Thursday, November 30, 2006


There are a lot of really stunning Quartzites on the market, but the problem is they are all outrageously expensive. Is it just a function of prettier stuff being marked up more?

You could make a minor case for that point of view. But, the primary reason is a function of time and materials. When cutting a block of Santa Cecelia or New Venetian Gold. The factories know it will take about 72 hours to cut it. [The only day the Brazilians take off is Christmas. Those saws run 24/7 for 364 days a year]. Put a block of quartzite in there and pack a lunch. 456 hours to cut the same sized block. Plus, it is really, really hard thus using more blade life.

So, they can cut 6+ blocks of Santa Cecelia, or 1 of a quartzite. That is why some of the prettier quartzites are 6 times more expensive than Santa Cecelia.

Something else unusual about quartzites. We got some Azul Macauba in a couple of years ago that had a strip of Santa Cecelia glued to the top side of the stone all the way across the top of the slab. About an inch and 1/2 tall by 9' long. When we were in Brazil, I asked Marcelo, the owner of the Vigui factory, why that was done. He replied that it was done to seat the sawblades into the soft Santa Cecelia before it hit the very hard Macauba. There can be some very serious problems if those blades get out of alignment. So, it was a clever solution to a potentially disasterous problem.

Grades of Granite

I hear and read so much garbage about 'grades' of Granite.

Let me expound a bit on this subject. There is no universal grading system for Granite. Each individual factory makes their own determinations about what is First, Second, or in some cases 'Commercial' grade. Ideally, when a factory owner cuts a block of say Santa Cecelia, they know what they expect it to look like. These people are very sophisticated at what they do. This is not happenstance. I had factory owners showing me blocks that they knew were going to yield 2nd choice or commercial grade. Sometimes, they are surprised, but not usually.

Virtually all Brazilian factories 'resinate' their slabs. This is a different, yet related, subject. If the Santa Cecelia, which is supposed to be pale yellow with black and gray, with garnets and a gentle flow, somehow has a football sized black spot in the middle of it, it will be termed 2nd choice, or perhaps even commercial. Structurally, is it inferior? No. It is a color flaw only. It will 'perform' no differently. As a fabricator, I'll cut around that spot. As a distributor, they can't buy materials like that because the normal fabricator will jump up and down about the spot.

Now, I'm not saying that all US distributors ignore 2nd and 3rd choice stones. Because, I know first hand that they buy 2nds and 3rds all day long. There are some materials, like Boreal or Key West Gold, that are infamous for having blue spots in them. Depending on the size and location, they may be graded from 1-3. Is there any structural problem? No. The problem I have with some distributors is that they'll buy what I know are clearly second choice stones and then charge A grade prices. There are four that service this area that are famous for that.

To summarize, there are about 4 primary reasons why a slab may be downgraded. Spots, coloration, fissures or cracks, and pocked surfaces. Fissures and filled cracks [with epoxy resin by the factory] are a part of some stones. You know they are going to be there. Most factories are good at filling voids, but some are not. These can certainly downgrade a stone. But, frankly, we can fix even a bad patch job by the factory.

Now, pocked surfaces are a problem. Can we fix them? It depends. It is a function of time. Do you want to devote one employee for 8 hours to try and salvage a slab of Tropical Brown? The math is not favorable for that. When we or our agents examine stone, one of the first things we'll do is look at the surface 'down light'. That is where the pits or pocks will be noticable. Tropical Brown and Baltic Brown are two to examine closely.

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This is Golden Shadow, 2nd choice. In all likelyhood, this is probably New Lapidus. Different factories use different names. Note the color change from the top portion to the bottom section. That is why this was a '2nd choice' stone.

Therefore, 'grades' are in the eye of the beholder. If it is pleasing to your eye, and some little Brazilian inspector deemed it 2nd choice, so what? If you like it, that's the bottom line.

Brazilian Factories

Ever wonder where all this Granite comes from? Well, it comes from all over the world, but most of the really pretty stuff comes from Brazil. Probably 80% of what we carry comes from Brazil.

In Brazil, the epi-center of stone is in a city called Cachoeiro. It is north of Rio and south of Vitoria via a snake-like road that encourages you to keep your eyes closed for the entire 2 hour trip. The Brazilians seem to gain an unusual sense of vehicular humor when facing a steering wheel.

Back to Cachoeiro. It is a city of about a million people that looks like it stopped growing in 1926. In Cachoeiro, there are about 600 granite factories. Most of them are quite small. Some don't even saw their own material. But, what you usually see is a tin roof, no side walls, a crane beneath the roof, a gang saw that cuts the blocks, and a polishing machine that polishes the rough cut slabs. Then, they'll have a loading area where they fill the containers. The containers are then taken back up that snake-like road to Vitoria, which is the port that most of the companies use.

