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We are living in the times when both investors and stonemasons are sceptical about what stone to choose. Do not get us wrong – we do not mean that what nature gave us is now coming to an end. Innovative materials is a very good topic for the branch press, but the “rock” has a still very good position!

Sintered quartz, but also latest generation conglomerates are winning the hearts of consumers and contractors – this is what we can read in communications published by more and more companies. The customer today wants guaranteed repeatability, wants to have power over nature and eliminate all that is perceived as beauty of a rock. All that nature gave us (erratic blocks, for example) or we obtained from earth thanks to conscious actions of a human being is no longer fashionable. Is it really so?

raport1Sintered quartz as a product that has specific properties has been on the market for about 10 years now and is successfully applied in architecture (claddings, floors, ceilings, elevations). In Poland sintered quartz in a wide range of patterns appeared quite late – architects started speaking about “multi-purpose panels” as late as in 2012. Since then we can hear more and more information about its “impressive mechanical properties” (for example much bigger resistance to scratching). Reinforcement of surface for mounting, with fibre glass for example, makes the composite far better than a typical 8-12 mm stoneware tile. The thinner material (3 mm + reinforcement) appears to be also exceptionally flexible.    

- By 2013 kitchen tops made of natural stone represented 65% of the market whereas laminated, acrylic and ceramic tops represented the remaining 35%. But as soon as Polish stone companies have started processing and using 3.5 mm thick sintered quartz, the proportions are gradually changing – Adam Pikul from Franken-Schotter GmbH & Co. KG analyses the share of all materials in kitchen arrangements.  

- The year 2014 was the symptom of changes. Since then the Polish tycoon and the main player in furniture industry has been significantly decreasing the volume of orders for kitchen tops made of natural stone and increasing composite ones. Even worse effects brought the change of policy at construction stores. They suddenly started to demand a specific “compatibility” from suppliers of window sills and raw stone counter tops, at the same time reserving the right to make complaints about veins, imperfections and colour changes.  

What is this arbitrary “compatibility” in case of natural stone product? This is a catch-all which was popular a few years ago not only among large investors who carefully stored a “reference” sample of stone and at one point started to confront it with the delivered material using properties and nature of natural material as an argument to get a lower price for subcontractor's services.    

raport2Interestingly, we have not had such a construction boom in Poland for at least 5 years. Last year the biggest number of flats were put into use since the political transformation. We feel we must remind of it because installation companies are undoubtedly the most affected link in the investment chain in Poland. It is no secret that the budget of an average investment is sometimes exceeded as early as installation company enters the building shell. This situation puts a stone work subcontractor in a difficult position because he joins the project as the last one. Then, investors look for savings and do everything to find something bad in the work of stone companies. Facade installations and surface hydrophobizations usually reveal all the “sins” committed by previous contractors.   

It is obvious that contracts between general contractors and subcontractors should not contain provisions which are asymmetric, that is the ones which impose on stone companies obligations related to (in case of real or alleged negligence) excessive entanglement in the payment process or in getting back (after many years) reimbursement of guarantee fee (the so-called “good performance”).  

- There are even anecdotes which say that demand for lowering the payment for installation works on elevations by 50% is sometimes justified by the fact that the elevation is only in 50% aesthetic when compared with the reference model – because when it rains half of the elevation from the western side gets darker – explains Adam Pikul.

- In most cases it is the architect who is to blame. While designing natural stone elevation he sometimes does not know much about stone's properties, resistance and reactions to local climate or, what is worse, hydrophobization of elevation and stone surrounding was omitted. Then we should ask ourselves a question: is anything missing in this craft? Perhaps qualifications, because of no stone vocational schools? Drastic savings which lead to poor quality of materials and poor work reliability? I am asking those questions because something strange has happened recently.

Destructive competition (lowering margins) on the market of stone services and staff shortages lowered the quality and led to reshuffling which resulted in choosing alternative materials and more profitable works. But what works?  


According to many market players, there are more and more projects with the use of composite materials, large size sintered quartz in particular. Statistical analysis of investments in Mazovian Province proves that “non-stone” elevations represent as much as 80%, 60% of which are combined ones, for example sheet and stone. Projects of multi-storey buildings (openwork) are very trendy now. A typical project of an office building is a stone monolith – if it is black, it must be well-lit at night. The higher the floor is the more frequently found combinations of glass, ceramics and composites are.

But there are also people who prove something else: a growing demand for so-called studio works where required precision of installation leads to higher prices and generates higher profitability. Sintered quartz? They are … “noisy”, but so far we have not observed a sudden growth of projects with their use – says Paweł Bereza from Pamir company. Stone companies are just buying the machines now. Some are too weak to cope with production, not mentioning stocking. You cannot rely on warehouses – the customer wants to see the sinters which would mean the necessity to freeze a big amount of money.

The majority highlights that latest generation composites just complement the regular offer of our companies and because of that saying that the time of stone is coming to an end is not justified! There are some, however, who say that stone has become too … moody in the recent years. Did women think that stone is no longer fashionable? There is some truth in it. When we decide to choose a stone it is worth to think about its protection and the way we want to maintain it. Not all stones are acid resistant, for example, which means that if a housewife is not warned that sauerkraut may affect marble, we may be sure she will make a complaint soon.


