Dresden on Monday (local time).

Thieves entered the museum at dawn after a fire at an electrical distribution point nearby led to power being cut in the area and the museum's alarm being deactivated.

They smashed a window and cut through a fence before entering the museum's Jewel Room, where they broke open a display cabinet and nabbed three diamond jewellery sets.

Police arrived on the scene just before 5am, but it was too late. A burning car found early on Monday may have been the crooks' getaway vehicle, police believe.

Roadblocks have been set up on motorways around the city but the thieves remain on the loose.

The value of the lost treasures has been called "priceless".

"We cannot give a value because it is impossible to sell," Marion Ackermann, director of Dresden's state art collections told The Guardian. "The material value doesn’t reflect the historic meaning."

German media have put the value as high as 1 billion euro.

"The items cannot be sold on the art market legally - they're too well known," Ackerman told the BBC.

She said there were fears the thieves would break the collection into pieces.

The collection was created in 1723 by the ruler of Saxony, Augustus the Strong.

"Three out of 10 diamond sets have gone," said Ackermann. 

 The Grüne Gewölbe is one of the oldest museums in Europe.