When we were there last June, the middle of their 'winter', we ran across a number of owners of large slab distribution companies from the US. When they found out we were fabricators, they were not exactly enthralled with our visit to 'their' domain. Because, traditionally, fabricators buy from US distributors. We do too, but to a much lesser extent. One of the problems the US distributors have is that they need volume and consistency. That means they have to buy from the larger factories for the most part.

We're not hampered by that. We have two agents on the ground in Brazil who do nothing but run the back alleys looking for unusual materials and the ocassional bargain. We also buy from some medium-sized factories, but I'm more interested in the unusual materials. You can see from the pictures below what is headed our way. You won't find some of them anywhere else. At least, for now. But, by the time the others catch up, we'll be onto other things.

Because we're able to go direct, we're able to place stones like Juperana Fantasy or Taboo or Fantastico Dark into a builder line program. If anyone else could get materials this pretty from a US distributor, they would certainly not be in a builder program. Same thing for some of the upper end stones such as Matrix Motion. We're able to keep that in a middle range, while others are forced to place it in ultra-high end pricing. That is because several of the US distributors are charging substantially more than what we paid. Same stone, same grade.

Currently, we have about 125 colors. Of those, about 25-30 are in the builder line. Tastes in Granite are getting more sophisticated. People like natural stones that have some sort of pattern. That is what we're really good at. Not just acquisition, but fabrication and installation, as well.

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This is a fairly large factory outside of Cachoeiro. Sits on the side of a hill over the river that runs thru the city. Very pretty place. You see the typical tin roof, with a crane underneath. Their slab storage is in front. Their gang saws are in the background. To the left, not in view, is the polishing line. Just beyond the gang saws is the block storage yard. This factory is famous for Sucuri.

Top polishing

Since we're the only company in the state that does it, you'll get wide-eyed stares from the lesser shops when you bring this topic up.

What's the big deal? Well, seams are the big deal. In theory, all slabs are dead flat and have no warpage. That would be 'in theory' only, because it is not that way in the real world. In 2cm stone, you can manhandle it a bit to deal with warpage. In 3cm, there is no manhandling. It is simply too strong. Now, we have mechanical devices that lessen the warpage as we install, but that does not guarantee that it will be dead flat.

This is where 'top polishing' comes in. After the seam is set with the epoxy, we then flatten the seam with special tooling. Then, with special tooling and technique, we bring the shine back up to 'factory' levels. You may sometimes see a hint of the seam, but you'll never 'feel' it.

It is a big deal. It is a built in part of the service that we provide.

Cheap Chinese Sinks

Do we offer them? No.
Will we? No.
We've had every sink salesweasel in the Midwest in here trying to get us to carry their sub-standard products. We're not going to do it.

Here is a little test you can do. Get one of those rubber refrigerator magnets and place it on the sink in several places. If it is true stainless steel, it won't stick. Here's a hint, if it is a cheap Chinese sink, it's going to stick. What does that mean? It means it is going to rust.

Here's the analogy that comes to mind. Go down to the Maserati dealership, buy the most expensive performance car they have, then head to K-Mart for the cheapest 2 ply tires they have.

To actually make the sink stainless is the most expensive process in the making of the sinks. This is the step the Chinese and others omit.

So, when your bargain sinks rusts and you try to replace it with a REAL sink, is it going to fit?
Probably not. A classic example of 'You get what you paid for'.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

'Engineered Stone'

Or as we call it, Engineered Gravel, which is exactly what it is.
[We also call it 'Fat Formica']


Back in the 1950s, Mr. Breton of Italy began mining what he thought was going to be a quarry for quartz slabs. Much to his chagrin, they netted no slabs, only loose quartz gravel. Clever guy that he was, he formulated a way to make molds for the loose gravel and then pour a thin epoxy glue into the mold to hold the gravel together. Thus, engineered gravel became a reality. In Italy, one of the world capitals of stone working and processing, it began to get an increasing market share. Then suddenly, it's market share began to tumble as people began to realize it's inherent weaknesses. This pattern has repeated around the world.

The Bretons would allow only one manufacturer per country in the beginning. That way, they could control the competition. A clever idea. However, recently, there have been an explosion of EG providers, from all over the world. All with the same basic premise as Breton's. There have been 'innovations' put into the mix of materials used. Metal washers, mirrors, oyster shells, mother of pearl et all. But still, the key ingredient is the glue.

The Mantra

The EG people bleat that it is 92-97% quartz. In a jaded fashion, that is true. But, that is measured by weight, not surface area as they are inferring. Most quartz is sort of milky white in color. The color in EG is achieved via tinting the glue. If it was 92% quartz, all their products would be a milky white color.

'Never needs to be sealed, like Granite'... A double negative. There are some EGs that require sealing. There are some Granites that you CAN'T seal. You can try, but it won't go in. If you have been taken in by the Sealer Squealers, ask us for a granite that won't require sealing. We have plenty of them. Or, if you have mastered the use of a spray bottle, a watch and a rag, you can spend 10 minutes every 10 years and reseal your stone. Or, you can believe some of the Italian stone experts, who say most granites don't need a sealer.

