Ever Admire a Coin's Design? Now Imagine it's the Size of a CD...
“…with some serious weight to boot,” says Senior Engraver Stan Witten as he gently bounces his open palm to mimic holding one of the Mint’s most prodigious, and rare masterpieces, “and about half an inch thick.”
An engraver at the Mint for 28 years, Witten recounts the excitement that rippled through the engraving department when the idea of striking a full kilogram of silver or gold first came up.
“The Mint has always been innovating, but the new effects were generally being applied to ‘standard’ coin sizes. The Kilo Coin was a breakthrough in and of itself. Suddenly, we had a huge ‘canvas’ to create bigger, more intricate designs like never before.”
Engravers are the critical bridge between design and production. They take the artist’s 2D line drawing and re-interpret it as a 3D sculpture that will be struck onto the coin, all the while considering the physics of how a particular metal will respond when it’s struck under hundreds of tons of pressure.
“The creative opportunities grew exponentially with the Kilo Coins,” says Witten, “but so did the challenges. When you have so much space to work with, you can include much more detail and a greater sense of perspective. But those sharp details in the foreground, and softer elements in the background have to be reproduced by the die that strikes the coin. Our Kilo Coins are continuously pushing the limit of how much relief we can create.”
Kilo Coins are works of art like sculptures or medals. The deeply carved areas get filled with shadow, while raised edges are highlighted. This enhances the design and really brings it to life.
“It’s much richer, much more tactile than the flatter line engraving one normally sees on a circulation coin, for example,” says Witten, “When it comes to Kilo Coins, it’s not enough to just look at it, you want to hold it in your hand, to feel it, experience it.”
Excellence at every turn.
Jamie Desrochers, a Product Manager at the Mint who’s responsible for managing every aspect of a coin’s journey from the genesis of its theme through to production, says that Kilo Coins are pure artistic genius that showcase the pinnacle of an engraver’s skills.
“Our engravers have to be highly creative AND incredibly technical so the coin can actually be manufactured. They are masters at creating true bas-relief 3D sculptures from the artist’s line drawing, and deciding which finish goes where to achieve breathtaking results. Nobody works the frosted finish the way we do. It’s one of the factors that keeps our coins soaring above all others.”
In order to maximize the visual effect of the coin’s CD-sized surface, designs tend to be realistic and intricate rather than abstract or stylized. Every detail is clearly visible. There’s no room for mistakes. For Kilo Coins, Desrochers opts for artists with a penchant for minutia and fine arts. Their artistic ability has to be world class.
The Mint moved into the uncharted territory of Kilo Coins in 2007, and its first issue was a triumph. The Early Canada Kilo Coin was produced in anticipation of the Olympic Winter Games with a Vancouver 2010 privy mark on the obverse, and a stunning design celebrating Canada’s wildlife, geography and Aboriginal history on the reverse.
Stan Witten was thrilled and honoured to be both artist and engraver for this coin, “I’ve engraved ten Kilo Coins to date, but the Early Canada Coin will always stand out as one of my favourites because it was the first, and the subject matter is something that really interests me.
Fine Gold Kilo Coin - Early Canada (2007)
“Creating a coin design of that size, with that level of detail was incredible. Engraving took double the time of a standard coin, and I’m really proud of the result. The wreath-like border was a real technical challenge because of the way metal flows when it’s struck under so much pressure—it’s almost impossible to strike any detail along the outer edge of a coin, but we did it.”
Witten engraved the Early Canada design on a 13-inch diameter plaster disk, which was then scanned with a 3D laser scanner and the die cut with CNC (computer numerical control). In just a few short years, the technology has changed dramatically—engravers now use 3D sculpting software and engrave their designs on a Wacom tablet which allows them to achieve infinite detail at very high resolution.
According to Desrochers, the 2017 Kilo Coin celebrating the Canadian Coin Collection is a groundbreaking example just how far the Mint’s capabilities have come, “This coin delivers an incredible 3D view into a pile of life-size circulation coins that tell the Canadian story. It’s a feat of artistry, engineering and logistics. Everything about this coin had to be built from the ground up.”
The Canadian Coin Collection - Pure Silver One Kilogram Ultra-High Relief Coin
As the engravers and R&D team bring the latest creative ideas to life, new advances are made. Witten recalls the 2010 West Coast Native Art Kilo Coin that featured enamel on its eagle design. Much was learned from applying enamel to such a large surface that has since optimized its use on standard-sized commemorative coins.
Other special effects include a hologram, selective colour and gold plating, even a maple leaf-shaped coin that have stunned art and coin collectors alike, with mintages as low as 10 coins to heighten the exclusivity and prestige of these remarkable works of art.
What’s next? Witten and Desrochers agree that collectors will be absolutely amazed by the latest, top-secret Kilo Coin soon to be released.
“It’s another quantum leap forward in our artistry and technology,” says Desrochers, ““I’ve seen this coin in person, and still can’t believe it. A huge shout-out to my colleague Yudi Harsono, Engraving, and the R&D team. Our Kilo Coins have delivered one superlative after another—and we’ll keep raising the bar.”