The medals awarded at this year’s Paris Olympics and Paralympics will feature a hexagon-shaped piece of iron taken from the original Eiffel Tower in their centre, organisers said as they unveiled the design on Thursday.
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All 5,084 gold, silver and bronze medals for the Paris Games will feature the six-edged metal medallion which will be set like a gemstone in the design by elite French jewellery house Chaumet.
“We wanted to offer to all medal winners at the Paris Olympics and Paralympics a piece of the Eiffel Tower from 1889,” said the head of the local organising committee, Tony Estanguet, at a televised ceremony.
They will be “a combination of the most precious metals from the medals — gold, silver and bronze — with the most precious metal in our country, from this treasure that is the Eiffel Tower,” he explained.
The design by Chaumet, whose creations have adorned aristocrats and the affluent since 1780, also features a circular arrangement of ridges intended to catch the light and evoke the sun’s rays.
The iron hexagon — a shape which echoes the contours of mainland France — is held in place by six spurs on each corner which are intended to resemble the rivets used on the Eiffel Tower.
The metal was taken from a Paris warehouse used to stock offcuts by the operating company which maintains the 330-metre (1,083-foot) landmark, known affectionately as the “Old Lady” in France.
“We found out that over the years during the maintenance of the Eiffel Tower that they were obliged to remove some of the original structure,” Thierry Reboul, the director of branding and ceremonies, explained during an advance preview of the medals for AFP and other media.
“We used these pieces. There were more than enough of them.”
Medal design is a key part of each Games’ aesthetic, along with the logo, mascots and opening ceremony.
Since 2004, the back of all medals show the Greek goddess Nike flying into the historic Panathinaikos stadium in Athens, site of the original Olympic Games of antiquity.
Paris organisers squeezed a concession from the International Olympic Committee, enabling them to slightly alter the design to add an Eiffel Tower to the scene.
All the metal used in the Paris medals, which weigh around half a kilogramme, has been recycled.
The last Olympics in Tokyo saw Japanese organisers also incorporate recycled metal, with each medal moulded from alloys extracted from used consumer electronics such as mobile phones and laptops.
‘Like a precious stone’
Though designed by Chaumet, the medals will be manufactured by the French national mint, which has strongly denied a recent report that it has struggled to find a non-toxic agent with which to coat each one.
The puddle iron used in the construction of the Eiffel Tower in particular needs protection from air and humidity to prevent it from oxidizing.
“We’ve not had any issue with this,” Joachim Roncin, head of design for the Paris Games, told reporters.
Chaumet, which counted tower designer Gustav Eiffel as a client as well as Napoleon’s family, is one of more than 70 leading luxury brands owned by French conglomerate LVMH, a major Paris Olympics sponsor.
“It’s not a medal that we are presenting today. It’s a work of art that sums up the spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics,” Antoine Arnault, LVMH executive and son of founder Bernard Arnault, said at the ceremony Thursday.
Headquartered in the exclusive Place Vendome in Paris, Chaumet’s work more usually involves handling one-off orders from royalty and billionaires for diamond-studded high jewellery for marriages and high-society parties.
“We knew that everyone was going to be looking at this event in 2024 and we knew we couldn’t afford to trip up,” the head of Chaumet’s jewellery atelier, Benoit Verhulle, said.
“We decided to treat the piece of Eiffel Tower like a precious stone. We set it using our expertise as a jewellery house,” he said.
The Eiffel Tower is set to have a central role during the Games which will run from July 26-August 11 and the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.
The opening ceremony will see national teams sail down the river Seine and disembark opposite the landmark, while there is speculation that the Olympic flame will be placed on the tower for the duration of the Games.
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