Stone Discoveries: Bianco Avorio, Grigio Alpi, and Grigio Argento

Owing to its refined aesthetic, and warm, neutral colors, Grassi Pietre stones, namely Bianco Avorio, Grigio Alpi, and Grigio Argento, are particularly suitable for both classical and modern applications. A typical characteristic of the stones is their tendency to grow harder with time, owing to their calcareous structure. This makes them suitable for large external surfaces.

Bianco Avorio is characterized by its light ivory color. It is the result of the sedimentation of innumerable minute fossils, which create its thin, flowery texture through the presence of fossil algae. It is a popular stone for classical sculpture, and suitable for exterior and interior cladding, floors, staircases, and every other building component imaginable.

Grigio Argento is a modern material characterized by its typical grey color. Its unique texture is characterized by the presence of macrofossils in a grey sand matrix.

Similarly, Grigio Alpi, a light grey stone, is characterized by the presence of the same fossil content, and has had a recent resurgence in popularity in modern art and architecture.

A wide variety of effects can be achieved through hand finishing, and it is through this process that the striking aesthetic qualities of the material are realized. In a rigato, or strirated, finish, the materials convey a natural rustic hardiness which make them suitable for an infinitude of exterior applications. In a levigato, or honed, or spazzolato, or brushed, finish, the aesthetic properties of the stones’ fossil content are highlighted.

The material was used extensively by the Venetian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, namely in his “Villas of the Veneto,” designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The Grassi family started working in these quarries in 1850 and is still based in its historical headquarters in Nanto (Vicenza). Grassi Pietre’s close proximity to the quarries on the Berici Hills allows them to produce considerable amounts of material while maintaining constant supervision over quarrying activity. The company can check and select various stratifications in accordance with the requirements of a given order.

Stone Discoveries: Luget Limestone

Barneys New York, 660 Madison Avenue

Luget is a beige limestone, distinct for its homogeneity and the smooth consistency of its graining. It is quarried exclusively in the commune of Pranzac, in the Charente department in southwestern France. Upon reaching the town for my visit to the quarry, I was immediately struck by the appearance before me of the Castle of Pranzac: a large, crumbling ruin from the early feudal period. I had been struck by both the beauty of this lingering vestige of a time long lost, and the irony that, so close to what was in its heyday the height of decorative arts, is a quarry from which we cull raw materials for treasured ruins of the future.

The Luget quarry covers over 130,000 square feet, and the company which operates it produces approximately 30,000 cubic feet of limestone each year, primarily supplying large scale projects—for which reason is this stone ideal for such projects. In the recent past, the quarry has provided material for Barneys New York at 660 Madison Avenue, various museum pedestals in the Galerie Richelieu of the Musée du Louvre, and several of the chateaux and wineries of Bordeaux.

The most common finishing technique employed with this material is honing, a process of sharpening with hand scrapers and plane blades to achieve a smooth, flat consistency. Giving the stone this kind of clarity of texture tends to highlight its striking uniformity, and the muted and consistent nature of its graining. It is a disarmingly warm, earthy stone, with gold, at other times, ochre, hues; and, superlative as a building material for residential interiors when textured with an antic or brushed surface.

Perhaps the key to the splendor of Luget limestone is its versatility: at home in modern interiors as well as treads and copings, employed as veneer or with dynamic dimensionality. Luget can even be used as a cobblestone, hence giving the material extensive purchase as a resource for landscape architects and urban designers.

Luget quarry

Most frequently applied as residential flooring, paving and wall-cladding, Luget stone’s versatility is evident in that it can also be carved, allowing for a variety of elaborate and beautiful frontages for the structures it adorns,—such as the relatively recently constructed, extremely modern Yorkville condominium development at 170 East End Avenue.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Luget limestone, from the south of France.

Stone Discoveries: Breccia Capraia

Breccia Capraia quarry

Breccia Capraia quarry

Breccia Capraia marble, even in its rawest and least finished state, is a complexly beautiful sight to behold. Owing to its unique brecciation–meaning: its being composed of variously shaped and sized fragments, set against a backdrop of an entirely different material of a radically different appearance—owing to this happy accident of geological formation, millions of years old, the raw material invokes in the beholder a wide array of emotions and mnemonic associations.

