Are Olympic Gold Medals Really Made Out of Pure Gold? Not Since 1912

With the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games less than six weeks away, we would like to share some Olympic trivia. Did you ever wonder… Is the ultimate prize at the Games – the coveted gold medal – really made out of pure gold? If you figure that each gold medal weighs 400 grams (14.1 ounces) and the price of gold is $1,626 per ounce, then the intrinsic value of a pure gold medal would be a tidy $22,926.

However, the answer our trivia question is “No.” The last Olympic gold medal made of pure gold was awarded 100 years ago at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then, they’ve been made primarily of gilded silver.

The Olympic bylaws require that the gold medals contain at least six grams of gold (.21 ounces). So, the Olympic gold medals of the London Games will have an intrinsic value equal to 394 grams of .925 silver ($366) and 6 grams of gold ($320). Total value: $686.

The intrinsic value of silver medals is about $366, and the bronze medals (made of copper, zinc and tin) are worth about $3.

The Olympic medals’ circular form is a metaphor for the world. Traditionally for the Summer Games, the medal depicts the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, stepping out of the depiction of the Parthenon to arrive in the Host City.

The London medals are 85mm (3.35 inches) in diameter and 7mm (slightly more than a quarter-inch) thick. According to London2012.com, they include the following symbolic on the reverse side:

  • The core emblem is an architectural expression, a metaphor for the modern city, and is deliberately jewel-like.
  • The grid suggests both a pulling together and a sense of outreach – an image of radiating energy that represents the athletes’ efforts.
  • The River Thames in the background is a symbol for London and also suggests a fluttering baroque ribbon, adding a sense of celebration.
  • The square is the final balancing motif of the design, opposing the overall circularity of the design, emphasizes its focus on the center and reinforces the sense of “place” as in a map inset.

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