Officially referred to as the "Academy Award ® of Merit," the 13½-inch, 8½-pound statuette awarded to each individual who wins an Academy Award ® takes twelve workers five hours to hand cast and complete at R. S. Owens, the factory in Chicago, Illinois, that has been responsible for production since 1982. The carefully protected steel mold gives shape to a britannium alloy, roughly 90 percent tin and 10 percent antimony, though initially Oscar ® was solid bronze. Because of rationing during World War II, the Academy used plaster, but, at the war's conclusion, the plaster statuettes were replaced with gold-plated replicas. Today, with sanding and polishing each step of the way, the statue receives layers of copper, nickel, silver, and, finally, 24–karat gold plating. A layer of epoxy lacquer provides the protective outer coating. Each statue bears its own serial number engraved at the bottom, at the back of its base, which has been made of brass since 1945 (it was black Belgian marble before that date). After the recipients have been announced, R. S. Owens then produces brass nameplates with the winner's name and category.
The famed MGM art director Cedric Gibbons (1893–1960) designed the statuette, and sculptor George Stanley was paid $500 to shape the model in clay. Alex Smith cast the design in 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper, finishing it with gold plating. Gibbons's original design was a knight holding a double-edged sword, standing on a film reel with five spokes, each spoke representing one of the original five Academy branches:
Accounts vary as to the origins of the nickname (the "Oscar ® ") for the Academy statuette. Those who have claimed to have invented the appellation include actress Bette Davis (1908–1989), librarian Margaret Herrick, and columnist Sidney Skolsky (1905–1983). Davis is said to have claimed that the image reminded her of her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson's backside, so she dubbed the icon "Oscar ® ." Another version comes from Margaret Herrick, who began working for the Academy as librarian in 1931 and then as executive director from 1943 until her retirement in 1971. Herrick remembers calling the statuette Oscar ® because it resembled her second cousin Oscar Pierce, whom she called her "Uncle Oscar." In yet another widely disseminated account, syndicated gossip columnist and entertainment reporter (later scriptwriter and producer) Sidney Skolsky offers his own ownership tale, a purely utilitarian desire to give the statue a name for ease in writing his column and to confer a personality without suggesting an excess of dignity. Whatever its derivation, Skolsky used the nickname "Oscar ® " in his column in 1934 and Walt Disney used it in his acceptance speech in 1938. The Academy did not use the Oscar ® appellation officially before 1939, by which time it had gained the wide currency it still enjoys.