Based in Lyon, Nicolas Salagnac battles to keep his know-how alive, an expertise that borrows from many forgotten values of yesteryear. At the heart of his studio, he makes matrices and upscale hallmarks to be used in the manufacture of medals and other exceptional creations.
On the road to excellence
Salganac’s grandfather was a cabinetmaker, and encouraged his grandson to turn to arts and crafts. Ultimately, it was the steel engraving workshop of the prestigious Ecole Boulle that captivated him. His encounter with workshop professor Pierre Mignon fired Salagnac’s passion for the little known occupation of engraver-medalist.
In 1994, Salagnac left Paris and moved to Lyon, where the first French medal was made more than 500 years earlier. He became an engraver and workshop leader at FIA, a prestigious company that has been creating exceptional medals since 1928. For nine years, Salagnac participated in the creation and engraving of over 5,000 matrices, front and back.
In 1997, he decided to enter the Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition. After three years of preparation and dedication, Nicolas Salagnac was honored to be recognized as the “Best Craftsman of France” by his peers in 2000.
Since 2004, Nicolas Salagnac has worked as a Form 6 teacher, guiding his students in the art of engraving. Transmitting his knowledge is of particular importance to him, “I can give back what I received when entering at the Ecole Boulle, with Pierre Mignot as my mentor.“
At the heart of his studio, surrounded by his tools of wood and steel, Salagnac draws and produces medals for prestigious institutions such as the Senate and the UN, emblematic places of French heritage such as the Palace of Versailles, and to personalities such as chef Paul Bocuse. In 2016, Salagnac became a Knight of the French National Order of Merit.
The birth of a work
Salagnac’s work starts with a drawing or a precise picture with a selected angle that represents a portion of the future masterpiece. The sculpture begins with a plasticine model, which renders the details as vividly as possible.
Once completed, an impression of the sculpture is molded in wax, which allows for a plaster mold to be made (this is the principle of “lost wax”). The bronze is molten at 1100 degrees Celsius, and then flows into the plaster mold. Once cooled, the bronze medals are hand-sanded and chiseled to refine and highlight the details.
Patina work is the final phase. The bronze is heated with a blowtorch and oxidized with products to fix the color. It is here where Nicolas uses his personal expertise to giving nuance and depth to the metal.