In Paderno Dugnano, a little city in Milan's suburbs, is a pink-walled factory that blends in among the many others. Such a seemingly nondescript place is where sporting glory comes to life. Despite Italy not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the country will still be represented in the form of the iconic trophy.
GDE Bertoni started as a small shop in Milan's city center in the early 1900s and would eventually become the pre-eminent creator and manufacturer of cups, medals and trophies. Inheriting the business from his father-in-law, Eugenio Losa established Bertoni in 1938, and while the company has grown and moved out to the suburbs, it has retained its artisan philosophy.
In addition to creating Olympic medals for Rome 1960 and Moscow 1980, the company is the historical manufacturer (among many others) of the Olympic Order, FINA and FIVB medals, Qatar Emir Cup, Arabian Gulf Cup, African Nations Championship, African Cup of Nations, UEFA European Championship trophy, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Supercup and UEFA Champions League.
The FIFA World Cup, 36.8 centimeters (nearly 15 inches) of golden brilliance with two stripes of green malachite at its base, was designed in 1970 by artist Silvio Gazzaniga. That year, Brazil won the Jules Rimet Cup for the third time, earning permanent ownership of the trophy, leading FIFA to design and create another prize.
To choose the new one, FIFA officially announced a competition in which 53 different works from around the world were exhibited and the Milan sculptor's proposal was chosen. As described by Gazzaniga himself, the cup represents the joy and the greatness of the athlete at the moment of victory, with two stylized athletes cheering and holding up the globe.
The original gold World Cup is property of FIFA and exhibited only during a select few official occasions; every four years, Bertoni provides an identical brass-body copy that is given to the winning football federation.
Photography and reporting by Paolo Vezzoli
A plaster cast of the FIFA World Cup, designed in 1970 by Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga.
An aerial view of the GDE Bertoni headquarters in Paderno Dugnano, Italy.
Once the body of the cup is removed from the foundry, the brass must be chiselled by die grinders that remove excess metal as the finished product continues to take shape.
The inscription on the base of the cup. Two disks of green malachite are mounted above and below the etchings.
After the die grinders comes the detailed work: Manual chiseling with hammers and chisels serves to refine and complete the finish. Pietro is the veteran in GDE Bertoni's chiseling department.
The next phase involves mechanical brushing. Pietro became part of the Bertoni family before even being hired there: His parents met while working for the company.
The cup gets more refinement in the polishing process, and the brass itself finally starts to look like the shimmering finished product.
Two different views of the World Cup, at two different points of the process: on the right, the permanent brass copy used by the company as a sample; and a work in progress on the left, the polished cup momentarily deprived of its base.
Once the main mechanical work to perfect the metal surface is finished, the cup is ready to start its journey through the galvanic department. Here the veteran worker is Abdelkader, a native of Morocco who's been at Bertoni for over 16 years.
Here, it goes through an ultrasonic degreasing bath where the cup receives an intense cleaning.
After being rinsed several times, the cup is ready for the longest galvanic bath: the gilding. This bath is repeated in three consecutive sessions of the same duration.
At the end of the three gilding sessions, the cup is carefully washed in distilled water to thoroughly clean the trophy.
The cup, now golden, is then dried, marking the end of the galvanic phase.
A layer of zapon varnish is applied to the World Cup after it's been reunited with its malachite green marble base. The varnish guarantees that the brass has a remarkable shine and is preserved.
After the varnish dries, the cup is cleaned and checked over again. At this point, the workers also take time to admire their handiwork: "We create lot of trophies here for all around the world. But none of them compare to this cup."
The Italian company is also the provider of every FIFA tournament's official medals as well as many other trophies and sporting awards.
The finished product that either France or Croatia will lift aloft Sunday night in Moscow: the FIFA World Cup, presented by a GDE Bertoni craftsman after work is complete.