Stone Absolute (By any other name)

Stone or rock? Whatever. It is the Giant´s Causeway in Antrim, North Ireland, consisting of polygonal basalt columns formed by volcanic action. It is Unesco World Heritage since 1986
Pan de Azúcar, the sugar loaf rock in Rio. In the foreground, the revetment of rip-rap to protect the Rio de Janeiro coastline is made of augen-gneiss, a traditional building stone in old Rio.
Rock turnung into stone. The picture shows a granite batholit slowly disintegrating by exfoliation (onion peeling) creating boulders which eventually turn into smaller pieces of stone.
Nature did it. Marble piece from cut-off from slab quarried in Seravezza, showing the image of the marble lady.
Mineral resources scheme showing the geomaterials known as industrial rocks

Stone terminology is not exactly at the top of the agenda in the stone sector. However, standardization and globalization have increased awareness for communication needs and rapid change is now taken place in priorities.

The restricted terminology of the last century has been expanded by two main factors: the growth of disciplines interested in stone, like designing and restoration, and the emergence of new stone material sources with many and varied properties of stone. Environmental sensitivities, aesthetics and tastes, cultural and patrimonial elements and new qualities need a finessing of terms.

Promotional and economic concerns too necessitate more precise and extended product descriptions and specifications. Recently discovered dimension stone varieties from the developing countries, not marketed or used previously in sizeable projects, compete strongly with established stone products.

Description often lacks the technical diagnosis of likely quality variations in the newly opened beds or benches, terms confused at times. To the mason a "bed" means the horizontal face surface on which stones are laid in mortar, to the quarryman, a plane of stratification and to the geologist "a continuous mass of sediments deposited at about one time". This is only one example of the many terms with common usage and applied differently within the various disciplines.


Considering that much of the written record on stone internationally used is in English, the terms used in Great Britain are widely used when compiling glossaries or terminologies. Communication has become more important than ever and so do agreed standards for any ensuing applications of the stone, whether it implies worsening or enhancing reproducible results.

All these have added their generic definitions to stone related descriptions. Let us have a look what is contained in the name stone.


What is stone? Rock becomes stone after diminution and dimensioning. Then we have the various rock varieties like marble, granite etc. known as stone. However not all stone is marble, granite, or other varieties subject to geological, lithological and industrial definitions in the various glossaries. Yet all marble, granite etc. is stone.

Few terms in the stone industry have achieved in the last 50 years a rapid entrenchment like the word stone. A mere half a century ago we still had a marble industry, a granite industry, the slate industry etc. To talk about a stone industry was just short of contempt for the nobler, humbly named, "rock" varieties that include marble!

As recent as 1972 at a symposium at the San Ambrogio Fair, a prominent Italian geologist exclaimed "How dare you to call marble, a beautiful woman, stone". Yes, there were stone masons, stone working tools, stone sculptors and carvers, but to call associate marble or granite with the prefix "stone", was just not right, not fashionable.

Likewise no respectable marble fair in the second half of the last century, when Fairs started to become prolific, would want to be called a stone fair. Stone Industry or the more widely used Quarry Industry, modo grosso, implied at the time mainly aggregates and perhaps some sand production thrown in. With globalization, all that changed and there are now more fairs and trade exhibitions with the name stone than marble fairs. There is still uneasiness to convoke or name a "granite fair" notwithstanding the spectacular rise in the use of granite. Sophistication has veered into another direction and we have "covering" and "stone+tec" fairs, not to mention some more fancy prefixes.

Parallel with these developments technical and scientific congresses and meetings on the subject proliferated, many timed to run within the fair arrangements. Particularly those on restoration, rehabilitation, replication, reconstruction and refurbishing are the most numerous and well attended by architects and designers as opposed to geologists or engineers who are in a minority. Nevertheless, as a windfall such a mix enables a rare occasion for interchange of ideas and many a new "name" or denomination was born at fairs and shows.

Interaction with stone supply sources and the technical bodies is not less important than commercial cooperation. The limited interest by the technical professions in the dynamics of the stone industry and trade is becoming a thing of the past. A major contribution to this trend is the encouragement of professional participation in stone trade fairs notably at Nüremberg, Verona and Carrara. These and some of the smaller fairs provide a necessary backdrop for the discussion of technical aspects.

This is the more important since the nomenclature used by the industry is as rich as it is confusing and requires a special dialogue for mutual understanding. There are other aspects not always considered or easily within reach of the technical community. The mention of past and recent development impacts will contribute to interdisciplinary harmonization.