While one might be reminded by it of the effect of a setting sun, or the impasto of the French impressionists, another might recognize in its meticulous intricate patterns the topography of the arctic tundra; a tableau of the earth disappearing before you as you ascend into the skies on an airplane.

While this variety of dramatic interpretation may be true of any number of breccias, it is the subdued and subtle forms taken by Breccia Capraia that make the stone’s use such an intriguing premise to architects and designers. Depending on its application, the marble may be showy and ostentatious, or a tasteful complement to more pronounced decorative elements. In the latter case, where the material is intentionally not played to its obvious strengths as a facing stone, it provides an ambient backdrop that seems to almost swirl about imperceptibly.

This mobile nature of the stone contrasts with the muted, near transparent effect of its brecciation: hues of purple, red, grey, and green vein about the warm, pale background, almost in a blur of liminal motion, where one seems to bleed into another, and where the angular forms become increasingly amorphous and difficult to trace with the eye.

Schwarzemberg Hotel, Vienna

Schwarzemberg Hotel, Vienna

Significant structures which incorporated Breccia Capraia in their construction include the former Home Savings headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in Los Angeles, and the Schwarzemberg Hotel in Vienna.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Breccia Capraia, quarried on the Tyrrhenian seaside of the Apuan Alps, in Tuscany.


Stone Discoveries: Pietra Serena

A Medici Chapel at the Basilica of San Lorenzo

A Medici Chapel at the Basilica of San Lorenzo

To get to the Pietra Serena quarry one has to travel through vast, wide Chestnut plantations. I wasn’t until then aware that Chestnuts were even cultivated at such a scale. The closer we drew to the site of excavation, through the gaps in the trees arrayed there I could see the incipient layers of the mountain: it’s perfect and shows a stark contrast of darker and lighter variegations.

Florence (in Italian: Firenze) and the region it calls home, Tuscany (Toscana) are widely known as the birthplaces of the Italian Renaissance and are, accordingly, noted for the ornately decorated structures which were constructed there in this period. From the middle ages, a predominating building material of preference in the region has been a grey sandstone known as Pietra Serena.

Also known as Macigno stone, and, alternately, as la pietra color del cielo (“sky blue stone”) Pietra Serena most famously adorns Michelangelo’s Medici Chapels, at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, in Florence, and was used by Filippo Brunelleschi in the construction of pilasters and entablatures for the Pazzi Chapel, located at the Basilica di Santa Croce, in the same city.

Even before the veritable explosion of innovations in the decorative arts brought about in the Renaissance period, Pietra Serena sandstone was used for the Etruscan Walls of neighboring Perugia, constructed between the sixth and third centuries BC, to fortify the region and establish a border between the domains of the Etruscans and the Umbrians.

Pietra Serena is characterized by its homogenous uniformity of color: that being, a deep bluish-grey; the material itself is finely grained and compact, so as to create an effect of near transparency of texture. The unveiling to me of the quarry as the vegetation in the Chestnut orchard began to thin out, gave rise to a near indescribable sense of visual disorientation: this, owing to the Zebra-like quality of the quarry faces, the lines running at degrees oblique to the surface upon which I stood, there was a sense of being in the Tilted House of some amusement park of natural wonders.

quarry2shrunkenedAfter making the rounds, from a safe distance I watched a tiny figure in orange prep a large block of the stone for dynamiting. While other quarries I’ve encountered employ saw or water cutting, combustion appears to be the preferred method here.

For its homogeneity of texture Pierta Serena has endured in popularity—and therefore demand—into the modern era, and is ideal as a complement to a wide variety of materials of different colors, designs and textures. It is a highly workable material, due to its low cohesion and clayey matrix, and highly durable (more so than usual for a sandstone) so much so that it can even be used, and has been historically, as road paving.

As popular in interior applications, for its aesthetic versatility, as it is in exteriors, for its resistance to cold, rain, sunlight, and inclement weather conditions, it is one of the most sought after building materials in the continent of its origin, and the world over.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Pietra Serena, from Florence, a stone of immense popularity throughout history and into the present day.


