In the past few issues of Stone World, I've written quite a bit about quality issues within the stone industry. In particular, I commented on the need for industry standards within the stone fabrication sector. But the need for quality is certainly not limited to fabrication shops. Stone is being imported to the U.S. from more countries than ever before, and from more sources than ever. And in some cases, the quality of the materials being shipped to the U.S. are not meeting the standards that go along with a premium building material such as stone.

Every August issue of Stone World includes a report on stone from India, and this year, we decided to sit down and speak with some of the major importers of Indian stone from a decade ago to discuss the evolution of this stone sector. To be perfectly honest, their comments surprised me a great deal. A decade ago, producers of stone within India were being heralded for their increased quality - due in large part to their investment in advanced European stoneworking machinery. Today, however, several veteran suppliers of Indian stone are concerned that many producers within India are exporting substandard material to the U.S.

“There are a lot more players today, and the competition is intense,” said Mahesh Patel of Instile Stone Corp., one of the early importers of stone from India. “Unfortunately, people are mixing quality to keep the price down. Also, people are buying off the Internet. There are auctions for second-quality material.”

These thoughts were echoed by Rupy Shah of Stone-Tec, Inc., which has been importing Indian stone for over a decade, “You have to be careful where you are buying [Indian stone] from,” she said. “The quality can be like day and night.”

Let me stress that this does not mean Indian stone products are generally of poor quality. In fact, there are many high-quality producers of stone within India, and there are numerous dependable importers and suppliers of Indian stone throughout the U.S. To offset the potential for inconsistent quality, established suppliers of Indian stone in the U.S. are making sure they import material from responsible stone producers in India. Many also have quality control experts overseas to ensure that the material reaches certain standards before it is packed for shipment. However, it is important to remember that these services come with a price, and this is the reason why researching the cost of stones such as Paradiso or Ruby Red can yield a broad range of figures - depending on the supplier contacted.

No matter what industry you look at, there will always be second-rate products, and so it is naive to think that these materials will somehow be outlawed in the U.S. stone industry. But given natural stone's reputation as a premium building material, I am urging stone consumers to look beyond the price tag and to consider exactly what they are purchasing. Remember, when buying stone on the basis of price, you often get what you pay for. And when you consider that raw material costs can be less than one-third the final price of a finished granite kitchen countertop, does it really make sense to start off with second-quality material?