Marble: what is, characteristics and uses

marble

The word “marble” derives from the Greek marmaros and literally means “shining stone”. In fact, since ancient times, this rock was greatly appreciated for its intrinsic brightness given by the low refractive index of calcite (a mineral of which it is mainly composed) which allows light to permeate inside the stone before being reflected.

The creation of the first marble objects dates back to the Neolithic era in ancient Greece which was rich in marble quarries. From there, the use of marble stone extended to the origins of Greek sculpture and then to the architecture of the classical era.

Due to the influence of Greek culture, the Romans also considered marble rock a particularly valuable material. At first, therefore, the Romans imported marble from Greece and, subsequently, began to extract it in their own territories such as in the Luni area from which the famous Carrara marble comes.

Characteristics of marble

What type of rock is marble? Marble is a metamorphic rock whose main component is calcium carbonate (CaCO3). There are different types of marble that are classified according to their composition and the impurities present inside them.

How is marble formed

Its characteristic purity, devoid of any impurity and residue, spontaneously raises a series of questions such as what kind of rock is marble and how is marble formed? Well, marble is the result of a recrystallization of carbonate minerals present within sedimentary rocks. Generally, these rocks are formed by processes of regional metamorphism which, thanks to high temperature and pressure, tends to increase the grain of the crystals, giving the marble its typical saccharoid appearance. Consequently, this gives rise to a mosaic of calcite or dolomite crystals which is progressively deprived of any fossil, stratification or sedimentary structure present at the beginning: this is how natural marble rock is formed and from what derives its classic clarity.

Where is marble found

Marble is generally discovered in massive seams in many parts of the world. Yet, where is marble found to a greater extent? Well, although marble can be found in many countries, four main countries hold almost half of the marble in the world: Italy, China, India and Spain. Apart from these four, also Greece, Turkey and United states have their marble quarries.

In Tuscany there are probably the most famous and precious types of marble, such as Carrara and Calacatta. These Italian marble stones are unanimously considered among the finest and more luxurious varieties, emblem of marble par excellence.

Types of marble

Based on the composition, it is possible to draw up a first categorization of the different types of marble:

  • Crystalline limestone marbles: these are pure marbles (i.e. without fossils) and generally composed of larger crystals. You can find them both white and colored.
  • Cryptocrystalline limestone marbles: their crystalline structure is less marked than the previous type of marble and they are generally quite colorful.
  • Clastic marbles: fragments of rocks, cemented fossils as well as siliceous or calcareous materials are visible in the texture.
  • Serpentine marbles: green colored marbles whose name derives from a particular group of minerals called the serpentine group which is mixed with limestone. Sometimes, it is possible to find them in darker shades close to blue or yellow based on which mineral of serpentine group is present in the majority within the marble.

Instead, the coloring of the various types of marble is due to the presence or absence of mineral impurities such as silt, iron oxides, clay or sand. The recrystallization process that these impurities also undergo during the metamorphic processes leads to the formation of the colored veins typical of marble.

Among the various types of marble, only the white one was originally used as it was considered pure and perfect because of its absence of impurities inside. In the modern and contemporary age, on the contrary, all types of marble (even those with the most extravagant chromatic peculiarities) have been re-evaluated, each considered a symbol of a different vision of charm and elegance.

It is precisely the elegance of marble that makes it one of the most replicated and reproduced materials in a fake copy in order to confer luxury to objects and surfaces. On the market you can find many materials with marble effects: among the most common marble effects there is certainly the classic white marble with the characteristic veins and streaks tending to gray. Among the most popular materials in recent years, it is impossible not to include porcelain stoneware which is made in many varieties and colors including wood, stone and last but not least fake marble. In addition to fake marble tile porcelain stoneware, there are other examples such as fake marble countertops, some furniture coatings or wall cladding panels up to the resins for fake marble floors. The concept is clear: marble, even if it is fake marble, is immediately associated with ideas of luxury, value, elegance and solemnity.

White Marble

white marble

As we anticipated above, white marble continues to represent the finest among the different types of marble. Its pure and bright color is due to the almost absence of impurities inside and to its extremely homogeneous composition and almost entirely made up of Calcium Carbonate (the very uniform colors that distinguish it vary from pearly white to ivory white). White marble is the preferred variety when it comes to marble interior design: marble cladding and marble tiles are commonplace in the stone industry. Among the types of white marble, we present below the white Carrara marble and the Biancone marble.