Stone Discoveries: Rosa Aurora

Though naturally occurring stone deposits are one of nature’s most wondrous aesthetic phenomena, the Rosa Aurora quarry is in some respects, a work of humans. It bears deep, clearly visible layers of extraction, a result of over two-thousand years of quarrying. The inauguration of this practice was the culling of materials for the Roman circus of Emerita Augusta, a large, open-air venue for chariot racing in Mérida in western central Spain, then part of the Roman Empire.

I visited the quarry in December, during Portugal’s rainy season, and while there I observed great pools of red clay washing over the quarry face and down into the pit below. My guide informed me that this effect is responsible for the aesthetically pleasing quality of the exposed stone deposits, bearing distinctive brown and red streaks. It was then I realized that humans were in some part responsible for the beauty of the quarry. Having cut into the mountain, they exposed the stone to the elements.

Given that the controversial business of humankind’s interference with nature is, in essence, the same business that brings me here today—the procurement of marble—I cannot help but consider these things. As I have said: the outward beauty of the quarry itself, which I have made some effort to capture with photographs, is the result of a stunning collaboration between humans and nature. The structures and interiors created from the material produced in Estremoz, the home of the Rosa Aurora quarry in the Alentejo region of Portugal, are the product of a collaboration between humankind and nature: naturally occurring minerals procured, finished, cut, and integrated meaningfully into the work of decorative artists.

Tower of Belém

Tower of Belém

This was true of the Batalha Monastery in Leiria, Portugal, a gargantuan project which took 130 years to complete, the Jerónimos Monastery, in Belém, and the fortified Tower of Belém, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lisbon. A masterpiece of the Portuguese late Gothic (or Manueline) style of architecture, it was commissioned by King John II in 1514, and served as a defense system for the Tagus river, that historic estuary whence emerged the maritime peregrinators of the storied Age of Discovery, the cauldron in which was forged the era of European globalization.

Portugal is one of the world’s largest exporters of marble, second only to Italy, and nearly ninety percent of Portuguese marble is procured from the quarries around Estremoz. For this reason, the towns outlying the quarries are veritable “cities of marble;” replete with marble doorsteps, pavement, and cobblestones. For over five hundred years, Rosa Aurora has traveled the world, as the Portuguese Navigators of the 15th and 16th centuries exported the material to Africa, India and Brazil. Today its most popular applications are interior, used in master bathrooms, as well as in countertops.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on Earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on Earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Rosa Aurora, from Portugal, which ranks among the most sought after marbles in the world.

Stone Discoveries: Calacatta Caldia

As our jeep made its way further and further up the mountain, I watched the red clay commune of Carrara, Massa disappear below me. For all the majesty of Tuscany’s Medici villas, the Renaissance art and architecture of neighboring Florence, I knew that what lay at the end of my journey, that magical place secreted away among the misty Apuan Alps, was a place of beauty, in a class of its own: the Caldia quarry (also known as the Rocchetta quarry); neighbor to the Carrara quarries. Seen from a great distance, they appear to be mere white specs on the mountains, but, in truth, they are the wellspring of luxurious raw materials destined to become masterpieces of art and architecture.

When my Carraresi guide, Ettore, halted the vehicle, the air was different, lighter. I realized then how far we had come. He pointed them out: the quarrymen in the rocky vale below working, like ants, carrying loads hundreds of times their own weight; and what they carried: something vital, maybe even sacred, practiced since the Romans first opened the mountains to extract the wonders within two thousand years ago. I observe them pulling this material from the earth and beginning the process…

Though the mountain formation that lies in Carrara consists almost entirely of marble, it can be very difficult to get at, owing to the accumulation of debris from quarriers of the past, who cut where it was most convenient and threw caution to the wind, employing none of the modern and more green quarrying techniques of the twenty-first century, pulling the blocks of stone, labeling them for civic use to avoid excises. These coagulations of rock can be hundreds of feet in depth. The growing cost of the marble culled from the Massa region has less to do with a lack of supply—the amount of marble secreted in the mountains of Massa is incalculable—than the struggle to unearth it. But I know I have come to this place, where occurred the germination of the architectural splendor of the Roman Empire, because the stone is worth that struggle.

