The Olympic medals being flashed all across TV screens worldwide catch the eye and inspire the imagination. In seeing their beauty, one might wonder just how these wonderful mementos are created. Let's take a look at the basics of the medal manufacturing process.
The Olympic medals are actually struck by a process basically the same as modern coins. The creation of the Olympic medals begins with the creation of a design model by the artist, based on an original work of art. The artist sculpts a detailed three-dimensional prototype of the design, which is then cast into plaster. Usually these are much larger than the actual medal. A specialized computer scanner is then used to transfer the digital image into a pantograph, which automatically carves the design into a steel mold used to strike the medals. Before going into production, the mold undergoes a hardening process to make it more resistant to pressure, so that it does not wear out when striking the medals. During the production powerful presses will be used on the discs of silver and bronze to fashion the image on both sides of the medal.
The International Olympic Committee has strict requirements on the design for the Olympic medals. Specifications state the materials, identification, weight, size and drawing for each type of medal. The medals for the champion and the runner-up are made of pure silver. Contrary to what many folks might believe, the champion's gold medal is not made of solid gold, but is constructed instead of solid silver covered with a heavy plated coating of gold weighing not less than six grams per each medal. The gold is applied in an electrolytic process similar to other gold, copper or chrome industrial plating operations, but the coating is thicker. The plating process takes place after the medal has been struck.
A series of flat disks of a specific size and weight are carefully prepared for the striking of the medals. As noted the first and second prize medals are make of pure silver. The disks to be struck into third place medals are made of bronze. The disks are placed in a powerful hydraulic press and the design is literally pressed into the face of the medals using thousands of pounds of force. This same method is used for virtually all monetary coinage around the world. All medals are sent to be finished by the hands of expert craftsmen in the following the disk striking phase of production. During this phase the clips used to attach the ribbons are soldered to the medals.
In 2006, the Organizing Committee for the Beijing Olympic Games launched a global campaign to solicit design proposals for the medals of the 2008 Games. A number of professional organizations, including China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University were invited to participate in the design selection process. The design campaign was sponsored by BHP Billiton, the diversified minerals and medals sponsor of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Within three months, 265 entries were sent in from 25 provinces of China , also Hong Kong and designers from America , Australia , Russia and Germany . The medal design selected for the Beijing Olympic Games was simple but elegant and attractive. T he medals represent a blend of traditional Chinese culture and the ideals of the Olympic movement. On the front, the medals feature the winged goddess of victory Nike and Panathinaikos Arena. However on the reverse (or back side) f or the first time the medals feature a circular inset of genuine Chinese jade. The finished medals are 6mm thick, which is a bit less than a quarter inch.
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