We can also try to explain the reason for growing scepticism of consumers to natural stone by many years of negligence – both in the industry and because of low technical culture... of Polish people. The amendment to the consumer's act introduced significant changes to the law (valid from 2015) increasing the seller's responsibility and extending the buyer's rights. Recently, new information obligations towards entrepreneurs and consumers have increased. They relate, for example, to the scope of explaining how to use a sold good.  If a consumer is a buyer, then the seller is obligated, among others, to provide the buyer with the manual in Polish language.  

raport3In Poland we can now feel the effects of indulgence as regards the contractor's obligation to provide the customer with clear information and as regards executing contractual recommendations regarding recommended and not advisable methods of “care”, including the methods created by specialists – for example when we think of ventilated elevations (in high buildings in particular) made of stone panels and the risk of their degradation as a result of drying and capillary action which grows together with rising temperature amplitude during the day and at night. And now a titbit: last year we predicted that mediations would be very important and useful for subcontractors. Did they help stone industry? Not really. The contractor sooner goes bankrupt or … change the name of his company than a valuer manages to say something, so the temptation to get money – even if it is 50% less – seems better than getting involved in disputes.

One thing is certain. More and more entrepreneurs revelled in innovative materials and that is why we can observe that ventilated stone elevations are getting less popular. Once mass production of flexible elements (sheets) and now sintered elements with stone powder in the form of a thin facade (sinters) may guarantee incredible savings during transport, installation and maintenance. Sinters are unbeatable in terms of weight (180 square metres of 4 cm thick stone elevation panels equal as many as 5,000 sqm of 3 mm thick sinters), so they are much easier and quicker to be anchored (they do not need 4 people to do that). Another advantage of elevation like this is that no maintenance is required: hardly any absorbability and insensitivity to dirt.  

- There is no doubt that conglomerate or sinter is better than stone if it comes to price and weight – says Małgorzata Bielska from Mega-stone Sp. z o.o.
- Both of them are much lighter (which is important during installation) and cheaper which seems to be very tempting in the early stage of investment. High cost of natural stone compared to synthetic materials is, however, only apparent. It is so, because we need to take into consideration maintenance and life of raw materials. Synthetics must be changed after a few years whereas natural stone always looks the same.   
We love natural stone, but sinters guarantee good margin and do not give us a headache too – this is what the branch seems to repeat.

In the last few years there were more and more “problematic” stone consumers. Therefore, it is not surprising that competition of sinters was getting stronger. In the last year some new or improved sinters were announced. Their qualities are reaching architects in a more and more effective way. Sinters do need any attention from the consumer or user which in Poland appears to be the most important argument. Any proof? It is enough to ask in the nearest public utility department about the so-called pavement and elevation winter maintenance plan – we mean, of course, stone pavements and elevations! Another thing is that municipal services do not clean and preserve stone elevations. Whilst in Vienna, for example, a water cart operator is aware of the fact that he has to turn on side spraying in order to protect stone from anti-sleet agents. And in Germany dog owners may get a 500 EUR fine when their dogs have just an intention to leave urine on the pavement (sic!).     

If you add quite quite a small amount of money to that, we can get a long-lasting well protected stone elevation. Hydrophobization costs about 10 zlotys per square metre (ca. € 2.5 per m2). It does not matter much since today the busiest people are those who deal with removing hooligans' graffiti from stone walls.


To sum up, advantages of new materials are more and more often juxtaposed with natural stone. Nevertheless, projects in which decorative qualities of stone are put first are still very popular. Their biggest advantage is the fact that fashion and time do not affect it since it gets old in a beautiful way! - says Małgorzata Bielska. Customers who are interested in a material like this usually have sophisticated aesthetic sense. They are looking for extraordinary and unique goods.

raport4It is difficult to imagine a better material for sculptures and design installations. Perhaps we do not know how to show qualities of rocks? Natural stone – especially soapstone – is a very good conductor of heat and is able to store a lot of it. All we have to do is to wait (maybe this year?) for highly advanced radiators with innovative heat accumulation system. We got to know about it from one of the entrepreneurs who is right now applying for EU funds. He does not want to give his idea wide publicity. Another very desired aspect of using stone as a heat battery is applying aggregate in hybrid gabion elements such as fire places and gabion stoves – adds Maciej Sroka, the president of Gabeco company. Recently, along with Polish Green – manufacturer of green decorative aggregate – we have made recreational gabion buildings with the use of Polish Green products in the area of antigorite serpentinite pit in Nasławice.

The above arrangement is a public space with a separate fire place. This innovative approach was made with the use of a new green stone on the market.

Additional advantage of applying stone in gabions is using them as noise absorbing panels and fire barriers as well as constructions which significantly reduce dust coming from urban areas.

Another use of a rock which is insensitive to what technology offers? In this issue of Świat Kamienia we are writing about strategic investments: with the use of natural stone (hydrotechnical stone) and about those which make transport costs lower (modernization of waterways). We do not have to prove that natural stone is still very popular in cemetery furniture branch.   

Rafał Dobrowolski


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