Making a name for semi-precious stone
Amazing Stone, Ltd. has taken on a unique position within the stone industry. Using minerals that were originally used for jewelry, the company has developed new technology and methods created to create these products referred to as The Semi-Precious Collection of products, which can be used for kitchens, floors, bathrooms, walls and furnishings - available worldwide through Antolini Luigi & C., S.p.A.
Amazing Stone’s facility is located on the island of Mauritius, near the wealth of gemstone materials that can be found in the region. The company is located in a “Freeport Zone” on the island, which is operated by Mauritius Freeport Development Co., Ltd. Benefits to Amazing Stone’s location include closer proximity to raw material sources while benefiting from a vast infrastructure that includes a professional workforce (see “Stoneworking in the Freeport Zone”). Management of the company is American, while the company’s principals are American and European.
Amazing Stone’s operation is adjacent to the port facilities, and because it is in the Freeport Zone, the materials being brought in clear customs one day after arrival, as opposed to the several weeks generally associated with traditional import channels.
Amazing Stone’s facilities comprise nearly 28,000 square feet, and the company has already expanded into an adjacent covered area in the Freeport complex.
The Semi-Precious Collection created by Amazing Stone began with their first slab production debuting at the Marmomacc stone fair in Verona, Italy, in 2000. Worldwide exclusivity agreements were negotiated with Antolini Luigi, which is based in the Verona region, in 2001.
Given the unique nature of Amazing Stone’s production, the company’s principals - in conjunction with Antolini Luigi - have made a concerted effort to inform the marketplace not only of the availability of semi-precious stone, but also to explain the characteristics of the material. “It took a lot of education to show people what the material can do,” said Michael Mehditash, managing director and company co-founder. “These are not simply rough stones, but hand-selected stones put together to create one piece that can be used in the same manner as you would marble or granite. We had to show its durability, and we have also been working to establish the category. We want to get it to the point where people say, ‘Marble, granite and semi-precious stone.’“
Amazing Stone imports 25 to 40 tons of minerals per month - from as close as Madagascar, which lies 500 miles to the west of Mauritius, to as far away as Mexico. Materials shipped from Madagascar can arrive in Mauritius within one to two days, according to Michael Mehditash. The company owns some of the quarries in Madagascar, and they have exclusive purchasing agreements with others.
Most of the production is 3-cm slabs, although the company also produces 2-cm slabs and 1-cm products as needed. It has also begun producing tiles of semi-precious materials.
In all, Amazing Stone has a total of 63 workers. Employees involved in production are trained in-house, and they must learn all facets of the process and meet specific qualifications before they are certified by the company.
Slab productionThe production of slabs begins with mineral pieces weighing from 5 to 100 pounds, and Amazing Stone generally has an inventory of 700 tons of raw material on hand. Varying types of minerals are processed, and the company also processes petrified wood, which is over 250 million years old. In order to ensure quality of the finished slabs, all of the materials run through a quality-control process prior to processing, thus ensuring that the stone is accurately selected for color and shape to harmonize the final product.
The stones are cut vertically as well as cross cut, depending on the material being processed and the final look desired, and Amazing Stone employs an innovative process for slicing the minerals to the desired size. Small boulders of stone are cut on a multi-disc saw that was designed for Amazing Stone by Luigi Guazzoni of GMM in Italy. The saw is typically equipped with 15 cutting discs, each measuring 1.5 meters in size, and it is in operation 24 hours per day. Due to the hardness of the material (typically 7 to 8 Mohs), the company goes through four blades on a daily basis.
After being cut to size, the pieces are loaded onto pallets, each of which is numbered prior to assembly. The pieces are assembled into slabs using epoxy adhesives, and the company ensures that all slabs have an epoxy content of less than 9% to guarantee “flexible binding” of the slabs, which contain over 800 pounds of solid semi-precious stone per slab.
After assembly, the raw slabs then move on to one of two Thibaut T500 bed polishers from France. The slabs are first calibrated, and then eight levels of diamond abrasives are used to achieve the final polish to a “mirror shine,” according to Michael Mehditash.
A GMM Axia 38 bridge saw is then used to trim the edges from the slab, and a quality control team repairs any small imperfections by hand. The slab is then re-polished to perfection before packaging.
“Consistency of color is key,” explained Jamie Mehditash, Marketing Director of Amazing Stone. “Great care is taken to ensure a continuity of color, while also taking into consideration that each stone is unique from rough to final product. The slabs are not just an artisan product, but a long-term commercial building product.”
Reflective of the company’s pride in its work, Amazing Stone has incorporated the ammonite fossil as a trademark of its finished products, and finished slabs are available with this mollusk imbedded as part of the design. According to the company, the name “ammonite” originates from the Ancient Egyptian God, Amman, who is symbolized by the head of a ram with spiral horns. Of course, customers can order the slabs without the ammonite as well.