Our last house had Kashmir White Granite, from India, in it. Kashmir White, in my trade, is known as a 'sponge' of a stone. For a granite, it is very soft. If any stone is going to stain, it would be this one. 7 years, no sealer, no stains. Coffee, red wine, cooking oils, Kool-Aid etc. all graced it's face. Looked brand new when we moved.

'Thermal Shock'. aka- Heat. Don't you dare take a hot pot or pan fresh from a heat source and put it on any EG. Within seconds, you'll have a lasting reminder of that moment. You can't hurt the quartz, but that glue is very soft. It will melt away leaving traces of VOC in the air. That's Haz-Mat stuff. Very nasty.
With Granite, no worries. I mean NONE.

Hardness, or rather Softness

Hardness of materials are measured on the moh scale. The hardest is diamond, a '10'. The softest is talc, a '1'. Granites run from '6'-'8'. Quartz is a '7'. Epoxy glue is a '3'. Very soft. On Granite, you can use every knive in your drawer to cut on it. They'll all end up dull, but the Granite will be fine. Don't do it on EG. If you hit the glue, there will be a 'memory' forever.

UV Light

UV light has no effect on Granite. It has a seriously negative effect on EG. The reason? The most expensive component of EG is the glue, therefore, they use the least expensive glue possible. [You can check with Tenax USA- they supply most of the glue in the industry] The least expensive glue, as you might imagine, has no UV inhibitors in it. Therefore, you can't use EG outside or in front of any window that does not inhibit UV light, or any product DuPont or their competitors makes, either. Same deal.
How many 'engineered' products do you see in graveyards? Zero. It's all natural stone. Now, you know why.

Dr. Hansel

Dr. Hans Dieter Hansel, a renowned geologist from Australia, has studied and written numerous articles on this subject. One of his articles is here:
Copy and paste.
His basic analogy is that EG is the particle board of the lumber industry. As you probably know, most people don't use particle board for much of anything anymore.

Follow the Money

Now, there are people who have millions of dollars invested in the production and marketing of this product. They are not stupid.
They will pay newsreaders to tell you how great it is. It is not.
They will pay designers on television to tell you how pretty it is. It is not.
They will spend tons on Home Improvement magazines to show you that it is THE choice for kitchen countertops. It is not.
They will affiliate with Box Stores and have pimple-faced clerks tell you it is WAY better than Granite. It is not.

We are in the business of improving your home and your investment. We are not about to put a product into your home that won't perform. EG would be fine for a bathroom, where there is nothing sharp or hot, but certainly not in a kitchen.


Burns, Scratches and Fades. So, if your kitchen has no windows, and you don't use an oven or cooktop, and don't use knives in food prepartion, you'll be just fine....No worries.

Real Estate Advertising

Next time you think of it, pick up a newspaper or magazine advertising homes. Take a look for a phrase you won't find: 'Synthetic Stone countertops' or 'Engineered Stone countertops'. Why not? You'll certainly see the words Granite or Marble or Natural Stone. I wonder Why?
Oh, that's right. They add value to your most expensive investment.
Take a look at the facts. They don't lie. Marketers, on the other hand,....

Monday, November 27, 2006

We just finished putting together the next container which should arrive in late January of 2007.

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In Brazil, this one is called Icaro. I'm not too fond of words or thoughts that begins with 'Ick' so I'll be tempted to change the name on this one. It's got the look and colors of the old Taupe. It may be called New Taupe. We'll see. 3cm. 1 bundle.

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This one is called IceScream. 3cm. Clever name, but it is a little plain. It may or may not make the cut. 1 bundles.

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3cm Deep Purple. It looks like a Quartzite. I've asked for it's properties, but I don't know yet.
Doesn't matter, it was too cool to pass up. 1 bundle.

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2 bundles of 3cm Copper Canyon. aka Persian Brown. aka Juperana Picasso. aka Cooper Canyon. aka Juperana Desert. Ok, you get the idea. Lots of names for this stone. This quarry has been having some troubles for a while now. There is some very strange coloration in some of the offerings. These colors are traditional and the movement is just right. I look through a lot of pictures of this stone before I ever find anything I like.

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A new one. 2 bundles of 3cm Sunshine. Sometimes you glance at a picture and it grabs you. This one grabbed. Twice.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Next Container

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This is 3cm Manhattan.
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This is 3cm Suprema Gold, aka Classico Supreme. 2 bundles coming.
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3cm Pietra Imperiale. 1 bundle coming.
Also, some 3cm New Venetian Gold with some nice movement. Some 3cm Santa Cecelia Light, which we have not had for several years.
This container should load in late November and should be here in January of 2007.

2cm Juliet

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This is 2cm Juliet. We have one bundle coming. It is with the Renassaince. It will be here by Christmas 2006.

On the water

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This is 3cm Renassaince. A brand new material. We have 4 bundles of 3cm and 2 bundles of 2cm loading in Vitoria, Brazil as of Nov. 19th, 2006. It should be here by Christmas.