Making of the Jade 2011 GeocacheAlaska! Geocoin

The concept for marrying the Alaska state mineral (gold) and the Alaska state gem (jade) to become the 2011 Alaskan jade geocoin was conceived in January 2011, after Michael Malvick (aka Ladybug Kids (LBK)) received his order of Welsh Slate geocoins in January 2011.  He made a suggestion to the GeocacheAlaska! Board of Directors and was given approval to proceed with exploring feasibility and cost.  A busy junior mushing season, a severely broken wrist, and a few other life details delayed further work on the project until May when Wes Skinner (aka NorthWes) and LBK slipped away from the 2011 Adopt-A-Highway CITO #1 to visit the Kobuk Valley Jade Company in Girdwood to explore viability of the concept.  Ninety-something year-old Owner Marie and her staff were very receptive to the idea and provided jade samples for us to work with for design purposes. 

 
Kobuk Valley Jade Company and Jade Boulder Parking Lot Bollard

The jade comes from the Kobuk Valley, located about 40 miles north of the Arctic circle and 150 miles northeast of Kotzebue, Alaska.  No roads lead to the area, so the jade boulders are shipped down the Kobuk River by barge.  The area is so remote that the nearby Kobuk Valley National Park receives the lowest number of visitors of any National Park.1 

Once the jade completes its 2000 mile river, sea, and road journey, the large boulders are cut into smaller slabs which are subsequently sliced into blocks that are then cut down to size as jade blanks.  The jade blanks then undergo at least a half dozen polishing steps beginning with relatively coarse grinding wheels and progressing to polishing belts with successively finer grit, finishing with 8000 grit (3 micron!) polishing compound that has to be applied to the belt in a liquid suspension. 

     
A slab being cut from the original jade boulder, a right-sized jade block, and a jade block being sliced.

     
Jade slice being cut to size for a geocoin, jade blank undergoing initial and intermediate polishing steps.

  
Final jade blank polishing step and finished jade blanks.

After querying local trophy shops and engravers and not finding anyone interested in taking on our project, LBK approached Alaskan raised Beverly Edwards (aka Frozen Buns), owner of  GxProxy, where several other Alaskan trackables had been fabricated, about focusing her laser engraver on the jade.  Frozen Buns eagerly accepted the challenge and produced samples that proved jade could be laser engraved.  With proof of concept in hand, LBK and NorthWes set about finalizing the design which required several e-mail exchanges and at least two early morning work sessions over breakfast at a local pancake house.  Edwards then took the concept a few steps further by embellishing the jade with inlaid golden foil and creating a matching acrylic proxy for cachers to release to the wild.

While the jade details were being finalized, LBK visited local jewelry stores and placed some phone calls to locate a source of Alaska-mined gold nuggets for the limited edition (LE) and extra limited editions (XLE) of the jade geocoins and located sources at Oxford Assaying and Refining Corporation in Anchorage and Indian Valley Mine at the mouth of Indian Valley along Turnagain Arm between Anchorage and Girdwood.  Oxford provided several pounds of presorted 10 and 6 screen nuggets to select from and Indian Valley Mine provided some of the 10 screen (smaller) nuggets for the XLE edition.  Even though he could never be accused of being a gold digger of another sort, Ray Menzie, (aka akgh519) always answered the call to help LBK sift  through the nuggets at Oxford to handpick those that would be affixed to the jade.  Visits to Oxford were always interesting because we could enter the building only after ringing a doorbell, the gold nugget selection was done under the unblinking gaze of security cameras, and a well-muscled and armed (but very friendly) guard would routinely wander by on the other side of the counter, while gold miners of all persuasions came and went with their pokes and samples through a separate entrance. 

Once purchased, the gold nuggets were cleaned using gentle agitation in a salt/vinegar bath and then a baking soda solution.  Gold is so soft, we were told not to polish it in a rock tumbler.  The gold nuggets were then applied to the XL and XLE editions of the jade.  Each XL jade geocoin sports a single large gold nugget representing Polaris, the North Star, and each XLE jade geocoin has a large gold nugget representing Polaris plus seven smaller gold nuggets for each of the starts in Ursa Major, the Big Dipper.  Each jade geocoin is unique because the jade and the nuggets are natural materials featuring natural variations in color, inclusions, and, in the case of the gold nuggets, shape.

Running in parallel, tracking numbers were obtained from Groundspeak and custom icons were designed by NorthWes:   

Meanwhile, Frozen Buns' amazing creativity continued to run rampant and she located jewelry-quality slider boxes for the regular edition of the geocoins and birch boxes for the XL and XLE editions of the geocoins.  She laser engraved both boxes with the GeocacheAlaska! logo and the year, and designed a golden pillow inside the birch boxes for the jade with a faux fur lid liner to keep things in place for a finishing touch. 

Finally, everything came together when Frozen Buns flew with the jade geocoins to Alaska and attended the roll-out at the Pizza and Frozen Buns Meet and Greet, held in Spenard, Alaska, on September 8, 2011. 

Final production numbers for the jade geocoins are 130 regular edition, 50 LE edition, and 20 XLE edition.  The nominal dimensions of the geocoins are 50 mm wide x 37 mm high x 6 mm thick.  The acrylic proxies measure 50 mm wide x 37 mm high x 3 mm thick.

    
Regular Jade Geocoin Front, Sample Jade Geocoin Back, Front of Limited Edition (LE) Jade Geocoin

      
Front of Extra Limited Edition (XLE) Jade Geocoin, Front of Proxy, Back of Proxy

     
Regular Edition Jade Geocoin with Proxy and Display Box, Exterior of Birch Display Box for LE Jade Geocoin,
Interior of LE Birch Display Box with LE Jade Geocoin and Proxy

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobuk_Valley_National_Park