Stone World

Stone Column: The world beyond granite slabs

September 1, 2006

Without question, the growth of the American stone industry today has been fueled by the explosive popularity of granite kitchen countertops. Homeowners around the country are buying granite for their residences, and it has given new life to the stone industry, which had become stagnant during the early 1990s after the commercial building boom fizzled out. And because of this trend, it is sometimes easy to forget that while granite slabs are certainly a staple of the industry, there are some exciting things happening with other stone materials as well. Producers of marble, limestone and other stones from around the world are continually upgrading their facilities, and many of them are geared for the export market - particularly the U.S.

In addition to our regular coverage in this issue of Stone World, we also take a look at stone producers that are working outside the granite slab sector. For example, our series entitled “Creating Stone Architecture,” which begins on page 90, takes a look at all of the steps that take place after stone is specified for an architectural project. The articles begin with a report on a Rosso Verona marble quarry in Italy, where blocks are extracted, and they follow the stone through each of the various processes - slabbing, polishing and final cutting.

Whether you're selling, specifying or installing natural stone, understanding the overall process is a critical factor in the potential success of a project - and the collaboration between stoneworking professionals and architects have resulted in truly breathtaking works in stone. Some examples of successful projects in marble were recently honored at the Marble Architectural Awards, which took place in Carrara, Italy, and they can be found on page 140 of this issue. Appropriately, several of these projects were designed with the famed Carrara White marble from the Apuan Alps of Italy.

Of course, much of the marble sold in the U.S. is sold in a tile format, and developments are continuing overseas in that sector as well. This issue takes a look at marble tile producers in the renowned Italian stoneworking regions of Carrara (page 126) and Verona (page 130), highlighting the advanced machinery in place at both facilities.

Developments are also taking place in the French limestone sector, including the development of a new state-of-the-art factory in the heart of the limestone-producing region of Burgundy, France (page 158). Using the latest generation of automated machinery from Italy, this factory produces limestone tiles and panels in a broad range of sizes and finishes, and it cites the U.S. as a major export target. (Ironically, as I was writing this column, I received a call from an old acquaintance in the architectural profession regarding some of his recent work in limestone).

So whether you're a stone fabricator looking for a new revenue stream, a design professional or a distributor, it may be time to take a look at what is developing in the world beyond granite slabs.