Alaskan Natural Nugget Gold Jewelry


 

I was a prospector but now I am a miner

Who I am is Steve Phillips. I'm semi-retired now and live on a cattle farm in Shelby County. For over 30 years I owned and operated P&S Business Machines in Birmingham. I am the primary stockholder in Southern Skin Divers Supply in Birmingham, which I own with my two sons and Mark Tant.

What I am is an adventurer and explorer. I learned to dive while in the Air Force in 1965 and have stayed at it since then. While others may have hobbies, play  golf or follow sports teams, for my fun I go diving. I dive in pretty water all over the world and take other divers with me. I also dive in not as pretty water such as the rivers of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Alaska.

In 1993 I started going to Nome, Alaska during the summer to try to find gold.  Iíve gone every year since 1993 and spent most of the summer there.  I now spend three months there each year finding gold.

 

 If you want to read more about my adventures in Alaska, or see some pretty pictures from those trips, see our Alaska pages over here => ALASKA

 

 

The early years I didnít find much gold and went through a long learning curve to learn how to find and handle gold.  Now Iím able to find more gold when the weather allows me to dive in the Bering Sea.  With the experience of 40+ years of diving, Iím able to dive in bad conditions that exclude most divers and prospectors.  I was a prospector but now I am a miner.                   

 

In the Nome area there were two big gold rushes.  One was along the creeks and rivers.  This gold rush started in 1899.  I own five claims along inland creeks about 60 miles from Nome.  The gold rush brought 40,000 prospectors, miners, camp followers, and wannabees to Nome.  Most failed to find gold.  Many others did find the yellow metal that dreams are made of.

 

The second gold rush was and still is along the black sand beach of the Bering Sea in Nome.  Over 20,000 miners covered the beach with their tents and washed the gold rich sand through their sluice boxes.  Each had only a few feet of beach to work, but were able to find enough gold to pay for a steamship ticket home.  Millions of dollars worth of gold came from the beach, and the miners worked very hard to find all they could find.  They could not go into the sea.  They were not divers and did not have the equipment or skills to find the gold in the sea.  The Bering Sea is frozen most of the year and is liquid in the summer and fall.  The Bering Sea is very dangerous for divers and we must wait for ideal conditions and do not get many days some years.  One year I was only able to get out seven days in three months.  I live on land that I rent along the Bering Sea and own two seagoing gold dredges.  My sea-going ice dredge

 

Over the years I have been able to accumulate a good bit of the historic gold from the sea and inland.  I donít like the idea of selling my gold to refiners to be mixed with regular scrap gold.  Iíve been a collector most of my life and understand that some people appreciate the rare and historic items that can be found.  These gold nuggets are very unique, and they are about 21 or 22 karat gold (that's natural, placer gold about 80 - 95% pure). Only a small part of the gold I find is in nuggets, and that's because less than 1/10th of 1% of all gold recovered is in nugget form. A 1oz nugget is as rare to find as a 5 carat diamond. Most of the gold I find is gold dust and small coarse gold. Only 3% of all the gold recovered worldwide is from this type of natural placer deposits.

 

I decided that I wanted to use the gold dust to make Confederate belt buckles. This turned out to be quite a challenge. In 2006 I carried about 100ozs of gold to Virginia, and was able to get Gary Williams to cast some buckles for me using his molds that were made from original buckles. This did not work out well at all. Gary is great, but he is accustomed to working with brass, not gold. There was too much spillage and the buckles were not good. They had too many impurities and the casting made them brittle and flawed. I knew I had to work out these problems to be able to make quality buckles that we can wear. First I needed to have the gold made usable. The gold had to be refined and changed to 14 karat gold with alloys to add strength.


Ivy with an earring I madeI contacted most of the refiners in the country trying to find one who would refine and change my gold and agree to return my gold to me. The refiners would not guarantee to give me back my same gold. They said they would give me back 14 karat gold and it would be just like mine. They didnít understand how collectors are. They said I could just say it was the same gold. They didnít understand me either. Finally I was able to find a really good smaller refiner in Chicago who would and did help me. It cost about twice as much to have my gold refined and changed to 14 karat but it is worth it. I then needed someone who could cast the buckles and I needed to have molds made. Through a relic hunting friend, I was able to get a jewelry designer at Brombergís to help me. We took several reproduction buckles that Gary Williams cast from originals and one of my dug buckles and sent these to New York to have molds made. Now we can use the lost wax process to cast the buckles. Brombergís casts the buckles for me using my molds. They give them to me rough cast and I finish the buckles and polish them. So now collectors can have a solid gold Confederate buckle made with historic gold from the actual gold rush site in Nome and they are cast in molds made from original buckles. I hope relic hunters and collectors enjoy them. I know they will look good wearing them.
 

 

Iíve been able to learn how to make jewelry using my natural nuggets. You can see that and the belt buckles here:

 

Alaskan Natural Nugget Gold Jewelry

 

If you're interested, give me a call regarding prices as gold values vary.

 

Steve Phillips

Southern Skin Divers Supply

home - 205-672-9310

dive store - 205-595-3052

 

 


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