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Gem's value sank like a rock

Tourist's rare benitoite worth far less than $50,000

September 17, 2013|Bob Pool
  • Henry Carradine, left, and his Austrian girlfriend, Karina Ille, look at the rare star-shaped benitoite gem they found during a visit to an open-pit mine near Coalinga, Calif., in August. The gem had been valued by one Vienna newspaper at $50,000, but officials later determined it to be worth far less: 365 euros, or roughly $487.
Henry Carradine, left, and his Austrian girlfriend, Karina Ille, look… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

The tiny star-shaped gem that Vienna violin student Karina Ille discovered last month during a visit to California had turned her into a media star by the time she returned to her home in Austria.

The 21-year-old tourist and her boyfriend, Henry Carradine, discovered the unusual stone -- a deep-blue piece of benitoite -- Aug. 11 at an open-pit mine near the Central Valley town of Coalinga.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 18, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Rare gem: In the Sept. 17 LATExtra section, a photo that accompanied an article about the value of a star-shaped gem found by an Austrian student did not show the gem in question but another piece of benitoite. The same photo also was published with an article in the Aug. 18 California section announcing the discovery.

Visitors there pay $70 to spend the day digging through the rubble and can take home any benitoite they find.

Because San Benito County is the only place in the world where gemstone-quality benitoite is found, it was designated California's state gem in 1985.

The Times published an account of her discovery, and Austrian newspapers picked up on the story about the music students' rare gem. One Vienna paper even placed a value on Ille's find: $50,000.

Trouble is, that paper apparently plucked that valuation out of thin air.

David Schreiner, owner of the California State Gem Mine where Ille's benitoite was discovered, had refused to put a value estimate on it.

The most sought-after benitoite star is the six-pointed "star of David," which can be worth as much as $50,000. Only about two dozen are known to exist.

Ille's tiny star has only five points, still a rare find.

"I really got excited by seeing that. Benitoite is the rarest gem in the world and stars are rare," Schreiner said at the time. He recalled giving Ille a cotton-filled pill bottle to protect the gem.

"What she found is worth a lot of money. I'd probably put a price on it too low," he said.

When Ille got to customs, Austrian officials apparently put their stock in the Vienna newspaper's story.

Agents confiscated the blue crystal and announced they would be fining her and charging 20% of the star's value because she had failed to declare that it was worth so much.

They also said that they would have the gem appraised themselves.

"She and Henry are being treated like criminals," Carolyn Carradine said earlier this month.

Her son, whose uncles are Keith Carradine and the late David Carradine, is studying in Vienna to become a symphony pianist.

"She had no idea what it was worth when she came home," she said. The only value they were aware of, she said, was the fee to spend the day mining.

Carolyn Carradine, an actress and artist, and Christopher Carradine, an architect and former Disney Imagineer, were in Vienna on Monday visiting their son when Ille received word that Austrian officials had finally determined the star's value.

Three hundred and sixty-five euros, or roughly $487.

"The limit is 430 euros, so there is no duty or fine," Carolyn Carradine reported from Vienna.

Better yet, Austrian officials said they are returning the benitoite star to the music student.

--

bob.pool@latimes.com

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