The small etching was stolen from a private exhibition Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey between 10:20 p.m. and 10:35 p.m.
The piece, called "The Judgment," is dated circa 1655 and is about 10-by-6 inches. Rembrandt had used one of his favorite mediums for it, a quill pen and black ink.
The lithograph was part of an exhibit at the hotel sponsored by San Francisco's Linearis Institute. The artwork had been signed on the back by Rembrandt.
A sheriff's spokesman says there was an elaborate security system in place at the hotel, and there were surveillance cameras in the lobby where the theft took place.
But thieves had the heist all mapped out.
One suspect distracted a curator so that a second suspect could take the artwork off the easel. The curator had his back turned for only 15 minutes.
"It appears to be that this was not a crime of opportunity," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "This was something that was thought out and planned."
According to an expert, Rembrandts are the most targeted by thieves after Picasso's artwork. There are 81 documented thefts over the last 100 years.
One art theft expert says those who steal Rembrandts are not the type of thieves seen in movies.
"They're usually low-level criminals, most likely local, almost always prompted by the idea of monetizing their stolen painting, but also almost always unsuccessful," said stolen art investigator Anthony Amore.
Thieves would be unsuccessful because Rembrandts' works are highly recognizable to art collectors and media attention surrounding the theft would make would-be buyers aware the piece is stolen.
Louis Stern, an international art dealer who owns and operates a gallery in West Hollywood, has helped the Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney prosecute art thefts.
"Works by Rembrandt and other old masters are very scarce," he said.
According to Stern, the stolen Rembrandt is worthless without its authenticity substantiated.
Anyone with information is urged to call the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Marina del Rey station at (310) 482-6000.