Paris 2024: a bit of the Eiffel Tower at the heart of the Olympic and Paralympic medals

A piece of iron, originally intended for the Eiffel Tower and cut into the shape of a hexagon: it is this symbol of France which will be set on the medals of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, adorning the necks of the athletes

Paris 2024: a bit of the Eiffel Tower at the heart of the Olympic and Paralympic medals

A piece of iron, originally intended for the Eiffel Tower and cut into the shape of a hexagon: it is this symbol of France which will be set on the medals of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, adorning the necks of the athletes. The design of these 5,000 rewards was revealed on Thursday February 8, jointly by the organizer of the event and one of its main partners, LVMH.

By signing a “premium” sponsorship contract worth 150 million euros with the Organizing Committee (Cojop), Bernard Arnault's luxury group ensured that some of its major houses, such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Berluti , would be used to dress French athletes, in exchange for incomparable exposure – several billion viewers expected.

For the medals, it was neither Tiffany nor Bulgari, the group's most successful jewelers, but with New York and Roman roots, that LVMH dispatched: Chaumet, founded in 1780, established on Place Vendôme and boasting Napoleonic romanticism, was leaving with a head start. Supplier to the Empress Joséphine, “Chaumet created the coronation sword of Napoleon [in 1804], the tiara of Pope Pius VII, but an Olympic medal, never! For us, this will be a milestone,” rejoices Benoît Verhulle, workshop manager since 2017.

It is also the first time in the history of the Games that the design of the medals has been entrusted to a jeweler. Their manufacture will be carried out by the Paris Mint, as in 1924. At the time, it was the engraver André Rivaud (1892-1951) who was responsible for imagining the motifs sculpted in the metal: a harp and an arch of sports equipment on the front; a standing athlete helping another, seated, to get up, on the obverse.

Imponderable criteria

A century later, Chaumet delved into its archives, but the company found that it was navigating anything but familiar territory, having only signed medals for commemorations of the early 20th century, weddings or various professional conferences. As for his flirtation with sport, it was limited to a few silver-gilt clips in the shape of golf clubs, made in the 1970s to mark certain tournaments.

Of the thirty employees in the workshop today, usually busy working on tiaras, rings or fine jewelry necklaces, only five were made aware of the Olympic project and contributed to it for more than a year.

The Committee's order specified imponderable criteria – a diameter of 85 millimeters, a weight ranging from 455 grams for bronze to 539 grams for gold – and the wish that fragments of puddled iron plates (freed of excess carbon) of the Eiffel Tower, stamped with the Paris 2024 logo, should be used (18 grams per medal).

“These plaques were stored in a secret location to compensate for possible repairs to the monument,” explains Joachim Roncin, design director of Paris 2024. “We first had to have them stripped and unleaded, before carrying out tests. »

“As you would a precious stone.”

Research sketches, gouache, resin prototypes… “We finally decided to cut the iron into a hexagon, center it and set it as you would a precious stone,” explains Clémentine Massonnat, design manager at Chaumet.

“So that the gaze converges towards it, we then developed around it, on gold, silver or bronze, a faceting of irregular rays”, a graphic motif which appeared on tiaras in archives estimated between 1880 and 1910. “It allows the medal to reflect the light as much as possible and make the athlete wearing it sparkle. »

On the back, the Olympic medals feature, as tradition requires, the goddess of victory Athena Nike near the Panathenaic Stadium and the Acropolis. This time, Chaumet has added, in the right corner of the drawing, an Eiffel Tower, despite the geographical plausibility...

The reverse of the Paralympic medals was given carte blanche: Cojop and the jeweler's teams agreed to represent a low-angle view of the Eiffel Tower.

Gustave Eiffel himself had been a Chaumet client, LVMH likes to point out, always eager to perfect its storytelling. In January 1890, crowned by the triumphant inauguration of his monument at the Universal Exhibition of 1889, he had ordered, as the invoice book attests, a necklace of two rows of fine pearls for the wedding of his daughter Valentine.