Oscars, Made in America: The Midwestern Birthplace of Film’s Most Revered Trophy

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Oscar winners are the only ones who know the rare and splendid thrill of hoisting their new golden trophies for the first time in front of a global TV audience. But we bet that few of those icons know about the unique origins of that statue, which can be tied all the way back to a select crew of Chicago craftsmen.

In the above video provided to TIME, we get a backstage glimpse at R.S Owens & Company, a Chicago factory that specializes in elegant awards and gifts. Every statue is hand-crafted, molded from gold-plated britannium into an 8-pound figurine. It takes 10 full days to complete a single statue, to move from molten britannium to the final polish and packaging. The names of the winners (who our own Richard Corliss may have predicted) are engraved much later on plates that are then added to the statue; the Chicago artisans never know who will be taking home their handy work.

(MORE: 7 Ways to Sound Smart At Your Academy Awards Party)

The first statue to be handed out Sunday evening — likely, predictors say, to best supporting actress Octavia Spencer — will be number 3,621 from the R.S. Owens & Company inventory. Every year, around 50 new creations are distributed, adding to an ongoing circulation of artifacts that can be found in stars’ homes, museums and even auction blocks.

Of course, beyond who will be taking home this year’s britannium accolades, there’s plenty of buzz swirling around who was denied a nomination to begin with. Particularly these five high-profile snubs:

Steven James Snyder is a Senior Editor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @thesnydes. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page, on Twitter at @TIME and on TIME’s Tumblr.

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