Name That … Whatever

There’s one point of contention I’ve dealt with since day one of Stone Business: quartz. Or, engineered stone. No, make that agglomerate. Wait, maybe it’s ….

Just talking about something that’s not directly taken from the ground and cut up in to nice, polished slabs and tiles can result in heated arguments among fabricators, installers and other industry professionals. It won’t stop anytime soon, either.

Neither will the debate on what to call the material, or at least in wordage presentable enough for the dinner table (notwithstanding the fact that my mother often had language saltier than the food she cooked). Assigning terms that fit the growing number of surfaces available for fabrication gets harder by the day.

When Stone Business first appeared in the Early Oughts, the common term was engineered stone – the favorite from Breton S.p.A, the Italian company offering the most-popular technology for the process. At the time, we went with the flow.

Not long after that, I went through the rite of passage in spending the better part of two hours on the phone with Marty Davis, Cambria’s chief, over the term. In all the words, he made a good point; you can use more than ground quartz to create slabs and tiles with Breton’s machinery. He preferred natural quartz, which we tried on for size and kept using for more than five years.

We carefully noted natural stone as the term for quarried material. Eventually, natural quartz didn’t seem to have the right ring; when the radon question whipped up to a froth a few years ago, it sounded hollow. The defense of the man-made material as radon-free centered on the stuff never having something that occurs as part of a natural process, so why include natural as part of the tag?

We finally settled on quartz surface to differentiate it from the total man-made materials of solid surface. Unfortunately, as we enter the age of sustainability, we face a whole new set of challenges in defining surfaces.

For one thing, there are the surfaces incorporating exotic and semi-precious stones (such as those from Amazing Stone Ltd. and Caesarstone’s Concetto®) that use resins or other man-made materials to bind everything together for slicing into nice cross-section slabs. Great-looking material highlighting natural stone, to be sure, but it doesn’t occur this way in nature; it’s manufactured. The best term we’ve developed is exotic surface, but it still doesn’t quite hit the stone part of the material.

Technically, it’s an agglomerate, but then we enter the realm of terrazzo and – as Davis pointed out – the fact that the heat-and-pressure Breton process can also be used to form slabs of small pieces of granite, marble or any other natural stone. All are agglomerates.

Luckily, the sustainability movement gives us an out for much of the new combinations.  Since the big push now is for green material, most of the new selections (such as Caesarstone’s Recycled Collection, Cosentino’s ECO® and Santa Margherita’s SECOND.LIFE®) fit the term recycled surface (with the original material added as a modifier, such as “recycled quartz surface”).

But, there’s another set of surfaces fitting the bill as agglomerates and recycled materials, such as IceStone® and Vetrazzo®

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. The binder comes to the rescue here, allowing for the moniker of cementious slabs.

Of course, the central question for many in the industry keeps coming back: Why talk about any of these non-quarried products?

The short answer is one Stone Business arrived at before its first issue: The surfaces can be fabricated. None of it is traditional quarried stone (and we’re careful to not misrepresent this), but it requires much the same equipment, tooling and skill to turn slabs into tops, splashes, surrounds and other goods of the trade.

There’s always going to be an identity crisis over what we should talk about when it comes to materials. We just want to keep the names straight.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find Joe Becker’s Blog and follow a major restoration job of a Midwest cathedral’s stonework.

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.


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