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Secondly, while both shops have much of the same equipment that I find in the North American stoneworking shops -- CNC routers, waterjet cutting equipment, bridge saws, etc. -- the end products aren't just countertops, but architectural stonework for a range of final applications.
Both of these shops -- Vicentina Marmi and Decormarmi -- were formed by artisans, one in the '90s and one in the '60s, and their niche has been producing extremely high-end stonework for residential projects around the world. I should note that while I saw "typical" fabrication equipment in both shops, I also found some pretty heavy-duty gear, like five-axis milling machines, lathes and other advanced machinery. But even though the equipment list in each shop is noteworthy, I was even more impressed by the level of talent that I saw on a personal level. Whether it was a saw operator, an artisan hand-chiseling an intricate design or someone putting the finishing touches on a one-ofa-kind stone furnishing, the pride of craftsmanship was evident in the faces of every worker I saw.
When a company representative tells me about the "Made in Italy" tradition, visits like these show me exactly what they are talking about. So how does this relate back to us here in America? Frankly, I often see this level of pride and craftsmanship in the fabrication shops I visit in the U.S.; it's just that many of the shop owners are either too busy or too modest to promote it. At a time when our industry is still facing great challenges -- including the continual presence of low-quality, lowball competitors -- it's not a bad idea for the quality shops out there to promote their craftsmanship; to illustrate to the public why they can't really sell countertops for $25/foot. No matter how many lowballers are out there, we need to remember that stone is not a commodity item; it is a premium building product that has been associated with quality and elegance for centuries. We need to promote it that way, because that is a statement that the folks from Corian will simply never get the chance to say.
(Editor's Note: My gratitude to Veronafiere, organizer of the Marmomacc trade show in Verona, Italy, for arranging our visit to these companies as part of their AIA-accredited "Designing with Stone" program, which takes place in conjunction with the event each fall.)