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Oscars have a Chicago touch, literally

  • R.S. Owens company president Scott Siegel holds a newly molded Emmy award next to the finished product.
R.S. Owens company president Scott Siegel holds a newly molded Emmy award… (Adam Lukach )
February 21, 2013|By Adam Lukach, @lucheezy | RedEye

The offices of R.S. Owens & Company in Jefferson Park are littered with awards. Desks, tables and shelves all hold different kinds of trophies and statues: the shape of a man with arms outstretched, a quarterback launching a pass, a giant Pepsi can. But Owens has not been collecting or winning these shiny accolades--the company has been creating them for 75 years.

The Chicago-based company makes thousands of awards every year, the go-to makers for everything from the Cotton Bowl trophy to the Emmy statues to employee awards for a supermarket chain. Among the mess of gold and glass is one understated statue, the silhouette of a man with his hand folded neatly in front of him: the iconic Oscar statue, which has been handcrafted in Chicago for the last 30 years.

Scott Siegel, company president, has been at R.S. Owens since it started making the statues, a process that began after the statues' old makers quit the business and recommended Owens. As sort of an under-the-radar business, Sigel said, word-of-mouth is how they receive most of their clients. The company produces about 50 Oscar statues each year beginning in early January. Siegel said the Oscars get a little special treatment from all the other statues the factory makes, starting from its very composition.

A unique mixture of britannium and other alloys is hand-poured into a steel mold. After its cooled the crude statues are sanded down and polished to eliminate any imperfections, Siegel said. He turned over a preliminary Emmy in his hand and pointed out "gouges" and "impressions" up and down the statue.

The Oscars are then hand-dipped and plated in another special mixture, with heavy 24-karat gold topping off layers of copper, nickel and silver. Most statues don't receive the latter.

"By the time they're done, you can comb your hair in the reflection," Siegel said.

The security is tighter for the Oscars, too, even during production. Owens handles orders from as small as $50 for a few trophies to more than $1 million for massive trophy orders such as the Emmys, but it's the Oscars that receive the most protection.

"We cut it in half and melt it down if something goes wrong. We don't want anything to get in the wrong hands," he said. "We even lock the cart when we're moving the statues around the back."

Siegel said the company added a buzzer system to get around the back manufacturing areas during Oscar production.

That production now includes making engravings for all the nominees, Siegel said. In recent years, the Academy sprung to have all plaques ready to be placed on the awards immediately, rather than the 2- to 3-week wait winners used to have to endure while they waited for their name to be properly engraved. This way, the stars will have a chance to show off their awards at the Governor's Ball, the famous Oscar afterparty.

This year, Siegel will be able to admire the beaming stars and their matching statues, as he and his wife will attend both the ceremony and afterparty for the first time ever this year:

"It's my first year at the Governor's Ball, and it's very exciting. It's the only time that you can ever mingle with the stars."

For the stars, it will be the only time they can mingle with the man behind the company that made their historic awards, but they'll probably be more worried about the little golden man in their clutches.

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