White Carrara marble

white carrara marble

White Carrara marble is considered among the types of marble par excellence and is undoubtedly the most famous of the Carrara marbles. The peculiarity of white Carrara marble is the thin, homogeneous and compact grain, very rich in calcium carbonate. White Carrara marble has a low refractive index which gives the stone a special luster capable of giving great brightness to the environments in which it is placed.

Biancone marble

Biancone marble is also known as Bianco Perlino or Bianco d’Asiago due to the extraction area in the Asiago Plateau. It is a neutral white marble, solid and of quality and, based on the high or low quarrying area of the quarry, it has an ice white color up to a slightly warmer white. Biancone marble is mainly used for marble cladding and for internal and external flooring, often together with Rosso Asiago marble for the construction of checkered floors.

Black marble

While marble is a metamorphosed limestone, black marble is actually sedimentary limestone with a lot of organic bitumen in it, which gives it its characteristic viscous black color. Among the types of black marble that should be included we find the black Marquina marble and the black absolute marble.

Black Marquina marble

black marquinia marble

Black Marquina marble takes its name from the country in Spain where it is mined and is categorized as bituminous lime as it contains black minerals such as carbon or bitumen (generated from sludge). Nero Marquina marble is characterized by a deep black color interrupted by white inserts which derive from the presence of fossil remains as well as whitish veins sometimes tending to green.

Black absolute marble

Black absolute marble, better known as black Zimbabwe marble (for the country it comes from), is not a marble but a natural stone of magmatic origin similar to granite, the Gabbro. The grain of the black absolute marble is of a color ranging from dark gray to black and is characterized by a uniformity that makes it a very homogeneous and elegant rock.

Beige marble

Beige marble is also very popular in marble interior design and owes its color to the sandy sediment that the stone has obtained over the millennia. The two types of beige marble that we present are Botticino marble and Crema Marfil marble.

Botticino marble

Botticino marble is extracted in the Brescia area and in particular in the quarries of Botticino and neighboring municipalities. It is a beige marble with brown veins, extremely compact and with a homogeneous grain composed of fine, carbonatic and mainly calcareous mud.

Crema Marfil marble

Crema Marfil marble is a wonderful marble of Spanish origin characterized by a uniform beige color and thin gold-colored veins that make it even more precious and easily recognizable. Crema Marfil marble is probably considered the best beige marble on the market due to its impact resistance, excellent physical qualities and low permeability coefficient.

Travertine

Travertine is a chemical and organogenic sedimentary rock, consisting mainly of calcium carbonate minerals. Most often sold as marble or limestone, travertine actually represents neither. Although it is actually a natural stone just like marble and granite, travertine is characterized by a different formation process: travertine is formed when waters rich in bicarbonates release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and to photosynthetic plant organisms, this process favors the precipitation of calcium carbonate in the form of encrustations. The morphology of the deposits and their texture depend on the type of structures that are encrusted, the speed of water flow, the rate of precipitation, the extent of the contribution of vegetation to the removal of CO2, which gives it a less dense structure than to marble.

Travertine is considered an extremely versatile stone also due to its very wide range of colors: based on some factors including the stone age and the presence of oxides or impurities (e.g., sand, silt, plants), the colors it can take vary from milky white to walnut, from pink to scarlet red.

We now mention two varieties of travertine, namely the noce travertine and the Roman travertine.

Noce travertine

Although there are lighter variants, noce travertine belongs to the family of dark-colored travertines with shades between brown and walnut, in fact. There are many varieties all over the world but it is generally considered a typical Tuscan stone as the most valuable varieties come from this area.

Roman travertine

Impossible not to mention travertine without mentioning its most famous variant, namely the Roman travertine. The term travertine derives from “tiburtinus” since it mainly comes from an area below Tivoli. Travertine, in fact, was one of the materials primarily used in Roman construction: its use was so typical (think of the monuments of the caliber of the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Trevi Fountain) that it was later called Roman travertine. There are several variations of Roman travertine which generally tend towards lighter shades, from cream to ivory and from dove gray to light gray.

