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Originally published February 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 23, 2008 at 6:51 AM

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As gold soars, Oscar statuette's price has climbed

With gold at an all-time high, the price of each gilded Oscar to be presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday has jumped to a record $500 from $400 last year.

Bloomberg News

The glitter on the central figure at this year's Academy Awards ceremony has never been so costly.

With gold at an all-time high, the price of each gilded Oscar to be presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday has jumped to a record $500 from $400 last year, academy spokeswoman Teni Melidonian said.

"The skyrocketing price of gold has definitely made things more expensive," said Scott Siegel, president of Chicago-based R.S. Owens, which makes the statues.

The 13 ½-inch Oscar won't be the only piece of glitz at the jewelry-studded event whose value has soared. An ounce of gold rose about 40 percent, reaching $950, in the past year as surging prices of commodities including oil boosted the metal's appeal as a hedge against inflation.

Owens began turning out the statuettes 25 years ago, when another Illinois company that had the contract went out of business, Siegel said. At the time, Owens was already producing the television industry's Emmy awards.

"We had a great deal of credibility," said Siegel, 60, whose late father, Owen Siegel, founded the company in 1938.

The closely held firm, which has about 160 employees, produces awards, trophies and commemorative plaques, Siegel said.

Clients include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, college football's Sun Bowl and Sugar Bowl, MTV and the advertising industry's Clio awards.

The 8 ½-pound Oscar depicts a knight holding a sword and standing atop a reel of film.

It is made from pewter that is plated in successive layers of copper, nickel, silver and gold, and then lacquered and buffed. The finished piece is bolted to a 2-inch high black, nickel-coated brass base.

For three years during World War II, when weapons manufacturing caused metals to become scarce, the figures were made of painted plaster.

After the awards ceremony, the prizes are sent back to the factory for plaques bearing the winners' names to be added.

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Some awards have been returned for renovation. Actress Geena Davis sent Owens the Oscar she won for her role in the 1988 film "The Accidental Tourist" after it was damaged in an earthquake.

"She sent the award back bent," said David Kogan of R.S. Owens. "It was like the leaning tower of Oscar."

Davis didn't want a new award or even a straightened one — merely one that was buffed and cleaned, Kogan said.

Since the 1950s, the academy has required all nominees to sign contracts pledging they wouldn't sell the statuettes. In 1955, serial numbers were added to deter forgery, theft and black-market transactions.

"It does happen from time to time; an Oscar will pop up whose origin we're not sure of," Siegel said. "We'll work with the academy to get it off the streets."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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