Concept & Design
Every commemorative medal begins with an idea, often a proposal from an organisation or association wishing to pay tribute to a service or campaign that is otherwise unrecognised by an official issue. An idea is then translated into pictures, photographs, badges, insignia and words that encapsulate the true essence of the medals meaning, scope and purpose. Medal designers and numismatic experts are often consulted before a medal reaches its final design stage.
Making a Die
The ultimate in modern software technology steps in at this stage – a highly skilled process of modelling the design into a digital file takes place producing a three-dimensional image of the medal. This image will be used with high precision laser cutting technology to produce the die that will be used to strike the medal. In most cases, medals will have designs on the reverse and these will invariably differ from the obverse therefore two dies must be cut. Each die must undergo rigorous cleaning and polishing processes before and after it is heat-treated. Dies are heat-treated as the forces at which they strike can cause the metal to crack and even shatter with even a very minute imperfection.
Sheets of metal, in this case copper-nickel or ‘Cupronickel’ used for its unrivalled corrosion resistance and strength, are cut using cutting tools. This produces blanks which are then stamped initially to produce a flat disc with only a rim around the edge of the medal - the medal dies will strike inside this rim. Each blank is then placed in a 900◦c furnace to soften the metal before being cleaned by passing them through a large ultra-sonic tank to ensure that they dry with no stains.
Striking the Medal
The blanks are now ready to be struck. Two dies with a negative motive of the obverse and reverse of the medal are secured into the press. Each blank is individually fed into the press and 4 strikes at between 150 and 200 tonnes per strike are applied to both sides of the medal at the same time. This enormous amount of pressure is what gives the stunning relief and attention to detail to each and every one.Each medal is then inspected and its edges dressed by hand with a file before the medal is ready to be polished and plated. In the case of the Allied Special Forces medal, at this stage the suspender bar for the ribbon is soldered on individually to each medal before being polished using a high-speed brush. At this stage the medals are cleaned again to remove any contamination – this is vital to ensure that any plating applied is to be successful and lasting. .
Depending on the medal, there are many ways to finish a medal from gold or silver plating, sand blasting and in this case nickel plated. Once plated with pure Nickel, the medals are passed through an electrophoretic dip to achieve the bright, highly polished finish.