Ever held the euro coin in your hand and wondered, who came up with the design? Meet Luc Luycx, the designer of the euro coins and proponent of a united Europe.
Mould, diameter, drawing, bas-relief.
A strange association of words, yet behind them we find one of the symbols of Europe: the euro. The man behind the design of the reverse side of the series of eight euro coins is Luc Luycx, a Belgian coin designer and proponent of a united Europe. Twenty years after the euro entered into circulation, we look back at his story and how he came to design the single currency of the then 19 Member States of the European Union.
Your art is very popular. Very few designers in the world can claim with certainty that their work has been replicated 130 billion times! Yet, that is the number of euro coins currently in circulation — and they are seen on a daily basis by 340 million citizens living in the European Union. How did you come up with the design for the coins?
The fact that this project is linked to the European Union genuinely motivated me from the very outset. I began the entire creative process by reflecting on Europe’s achievements and goals. I started to draw my first sketches based simply on the map of Europe, while keeping in mind the notion of the continent’s permanent evolution.
In 1996, the euro area Member States decided that all euro coins would have a common European side, while the other side would be reserved for national designs. They decided to organise a competition, which you won with your series. Can you tell us more about the competition?
I enjoy being creative and I love my job, hence the justification for taking part in the competition; it made complete sense to me. Coins have always played an important part in my life: back then, like now, I was working as a designer for the Royal Mint of Belgium. As soon as I signed up for the competition, the adventure began. I received a whole series of recommendations and then proceeded to sketch my first drafts, in colour and in 2D, on A4 paper, respecting the diameter of 15 cm for the coins.
I then sent my final draft to the Royal Mint of Belgium and it was submitted to a selection board. My drawing and those of two other candidates were selected at the national level in Belgium. Designing of the bas-reliefs — plaster casts of each coin — could then begin prior to the next stage of the competition. There were actually 36 projects selected from all over Europe.
I designed a total of ten bas-reliefs comprising the 8 currency values plus the second copy of the €1 and €2 coins where a space had to be left for the possible addition of a hologram as a security measure. My casts were then certified by a notary who had been specially appointed for the competition. He was the only person involved in the competition who knew the identity of the designers as the whole process was highly confidential. All the casts of the bas-reliefs were then submitted at European level by the notary. After that I didn’t receive any more news about the competition for nearly a year.
How did you feel when you found out that it was your drawings that had been selected?
I finally learned that I had won the competition in 1997, just before the Amsterdam Summit, where, after a long wait lasting several months, the €2 coin was finally unveiled. It was a Monday. I was invited to attend the summit and I accepted without even knowing that I was the winner. I heard the official announcement when I got into the car that picked me up to take me to Amsterdam.
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard. I honestly didn’t think that I would win the competition. I was aware that thirty-six projects had been submitted and I genuinely thought that my chances of winning were minute. I was already very proud to have designed one of the three projects selected at national level in Belgium. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would get so far in the competition.
Can you tell us more about the design features of the euro coins? What do they represent and what were the main problems you encountered when preparing your design?
I had a clear drawing in mind, which wasn’t too ‘busy’ and was easily recognisable, based on the map and objectives of Europe. I divided the set of eight coins into three groups to demonstrate how the map of the continent has changed. The aim was to propose three drawings that were different yet complementary.
On the 1 cent, 2 cent and 5 cent coins, I depicted Europe as it appears on the globe. The 10 cent, 20 cent and 50 cent coins depicted the Member States at that time, but had not yet joined, to portray the idea of a jigsaw… a separation. Finally, the image of a united Europe appeared on the €1 and €2 coins, depicting the map as it is today.
Do the coins contain special features to combat counterfeiting? Can you tell us more about this issue? Did you decide on those features yourself?
The security aspect was dealt with well after the preparation of the designs. It was not part of the project selection criteria for the competition. It is the National Anti-Counterfeit Committee (CNAC) which handles these specific features. In any case, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to create a security system on a bas-relief which could subsequently be reproduced to perfection.
The security features are created using lasers and state-of-the-art equipment which reproduce with complete accuracy the system established for each coin. The rim of each of the coins has its own specific features. On the €1 and €2 coins, for example, features of the rim include stars, a description and a line. The outer edge of the 20 cent coin is not really round; it has indentations.
Preparing a mould for coins which are to be reproduced billions of times must be a painstaking exercise with zero margin for error. Did you encounter any difficulties when preparing the final designs? Did the euro area Member States have any input on the details?
As soon as I won the competition, I was no longer the owner of the coins. From then on it was Europe that dealt with the various requests for changes. I was busy working on the design of the reverse side of the coins. These were then sent to the relevant countries. Each Member State then produced original moulds with their own national mint mark.
Some Member States asked to redefine their borders on certain coins. The borders of some countries were therefore redrawn in slightly more detail to make them as accurate as possible. That is how the design of each coin was finetuned.
You still work for the Royal Mint of Belgium. Did you also draw up the national sides of any of the euro coins? Which ones? Are you still actively involved in the design of coins and, if so, are you working on an interesting project?
King Philippe has been on the reverse side of our Belgian national coin for six years now. I was the one who did the drawing. The coin had to be designed when the former Prince Philippe became King. There wasn’t a competition to do that design because the request was urgent and the timeframe really tight. I prepared three designs, each of which was shown to the King, and I then produced the one that he chose. These days I am constantly working on new projects: medals, commemorative coins, coins with the portrait of Tintin, etc.
Looking over your entire career in the coin industry, which of the coins you designed is your favourite?
The euro without a doubt. I enjoy everything I do. Be it a €1 coin or a token, I get exactly the same pleasure from the creative process. But if I had to choose my favourite drawing from the eight coins of the competition, my heart would lean towards the €1 and €2 coins because the very essence of their design is based on the objectives of Europe, and represents a united Europe.
One last word on the euro: how do you see its future?
I am in favour of a united Europe; that is how it should be and how it must remain. I believe that the euro is fundamental to the preservation of a united Europe. At the end of the day, we are still stronger together than apart.
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