In blocks, unpolished and uncut, Calacatta Caldia has a striking effect upon the senses, just as it does when confronted in art and architecture: one of bearing witness to something austere but also elegant in its simplicity. While the materials produced by the Carrara quarry have been a staple of art and architecture for thousands of years, owing to their stark ostentation, Caldia is now a staple of interior design because, in comparison to the other Calacatta marbles, it is much softer and more delicate; characterized by subtle, pale grey-green veining. It is this inconspicuousness of the material that allows it to, in its many and varied interior applications, toe the thin line which separates gaudiness and garishness, from the splendor of organic interiors which are uniform without being ordinary.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on Earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on Earth to the A&D community. Calacatta Caldia is one of the most perfect building materials in the world, and we are honored to bring it to you.

Stone Discoveries: Belgium Black

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Though use of Belgium Black marble has its origins in Roman Antiquity, in the Roman Empire’s occupation of Belgium; and has adorned a variety of historic structures- The Palace of Versailles and the Taj Mahal, to name but two- the Noir Belge (as it is known throughout Europe) quarry in Golzinne, Belgium, which has been functioning since 1928, is the only producer of the material in operation today. It was to this rustic hamlet, near the village of Bossière, in Gembloux, Namur, Belgium, that I knew I must travel, to make Belgium Black marble available through ABC Stone, to the American A &D community.

An underground quarry, the Noir Belge site is submerged in darkness. My guide, Océane, shows me the thick rich veins around which the quarry is arrayed, layer upon layer of uncut stone, to a soundtrack of mysterious underground rumblings, dripping water, the pattering of boot shod quarry workers.

When I mention to her that I possess some degree familiarity with the historic use of the inimitable stone, she soon leads me to realize that I only knew disparate anecdotes of a rich and fascinating story: a veritable history of the evolution of western civilization told through the stone itself. First used by the Ancient Romans in the construction of villas, the stone had become, by the early middle-ages, a staple of religious architecture: tombstones, monuments, altars, and the interiors of cathedrals-the stone having been chosen for this use for both the startling and grim piety of the blackness of the material, but also the great aesthetic relief that blackness could lend to the colorful inlays typical to the aforementioned structures.

By the Renaissance, the material began to be exported to major European courts, by monarchs who sought to sanctify their living quarters, thus beginning the material’s monarchal associations.

Noir Belge/Belgium Black Quarry

Noir Belge/Belgium Black Quarry

Belgium Black marble is nearly impossible to photograph due to its highly reflective nature. Correction: it is quite a simple task to capture, but the infinite range of what it reflects is actually completely subjective and impossible to portray in a two-dimensional medium. I was so intrigued by this material that I was led to investigate it further and, upon doing so, I learned that Belgium Black’s pure blackness-the cause of its reflectivity-is a result of its containing large amounts of unaltered organic matter, being cut from a fine-grained sedimentary formation dated approximately 360 million years ago.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on Earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on Earth to the A&D community. Belgium Black marble was also used in the construction of modern day landmarks such as the Carbide & Carbon Building in Chicago, an art deco masterpiece completed in 1929. We are honored to bring it to you.

Belgium Black Closeup

Belgium Black Closeup

The Black Skull Table by John Bizas (in Belgium Black Marble)

The Black Skull Table by John Bizas (in Belgium Black Marble)

Structures incorporating Belgium Black Marble, and the quarry today:

Stone Discoveries: Statuary Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln sits, enthroned, in his memorial. The seated figure depicts a colossus of history: one who united, amidst its greatest struggle, a nation divided. I am appropriately humbled, as though in the presence of an idol. But the Lincoln Memorial, the definitive Beaux-Arts masterpiece of the great architect Henry Bacon, and his final project – enthralls me for another reason… I am taken with the striking luminescence of the imposing marble exterior.

This material is, in fact, very special. Owing to the localized geology of the quarry near Aspen, Colorado where the stone, now known as Statuary Lincoln, is produced, the material is 99.5% pure calcite. As a result, it bears a complex and unique grain structure with a smooth texture, as well as that brilliant glow that captured my attention. To help make this material more readily available to the A&D community, I traveled to Marble, Colorado, to visit the storied Yule Marble Quarry.

