Officials have unveiled the gold, silver and bronze medals that will be awarded at this summer’s Olympic games in Paris, and each one contains a unique souvenir: a fragment of scrap iron from the Eiffel Tower.
“It’s the opportunity for the athletes to bring back a piece of Paris with them,” Thierry Reboul, creative director of Paris 2024, told reporters last week, per BBC News. “The absolute symbol of Paris and France is the Eiffel Tower.”
Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower opened in 1889 after roughly two years of construction. Since then, the landmark has undergone extensive renovations, “with some of the original iron cut off and preserved over time,” as Artnet’s Adam Schrader writes. Now, some of those preserved metal fragments have found new homes.
Each new Olympic medal features a piece of Eiffel Tower iron—though the signature “Eiffel Tower brown” paint, which the structure has sported since 1968, has been removed. These pieces have been shaped into hexagons (the “geometric shape of France,” according to the games’ official website) and engraved with the words “Paris 2024,” the Olympic rings and the Games logo, “which looks like a flame or the face of a woman with a chic bob haircut,” as John Leicester of the Associated Press (AP) writes.
Joachim Roncin, head of design at the Paris Games organizing committee, says the idea came from a series of discussions.
“We realized that there’s one symbol known across the world, which is the Eiffel Tower,” he tells the AP. “We said to ourselves, ‘Hey, what if we approached the Eiffel Tower Operating Co. to see if it’s possible to get a bit of the Eiffel Tower to integrate into the medal?’”
When the Eiffel Tower Operating Company, which runs the looming tourist magnet, agreed to volunteer pieces of original iron, “the dream became reality,” adds Roncin.
The medals, designed by the luxury Paris jewelry house Chaumet, evoke the Eiffel Tower in several other ways. The pieces of iron are secured by small clasps resembling the rivets that hold the structure together, and the medals’ ribbons are adorned with patterns of the tower’s latticework structure.
The iron fragments are embedded in recycled silver, gold and bronze discs. Over 5,000 medals—2,600 for the Olympics and 2,400 for the Paralympics—are being made by the Paris Mint, per the AP.
The Olympic and Paralympic medals are identical from the front but sport different designs on the back: The former depicts Nike, the goddess of victory, holding the Olympic torch, while the latter features a view of the Eiffel Tower.
Paris last hosted the Olympics a century ago, in 1924. At that time, the medals were engraved with images of Olympians shaking hands.
Typically, Olympic medals don’t incorporate novelty materials. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the decision to use pieces of jade in the medals was considered unusual. Paris is now the first host city to include fragments of a monument.
“Having a gold medal is already something incredible,” Roncin tells the AP. “But we wanted to add this French touch, and we thought that the Eiffel Tower would be this cherry on the top.”