Burglars have stolen three diamond jewellery sets €1 billion 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 yesterday.
Saxony’s ruler, Augustus the Strong, created the collection in the 18th Century.
“Three out of 10 diamond sets have gone,” said Marion Ackermann, head of the Dresden state museums.
The 18th-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 said the thieves had grabbed jewels worth €1bn (£855m).
“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) yesterday, 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.