The legendary Italian marble
The marble market is booming!
With innovation, the Italian peninsula is fighting
to maintain his domination
on finished products
One of the many RESIMARMO® partner quarries
“Our best Sales Representative is called Michelangelo. »
Alvise Lazzareschi, the mustache bleached by years and marble dust, points a finger worthy of the famous fresco of the Sistine chapel towards the crenellated horizon by the cliffs with the plateaus cut with a chalk line. It was here, in this quarries in Carrara, that the Florentine genius himself came to choose the blocks from which to carve his masterpieces such as the “Pietà” or the “David”. He could have crossed the distant ancestors of the present master of the place who settled here, at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, in the Apuan Alps, on the borders of Liguria and Emilia-Romagna.
Since the 1st century BC, the immaculate blocks that allowed the erection of the Trajane column, those of the temples of ancient Rome, St Peter’s Basilica, the embellishment of Baroque churches, the palaces of kings and emperors throughout Europe and the statues that adorn its squares and monuments have been extracted. But Alvise Lazzareschi, son and grandson of quarryman, marble entrepreneur for nearly forty years, thinks especially of the future.
Two hundred years of work
It also seems as sparkling as the cliffs nibbled by the construction machines whose arms wave in the sun to deepen the blindingly reverberating blinds, open to the middle of the wooded flanks. His company’s turnover, one of 1,100 in a sector that employs 8,000 people in Massa-Carrara province, reached 3.8 million euros in 2017 and will most likely exceed 4 million in 2018.
“We talk about marble but we should say marbles because there are as many as white wines,”
explains Alvise Lazzareschi. The yellow of Siena, the turquoise or variegated blue, but also the portor, of a deep black with its amber veins, come from rocky flanks of an area of 750 km2 whose extraction basins represent only 20 km2. They are of a quality and rarity that differ but their success is ensured by the incomparable notoriety of white Carrara, become almost a synonym of marble in everyday language.
The exploitation of white gold ensures the wealth of the province of Massa-Carrara by employing 10% of its employees and ensuring 13% of its GDP (respectively 22% and 29% for the city of Carrara alone). Unlike black gold, resources are far from being exhausted.
“We still have two hundred years of work to do,”
Alvise Lazzareschi reassures himself by fixing the mountain, lightened each year from 23,000 to 25,000 tons of marble by about twenty workers.
The use of marble has become much more democratic in recent years
The quarry is of average size among the 35 from which RESIMARMO® marble is extracted in the province of Massa-Carrara. It alone accounts for about one third of national production, just ahead of Verona, which has a similar volume of activity.
“But Carrara is a great ticket to visit the whole world. The use of marble has become much more democratic in recent years. It is no longer used to show off its wealth and no longer responds solely to social prestige. It is widely used by architects for floors, interior decorations, bathrooms or kitchens. Demand from emerging countries is constantly growing and new markets are opening up, particularly in Latin America, with Peru and Chile, or some Asian countries experiencing a real boom.”
This is confirmed by the figures presented by the sector last September at the “Marmomacc” in Verona, the first international event for the stone market as a whole. It has not experienced the crisis and recorded, in 2017, a sixth consecutive year of growth with a growth of 3% worldwide, or about 300 million gross tons (net of quarry waste) and a turnover of 23 billion dollars.
Marble exports represent nearly 60 million tonnes, of which about 30 million tonnes are raw materials and just under 30 million tonnes are processed materials. These flows have quadrupled over the last two decades. In the first half of 2017, exports from Italy, where marble is mined in almost all regions, increased by 3.3% and production by 13.6%.
In terms of quantity, it will remain largely insufficient to catch up with Turkey, which represents nearly 42% of world exports in 2016, and more than 50% with Iran, Pakistan and India. But in terms of quality and turnover, at 1 billion euros last year, the peninsula is still one step ahead, in a sector comprising 3,300 companies and around 34,000 employees.
Italy has the largest variety of different marbles in the world and, through its primacy in design and architecture, sets the tone for its use. A guarantee of quality that explains why the marble from the Carrara quarries of the Arche de la Défense in Paris, the memorial of September 11 in New York, the Harrods stores in London and the great mosque in Abu Dhabi were used.
A demand satisfied in particular thanks to technological advances. For centuries, the precious blocks were torn from the quarries with spikes before a helical wire made cutting easier in the 19th century. It was replaced in the late 1970s by diamond wire.
“This has led to an unbridled exploitation of the natural resource. You could even call it predatory…
denounces Giuseppe Sansoni, author of several reports for the Legambiente environmental association.
“Production has increased 30-fold in forty years. In 1750, 5,000 tonnes were taken from quarries each year, and in 2005 it had risen to 5 million tonnes. More marble has been extracted in the last 50 years than in the previous 2,000 years!”
Aggregates were mainly extracted, since white gold blocks represent only 20% on average of what comes out of the quarries. The rest is soil and dust that ends up, at the slightest rain, in the streams that they contaminate, giving them a milky or brownish tinge.
Pollutant and hazardous
Criticisms of this industry are numerous: destruction of the landscape, pollution with the incessant ballet of nearly 1,000 trucks per day, which were still crossing downtown Carrara until 2012 to transport marble. Not forgetting the dangerousness of a trade that claimed the lives of five workers between 2014 and 2016, with an average of one dead per year during the last decade.
“Much effort has been made both to improve environmental protection and to raise safety standards,”
retorts Erich Lucchetti, the president of “Confindustria” of the province of Massa-Carrara, who considers “ideological” criticism of an activity which, by definition, changes the nature but whose economic impact on the territory is estimated at 500 million euros.
Quarry production, almost 90% of which is for export, has nevertheless fallen in volume by 37% over the last fifteen years, to 3.3 million tonnes.
“It too often leaves for foreign countries where labour is cheap to work the blocks,”
deplores Giuseppe Sansoni, pointing out that Carrara is the second most indebted municipality in Italy, in particular because of the construction of the new road bypassing the city centre.
“China, India or Brazil are now processing their own production without sending it here as before. They then land on the American market, for example, with prices per square metre two to three times lower than those of Italian companies.”
Italian quarries can therefore only compete on finished products to make real profits. In 2015, the value of quarry production was around 200 million euros, while that of companies working in stone represented 800 million euros. In 2010, the Tuscany region required quarries to process at least 50% of their production on site.
“This is obviously the future…
confirms Erich Lucchetti, recalling that with 40% of the marble worked in situ, the objective is practically achieved.
“They are already investing heavily to maintain and increase the quality of our finished products, which allows us to withstand increasingly tough competition from emerging countries, but also from artificial materials, using new types of quartz or ceramics from Spain, Israel, Italy and even multinationals such as Samsung.”
Consolidation of the sector
Marble stone companies will be looking for more and more engineers, designers and architects able to anticipate and meet the needs of customers and fewer and fewer traditional quarrymen, whose number has been divided by five in forty years.
“We will see a consolidation of the sector,” predicts Erich Lucchetti. Technological developments and increasingly stringent environmental standards will eliminate quarries that are too small, ageing or exploit deposits of insufficient quality. It’s physiological.”
This consolidation is also found worldwide, despite new players that have appeared or strengthened their position on the market in recent years such as Jordan, Oman, Iran, Morocco or Vietnam.
The World Stone Report of the “Marmomacc” trade fair estimates that future quarry production will be increasingly concentrated and more than 70% assured by less than ten countries: China, India, Turkey, Brazil, Spain and Italy. The latter must remain careful not to rest on its laurels because, if its prestige belongs to history, nothing says that the wealth it can draw from it is set in stone.