To be certain, there is an historic connection to the artistry of stone. Since the beginning of time, architects and designers have been using natural stone for some of their most important works. Around the world, we see grand displays of natural stone for cathedrals, monuments, museums, houses of government and, of course, for private residences.

But the history of natural stone goes beyond its early uses. Before a single stone was set in place, it first had to be pulled from the earth, where it had been sitting for millions of years. The first quarrying methods were obviously crude in terms of technology, but they also required a great deal of ingenuity and innovation by the quarriers. When the great architects over time needed massive blocks of stone for their artistic visions, or when Michelangelo required a block of pure white marble for his sculpture, they all relied first on the skill and the ability of the stone quarrier.

Today, even with the advent of CAD design systems, computerized stoneworking technology and automated extraction equipment, the process still starts with a talented quarryman. In this issue of Stone World, we take a look at the quarrying operations of companies around the world, including sites in Spain, Italy, Finland, Brazil and the U.S. (page 76). These quarriers extract a broad range of materials, including classic stones such as Carrara White and Crema Marfil as well as unique stones, such as Finnish soapstone.

In all of these quarries, the firms have continually upgraded their equipment over the years to increase the level of automation and overall efficiency within the quarry. But even with these modern improvements, the human skill remains as important as ever. Many of the quarry sites covered in this issue are in areas with complex geology. As a result, they rely heavily on the knowledge and the experience of the quarry master to determine which areas will produce usable blocks of stone for an extended period of time. And while the overall production rates of the various sites may vary a great deal, they all have to operate at a certain level in order to be viable.

The stones produced by these quarries are intended for a full spectrum of finished products, including tiles, slabs, cut-to-size pieces, roofing slates and even fireplaces. And many of these final applications have particular requirements of the stone quarry- whether it is achieving consistency of color for a 50,000-square-foot flooring project or producing large blocks for a memorial. Even small-scale projects, such as residential kitchen countertops, require a high level of consistency and quality that begins at the quarry.

For those who market, sell and specify natural stone, the variability of quarries and their conditions can make it more challenging than working with man-made products, such as carpet. But this is also part of the beauty of the stone industry. It should be taken advantage of, not maligned.