Yule Marble, of which Statuary Lincoln is the highest grade, was discovered in the Crystal River Valley in 1873 by Sylvester Richardson, a geologist. Prospector George Yule rediscovered the material one year later. Samples were cut, polished, and taken to Denver, but they generated no interest, and so the marble became lost once again. Ten years later, prospectors digging into Whitehouse Mountain for silver and gold entered the Treasure Mountain Dome and discovered a thick marble vein. Thus began the transition of a mining town to one of quarrying marble. While nearby Crystal and Schofield were virtually abandoned, this town, later to become known simply as Marble, was thriving, as it still is today.

Quarry Workers Hitching a Ride

Quarry Workers Hitching a Ride

As I descend into the working quarry, the surrounding atmosphere is mystic; the sights I behold: breathtaking, stunning, and unique. I see large, white marble walls, walls bearing that distinctive glow of the material produced by this quarry: dramatic of aspect, stunning, and immense. To the ceaseless hum of quarrying equipment, saws and generators, I begin to explore, as though in a plane removed from the realms of reality. In the Yule Marble Quarry, I find myself in a one of a kind place unseen, I know, and unheard of, by most people.

The grandeur of the quarry, and a sense of its rich history, flood my senses. I am guided through this maze of earthly treasures to the Lincoln Gallery: named for the inimical memorial of which its material is constructed, it is a large section of the quarry that is unlike any other, producing a material that is undeniably beautiful and more consistent than most.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on Earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on Earth to the A&D community. Statuary Lincoln is among the most popular for the construction of monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, for which it is named, the Washington Monument, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It has also been incorporated in a number of historically significant structures, including Hearst Castle, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and we are honored to bring it to you.

Structures incorporating Statuary Lincoln marble, and the quarry today:

Stone Discoveries: Grand Antique d’Aubert

Discovery of the Quarry (Escavamar)

Discovery of the Quarry (photo: Escavamar)

It is already warm at the cusp of daybreak, and I find myself full of a familiar anticipation. I am led by my guide, Émile, into the historic Roman quarry of Grand Antique d’Aubert, a place left peaceful and undisturbed for seventy years. A proud French rooster crows in the distance as I finally behold the site, the reason for my journey: timeless; looming massive in its historical import, beauty, grandeur and storied past.

While I have ostensibly come here to procure a marble last seen almost a century ago, I am suddenly aware that I am witnessing the excavation of history. The timeless nature of the quarry and its fruits evoke a feeling of awe. I see around me the hand of God laying down layer after layer of beauty in motions that span from the beginning of time, and I hear the echoes of the distant past, the long silent rumblings of the earth spewing forth its bounty from a time before man.

Émile tells me that the Ancient Romans were the first to work the quarry and called the stone ‘marmum celticum’—Celtic marble,—and I am inspired to recall those Iron Age chieftains who once presided over this fertile region of southwestern France, some two-thousand years before it came to be known as Ariège. The Celts were among the first in history to produce steel and iron, thus pioneering that great leap forward in the development of human civilization. Similarly, here in this quarry, I am witnessing man’s incredible spirit at work. I consider the thought process of our distant relatives as they decided to dislodge this rock from the mountains which birthed it. I consider how they truly must’ve believed that nothing was impossible.

The Tomb of Joseph Napoleon

The Tomb of Joseph Napoleon

Émile explains that though this quarry has just recently been reopened after more than 70 years lying dormant, some of the great structures that this marble adorns still stand strong. The imposing statue of St. Peter at Westminster Abbey, the doleful tomb of Joseph Napoleon, the columns of the Tarbes Cathedral, the stately Diana Salon, of Louis Le Vau, in Louis XIV’s grand appartement in the palace of Versailles; the St. Louis Chapel at Les Invalides in Paris; and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

No matter how many times my work brings me to a quarry, I am freshly struck by the genius of the men who learned to live and work with the unimaginable weight and size of these blocks of stone in a time before the machinery of today allowed it to be moved about with relative ease. It occurs to me that the digging out of this marble, Grand Antique, and the incredible revitalization of this abandoned quarry is owed to more than the mere mechanics of stone quarrying: it is man’s eternal attempt to truly capture in architecture and design, the true art that is nature.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on Earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on Earth to the A&D community. I am proud of my work today… the bundle of Grand Antique slabs that I took part in purchasing is the first sold directly to the United States in 70 years. And we are honored to bring it to you.

Grand Antique closeupGrand Antique Slab

Structures incorporating Grand Antique marble: