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Fears Stolen Jewels Could Be Lost To The 'Criminal Underworld'

German police are working furiously to track down the bandits behind one of the biggest, most brazen jewel heists of all time.

Surveillance video released by the police shows two thieves breaking into the 500-year-old Dresden Castle and making off with 18th century treasure from its famous Green Vault room.

One report has suggested the stolen items could be worth more than $1 billion, but the director of Dresden's state art collections, Marion Ackermann, said the real value of the jewels to Germany was "immeasurable".

German Chancellor Merkel during her visit to the Gruenes Gewoelbe in Dresden. Image: Reuters.

CBS News Roxana Saberi reports that in addition to the surveillance video, German police also released images of the exquisite items that were stolen, many of them encrusted with diamonds, rubies and sapphires and other jewels.

One of the pilfered objects is a sword with a hilt adorned by nine large diamonds and 770 smaller ones.

One of the national treasures stolen from Dresden. Image: Reuters.
One of the national treasures stolen from Dresden. Image: Reuters.
One of the national treasures stolen from Dresden. Image: Reuters.

It all vanished within minutes when two hooded thieves, caught on security camera video, used an axe to smash through a glass showcase.

Unarmed security guards saw it happening on their video screens and alerted police, but by the time they arrived the burglars had fled. An Audi A6, which police believe may have been the getaway car, was found torched in an underground parking garage in the city later on Monday.

CCTV image of the thieves breaking into the museum. Image: Reuters

Police have issued a call for any witnesses to come forward.

The drama unfolded inside Dresden Castle's 18th century Green Vault, which had held one of Europe's largest collections of treasure.

Arthur Brand, a prominent investigator of stolen art, told Saberi that such identifiable stolen artifacts would be impossible to sell on the open market.

"Art can be money. But you cannot sell it; once it's in the criminal underworld, it stays there," he said.

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Jewellery Worth Billions Of Dollars Stolen In Dramatic Museum Heist

Thieves have smashed display cases and grabbed priceless jewels from an eastern German museum in a lightning raid on one of Europe's greatest collections of treasures.

Authorities now fear the thieves might break up the jewelry, or even melt it down.

There was a small silver lining; the vault's most precious treasure, a rare 41-karat green diamond, was still sitting safely in New York on Tuesday, on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.