on developing a system of honors and awards — part the second

on the construction of traditional-style medals

historically, a medal is the most visible and obvious sign of an award given by a government to civilian or military personnel to mark and honor achievement.  typically, it comprises two main components, the medal itself (a small disk, usually metal, often struck with some image) and a ribbon it is suspended from.  medals are usually worn on the chest (by convention, on the left breast), less frequently around the neck or (rarely) on other parts of the body. 

traditionally, medals are constructed of two main parts – the medal itself (a metallic disk or other flat shape), and a ribbon that it’s suspended from.  generally, the whole unit should be about four inches (ten centimeters) in length, although this may be varied for aesthetic reasons, particularly with narrower ribbons.

the ribbon portion is normally a cloth strip of either satin or grosgrain – although it could be other flexible material, such as a strip of leather, or even a piece of fine-link chainmail.  for micro-scale production, we recommend grosgrain ribbon over satin, as it tends to be more forgiving of adhesive seep-through (although care should still be taken to use the adhesive sparingly).  if you use either grosgrain or satin ribbon, the use of a batteryoperated ribbon cutter (which uses a hot wire to melt through the ribbon, cutting and sealing it simultaneously) is highly recommended.

the width of the ribbon should be approximately equal to the width of the medal that will be suspended from it.  ribbons are readily available in crafting stores and the like in several different widths, including 5/8″, 7/8″, and 1.5″, and less commonly in other widths such as 1″ or 2″.  we recommend your system of honours use a standard and easily-obtained width of ribbon, such as 1.5″.  standard NATO military ribbons are 1-3/8″ but we have found this is not as easy to find in the usual shops.

the medal itself (the part that hangs from the ribbon) is normally a disk or other geometric shape, although it can also be some other relevant symbol, such as an eagle.  as noted above, the medal and the ribbon it hangs from should be approximately the same width.  additionally, all decorations you award should normally use the same width of ribbon (for aesthetic reasons when more than one are worn together), meaning all of the medals should also be about the same size.

there are several options for the medal proper – you can look for pendants or medallions of the appropriate size from stores that sell sports trophies (which often allow you to customize the center to some extent), use pendants of the appropriate size from an arts and crafts store, or even design something and have it printed on a 3D printer, an approach we are seeing more and more due to the relatively high degree of flexibility and comparatively low cost (versus having a custom medal cast).

one of our favorite ways to create a custom medal is to obtain a cabochon tray (also called a pendant tray) of diameter equal to the width of our ribbon, together with a glass or plastic cabochon of the appropriate size to nest within the depression in the cabochon tray.  we create circular artwork that can be printed and cut to fit within the tray, glue it into the tray, glue the cabochon over top, and clamp until dry.  (here we must pause to recommend a particular brand, “Judi-Kins Diamond Glaze”, which holds the parts together quite well with little or no bubbling.)  this task is made even easier by the existence of hand-held circle die cutter punches; carefully center the image in a die cutter of the correct size, squeeze it, and you have a ready-cut circle to glue into the tray. 

medal components, together with a 25mm circle die cutter for cutting the inserts

we have also considered acquiring cabochon-cut semi-precious stones of the correct size to fit into the cabochon trays – a variety of coloured stones are available, and you could easily build up a system of awards that corresponded to the different stones.

the medal and the ribbon must be joined into a single unit.  the medal will normally have a metal ring at the top, by which it’s suspended from the ribbon.  often, this is done by carefully folding down the ribbon and feeding it through the suspension ring, but this can be a difficult process to figure out.  we have found a much quicker and more forgiving way to mount medals to their ribbons – by means of a “ribbon clamp”, which is exactly what it sounds like – it is a v-shaped trough of metal with tiny teeth along the edges of the “V”, which clamps onto the end of the ribbon (with the assistance of pliers) and has a small loop that the medal’s suspension ring can latch on to.  ribbon clamps can be found in lengths corresponding to all common ribbon widths.

ribbon clamps, unattached and attached to ribbon, plus soft-jaw pliers to clamp them onto the ribbons

the last thing a medal needs is a way to attach it to the wearer’s clothing.  often this is done with a pin back, which can be found at craft stores.  typically, we fold the top of the ribbon over a small piece of plastic cut to size for the purpose, glue it (and clamp until dry), and then adhere a pin to the back.  for this task we typically use a very strong adhesive called “E6000” (which must be used in a ventilated area due to fumes).  once the adhesive has cured, the medal may be worn or awarded as appropriate.

you may want to consider providing a certificate or other document to the individual being presented with the award, as another memento of the occasion.  additionally, presenting the medal itself in a box is a professional touch that also allows the awardee to safely store it when it’s not being worn.  finally, we would encourage you to consider documenting your creations at the microphalerist archive, MEDALS (microphalerist.com) for others to see.  submission guidelines are available on the website.

author bio

King George 2.0 is the ruler of Slabovia, the chair of MicroCon 2019, and the founder of the Microphalerist Educational Archive and Library of Slabovia (MEDALS).  he resides in Toronto, Canada, with his Queen Consort, the royal mouse-catcher Schroedinger, and the trainee royal mousecatcher Madeline.

about MEDALS

the Microphalerist Educational Archive and Library of Slabovia (MEDALS) was created by royal charter signed in 2018 by His Royal Majesty King George 2.0 of Slabovia.  the archive exists to document, for the public interest, examples of awards, honors, and medals that are awarded by micronations.  the archive can be found online here.