At a time when the international stone industry is scrambling on a global level - where it seems that no port is safe from this economic hailstorm - Italy has managed to ride out the crisis by maintaining its position as an innovator in all things stone. The country’s stone producers have forged their position in the marketplace using generations of experience and a willingness to pioneer new methods and technologies, and perhaps more than any other nation, they have maintained natural stone’s status as a premier building material.

The Stone World Magazine crew had a first-hand opportunity to see the Italian stone producers at work last month during the course of the Marmomacc trade fair in Verona, Italy, and they did not disappoint. A full recap of our experiences will appear in future issues of Stone World, but I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a brief rundown of what we saw on our journey through Italy.

• High among the hills of Brescia - at the foot of Europe’s famed Alps - Ghirardi Marmi extracts Botticino marble for use on projects around the world. The material has been extracted for centuries, with evidence of quarrying activity that dates to the Roman times. Today, Ghirardi’s third-generation ownership and dedicated quarrymen - many of whom have been working at the site for most of their lives - rely on their experience with the quarry’s unique geology to extract only the finest blocks of Botticino for processing. They must also deal with a range of natural challenges at the quarry site, such as the deluge of rain that fell the day before Stone World’s visit to the site. (Pictured above is the Stone World staff in attendance. From left, Publisher Alex Bachrach, Managing Editor Jennifer Adams and myself. The makeshift blue “booties” helped us wade through four inches of mud at the site - sort of.)

• While Ghirardi Marmi relies on its history and experience for stone extraction, it takes a more progressive approach in its stone processing, as evidenced by the broad range of CNC technology at work in its plant. The factory houses an extensive collection of CNC saws, stoneworking centers, lathes and polishers - combined, of course, with experienced artisans finishing pieces by hand. Ghirardi’s shop produces architectural stonework for projects around the world, and during our visit to the plant, the company proudly showed off a very complex mock-up it completed for world-renowned contemporary architect Mario Botta.

• In another example of modern technology in an historic setting, I had the opportunity to tour the slab-processing plant of Nikolaus Bagnara, another third-generation company that was founded in 1948 just outside of Verona. Walking the plant with Managing Director Niko Bagnara, I had the chance to check out finished exotic slabs from around the world, including varieties of onyx and quartzite that I had never seen before. The company is able to process these stones through the use of state-of-the-art technology. This not only includes the latest stoneworking equipment, but also the newest advances in products such as abrasives, brushes and resins. Through its use of these resins and other accessories, Nikolaus Bagnara is able to process materials that would otherwise by unavailable to the marketplace. Moreover, they are able to produce one-of-a-kind surface finishes for large architectural projects.

Of course, the Marmomacc fair itself presented us with some incredible innovations in natural stone and quartz surfacing, and we look forward to sharing all of these discoveries in the pages (and online versions) of Stone World.