Once each product has passed its final inspection, it is securely wrapped in stretch film prior to shipping to prevent dirt and scratching. When shipping two or more items, the pieces are then wrapped and separated by cushioned double-sided Kraft paper. Shipments by sea freight are placed in wooden crates and secured with pneumatic nails to prevent open spacing. The crates are then strapped to reinforce the packaging. For large shipments or whole container shipments, the company nails the crates to the floor of the container to withstand movement from rough sea weather.
Amazing Stone’s product line includes 56 different material types, and the company is committed to adding six new materials to the collection every six months. “We are constantly finding new materials. The minerals are always changing,” Michael Mehditash said. “We began with the ‘Famous Four’ of petrified wood, labradorite, graphic feldspar and ocean jasper, and continued from there.”
Distribution and marketsAmazing Stone’s slabs and cut-to-size products are sold exclusively worldwide through Antolini Luigi & C. of Italy and its dealers/distributors. Its products are shown extensively at Antolini Luigi’s renowned trade fair exhibits around the world, and they have contributed to a variety of award-winning booth designs. Meanwhile, cut-to-size products for the Middle East region are also available through Amazing Stone Dubai.
Products from Amazing Stone’s Semi-Precious Collection have been utilized in applications such as high-end restaurants, five-star hotel suites, Fortune 500 company interiors and a range of upscale residences. In the U.S. market, the products have been specified by American architecture firms such as Hirsch Bedner Associates, among others.
Many of the products from the Semi-Precious Collection have translucent properties, so they can be backlit to create a dramatic effect. Reaching a new level of innovation, the company has also incorporated fiber optics as well as glowing materials into the product design.
In marketing its products - with Antolini Luigi as the premier marketer of the Semi-Precious Collection - Amazing Stone maintains a simple, yet elegant line of printed materials as well as packaging. In its literature, the company has taken care to denote the history and healing properties associated with many of the minerals used in its production. It has also developed a comprehensive, interactive Web site at www.amazing-stone.com, where the entire product line can be viewed.
An expanding product lineIn addition to its primary line of products, Amazing Stone has expanded its offerings with collections such as the Renaissance Collection of slabs, which utilizes smaller pieces of semi-precious stone. These pieces are off-cuts from the standard slab processing, and the slab production is simpler in nature, creating a less expensive product line.
Additionally, the “Retro” Collection of slabs utilizes geometric-shaped pieces of stone to create yet another unique aesthetic.
Earlier this year, Amazing Stone unveiled the 2007 Semi-Precious Tile Collection, which is available in 17 different semi-precious stone types. “The tile collection is a much-needed and desired complement to the existing product line in the Semi-Precious Collection,” said Jamie Mehditash, adding that the tile collection is currently available in several countries.
Stoneworking in the Freeport ZoneThe facilities of Amazing Stone, Ltd. are strategically located in Freeport Zone 5 in Mauritius, and the property is managed by Mauritius Freeport Development Co., Ltd. (MFD). During Stone World’s visit to the facility, we sat down with Dominique De Froberville, CEO of the Mauritius Freeport Development Co., Ltd., to gain an insight on the benefits of working within this structure.
De Froberville explained that the Freeport Zones offer fiscal advantages for companies. “The Freeport Zone is technically not Mauritius territory,” he said. “Goods arrive in the Freeport without duty or tax, so when a company like Amazing Stone brings in materials, processes them and then exports these same materials, it is as if they were never here. They avoid the 15% Value Added Tax (VAT).”
According to De Froberville, the government of Mauritius has three reasons for establishing Freeport Zones. First, it attracts foreign investors to create value and participate in the development of the nation. Second, it creates employment and helps resolve labor issues in a nation where many jobs have been eliminated in recent years. “The government needed new emerging sectors,” he said, adding that the markets of sugar and textiles - two staples in Mauritius - have been “receding.”
The third benefit of the Freeport Zones is that it will help the port develop into a major hub in the region. “Mauritius is part of the commercial block in Africa,” De Froberville said. “It serves as a distribution hub for the region. For example, goods being delivered to Africa from Asia often travel through Mauritius.”
Meanwhile, MFD serves as a logistics company, providing services for Amazing Stone as well as a broad range of firms whose activities range from seafood warehousing to motor vehicle distributors and other exporters. “We are not specialized in any one type of facility,” De Froberville said. “We have standard warehouses that can be adapted to the product type.”
The MFD area covers over 60 acres of land in all, and another 37 acres will be developed by 2009/2010.
A sampling of Amazing Stone's productsOver the past few years, Amazing Stone Ltd. has developed a truly innovative lineup of products. The following is a look at some
of the slabs available from the company’s
Petrified Wood-Retro Collection
Tiger Iron-Retro Collection
Petrified Wood-Renaissance Collection
Graphic Feldspar tile
Classic Quartz tile