Green marble

Green marble is a stone that can touch different shades of green, from light green to almost black. Its color is often due to the very abundant presence of minerals of the serpentine group deriving from rocks originally rich in magnesium with silica impurities; one of the varieties of green marble, namely the green marble of Prato, is in fact also called serpentine.

Green Marbles represent shreds of oceanic crust that emerged following the collision between tectonic plates. They are therefore magmatic serpentine rocks often consisting of a brecciated structure which have undergone re-cementation processes of serpentine clasts and processes of chemical deposition of white calcite from circulating waters rich in calcium bicarbonate.

Green Guatemala marble

green guatemala marble

Green Guatemala marble or verde Guatemala obviously takes its name from the country of origin in Central America even if today, actually, the main mining site is located in India. Green Guatemala marble is an emerald green rock with a normally homogeneous background jagged by dense veins of darker shades.

Verde Alpi

Serpentinites are frequent especially in the Apennine region but can also be found in the Alpine area. The term verde Alpi marble generically indicates the serpentinite rocks extracted in northern Italy, in particular in the province of Aosta. Verde Alpi marble is a brecciated stone mainly of dark color and characterized by the variable presence of lighter veins that stand out from the background.

Marble quarries, where marble is extracted

A marble quarry is the place of marble extraction. There are essentially two types of marble quarry: the marble quarry in level areas and the mountain marble quarry. Both types of quarries have difficulties to overcome. The level ground marble quarry suffers from humidity due to the presence of groundwater and requires pumping stations and canalization systems for its removal. On the other hand, the mountain marble quarry presents a great difficulty for its reaching: that is why the construction of long and very expensive roads is almost always required (think of the Yule marble which is extracted at 2,800 m above sea level).

Marble extraction

Let’s now see how are marbles extracted. Since ancient times there have been many methods for marble extraction from quarries but the most important development in this sector has been recorded in the last 150 years.

With the advent of gunpowder, in particular, the extraction of marble was facilitated compared to previous centuries: the use of mines, in fact, allowed marble extraction in large portions and in a relatively short time. However, this technique involved a great waste of material. That is why there was a move first to a more controlled use of explosives and then to different techniques.

After the explosion there was a shift to methods of marble extraction “by cutting”. The first of all was cutting with helical wire: a cable around which steel wires were wound in a helix and in whose grooves a solution of water and abrasive materials such as sand was placed.

The next method of marble extraction, which is still the most used, is the cutting with diamond wire, introduced towards the end of the seventies in the Carrara marble quarry. The principle is very similar to cutting with helical wire but instead of the abrasive material, industrial diamond is used and allows to obtain much better results with minimum waste.

Marble price

On the basis of all the topics discussed above, marble price is then obtained. In particular, marble price depends on three factors: type of marble, origin and quality of the block.

The type of marble is undoubtedly the most important element as some types of marble are rarer and are considered more valuable than others. The provenance is another fundamental factor: the high cost of Yule marble, for example, derives from the difficulty of marble extraction being found only in a quarry at the top of the Elk Mountains in Colorado. Finally, even within the same type, marble price can vary based on the beauty of the single block extracted.

Marble interior design

As we have previously seen, the use of marble dates back to antiquity: it began with the construction of statues, temples and important public buildings up to the construction application. What is certain is that marble is unanimously considered a sumptuous material capable of qualitatively elevating and enhancing the environment in which it is placed. One of the main reasons why this stone is used in marble interior design is undoubtedly its durability and resistance to impact and abrasion: marble, in fact, is used in the same way for indoor and outdoor furnishing.

Beyond the technical and practical reasons, there are obviously aesthetic reasons for marble interior design. First of all, the intrinsic brightness of this material: the ability of marble to reflect light makes it possible to considerably accentuate the brightness of the rooms. Marble also has aesthetic characteristics that make it extremely pleasant to the eye and to the touch and finally, thanks to the infinite color combinations it offers, marble is a very versatile material capable of enhancing and making welcoming both rustic or retro environments, both minimal and hypermodern spaces.

In light of the above, as regards the main marble interior design uses, the following furnishing components can be made with marble:

Marmomac: marble international trade fair

Marmomac is the most important fair dedicated to marble and the entire chain of the stone industry, from extraction to technologies for stone processing, design and architecture. The fair is held every year at the fairgrounds of the city of Verona. For more information about the Marmomac fair in Verona, we suggest you visit their website.

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