It’s probably impossible to put a “true value” on an Olympic Gold Medal. Winning one can open the door to a world of paid endorsements, motivational speaking gigs, modeling and acting opportunities and much more. Winning several – especially across more than one single Olympic Games – can lead to enduring celebrity and possibly even “icon” status.
So while American athletes like Katie Ledecky, Jade Carey and Caeleb Dressel are probably about to leverage their shiny new Olympic Golds into many millions of dollars in the months and years to come, there is an actual, empirical value to these medals (along with the Silver and Bronze), which bear a different, unique design every four years.
Of course, like all famous sports trophies and medals, there’s always some good back stories to be told. So let’s dive into a quick history lesson first.
Some version of “Olympic competition” was first documented way back in 776 B.C.-era Olympia, Greece. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 2,797 years ago. It is not, however, 699 Olympics ago. That’s because there was a considerable “break” of 1,503 years between the Olympics, from 393 A.D. until the first “modern Olympics” in 1896.
The 1896 Olympic Games were actually the brainchild of a Frenchman named Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who first “pitched” the idea in 1894. The proud Frenchman desired to hold the Games in Paris, but delegates from 34 countries convinced him to stage them in Athens as a nod to history. At the conclusion of each event at those 1896 Olympics, first-place finishers were actually awarded Silver Medals, while the runner-up was honored with a Bronze Medal. Two Olympics later, at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Missouri, the current Gold-Silver-Bronze format was put into place at the Olympic Medal podium. It’s remained the same since.
All of this is a bit more prestigious than the olive wreath the winners of the original, Old School Olympic Games were awarded. An interesting side note: The names of all the Olympic Medal winners are also engraved into a wall at the main host stadium. Also, every athlete who finished from first through eighth in an Olympic event receives an official paper Olympic diploma. Each diploma is inscribed with the official signature of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, along with those of the organizing committee members.
The 2020 Medals
The overall design of the medals changes with every Olympic Games. For the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese designer Junichi Kawanishi created a shiny, sleek, angular, yet elemental and “natural” look for the medals, which are 85 millimeters in diameter and range from 7.7 to 12.1 millimeters in thickness. Kawanishi actually won an open competition that featured more than 400 entries, and the official Olympic Games website states that his design “is intended to symbolize diversity and represent a world where people who compete in sports and work hard are honored.” The site also says the “energy of the athletes and those who support them” is represented in the Medals’ especially light-reflective design.
Until the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden, all Olympic Gold Medals were made from solid gold. Today’s Gold Medal is actually made from gold-plated pure silver, and only consists of around 6 grams of gold (from its total weight of 556 grams). If it were to be melted down and sold tomorrow, it would likely fetch a grand total of…
The 550-gram Silver Medal is much truer in nature to its name, as it’s made from pure silver. If you melted down an Olympic Silver Medal and sold it, you’d probably get around $450.
Unfortunately, Bronze Medalists don’t ever seem to get a whole lot of love or attention (much like the “show” horses who finish third). The same goes for a Bronze Olympic Medal, which weighs around 450 grams and is actually made from a copper (95%) and zinc (5%) mix. The total value of this year’s Bronze Medal? A whopping $5. Yes, you read that right. Five dollars.
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