Often the medals are first glimpsed by the world when their winners are standing on the podium. But to get to that point, their journey has been just as long and challenging as that of the athletes wearing them.
World-class craftsmanship for world-class achievements
All 4700 medals for London 2012 were struck at The Royal Mint. They are the biggest and heaviest Olympic and Paralympic Games medals ever made. Each medal is 85mm in diameter. The gold and silver medals weigh 412g, whilst the bronze weighs 357g. The thickness of the medals ranges from 8-10mm.
Each medal takes about 10 hours to produce. There are 22 stages involved in the making of the London 2012 Olympic medals. And that’s not including the 21 inspections that are made at every stage or the making of the master tools used to strike the medals in the first place.
Master tools from a master
The Royal Mint struck the medals rather than cast them. Striking is technically more difficult but gives a higher quality and more accurate result.
The Chief Engraver, Gordon Summers, personally oversaw the whole process. Gordon also made the master tools needed to turn the designs into medals.
To strike a medal first you have to make the die – a three-dimensional model of the design. Each of the three elements of the obverse’s design had separate models made for them. Gordon hand sculpted Nike and used the latest technology to create the Panathenaic Stadium and the iconic Athens skyline.
A new process for the dies for the Olympic Medals had to be worked out. Normally the dies would be cut on an engraving machine. But this year’s medals are so big and deep that the technique wouldn’t produce the world-class quality expected from The Royal Mint. So instead the die was cut and squeezed against a highly finished punch.
And, to ensure no metal was lost in the striking process, The Royal Mint developed another new process that included changing the shape of the die and the blank.
The blanks that would become medals arrived at The Royal Mint from Spain packed in wooden crates.
Next they were weighed and the process of softening the edges began. Then came the first strike. This was done by hydraulic press with a pressure of 900 tonnes (equivalent to the weight of a small battleship) applied five times. Each medal was struck a total of 15 times.
After which they were edged, weighed, mounted and hand finished. Each one was chemically cleaned, scratch brushed and sand blasted to achieve a smooth matt effect followed by a ceramic and then stainless steel burnish. Only the front (obverse) is glass beaded, giving the design a contrasted finish. A clear cladding is applied for the silver and bronze only.
The medals were hallmarked by the only non-Royal Mint person involved in the whole process, the Hall-marker from Goldsmiths Hall. Every medal is engraved with the name and distance of its event.
Finally the medals were ribboned, boxed and shipped off to the Tower of London for safe keeping until the Games begin.
And so, their journey continues…