International correspondent, Joe Simpson reports on the largest natural stone exhibition in the world and why it deserves its impeccable reputation.

Marmomac 2018, the 53rd iteration of the international stone exhibition in Verona, Italy, confirmed the event’s pivotal place at the heart of the global natural stone sector.

This year, more than 60% of the 1,600 exhibiting companies were from other countries than Italy. And, out of 68,000 visitors over the four days, only 38% came from Italy. Attendees from 150 countries visited the show, and the number of countries sending business delegations involving top buyers and architects also increased, from 55 in 2017 to 65 this year.

The show attracted a greater number of visitors from the USA, China, India, and Russia; while attendance from European countries was stable, with Germany and Spain leading the way. This year growing interest reported from Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indochina; while contacts in the Middle East, Israel, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico have strengthened.

Exhibitors from Iran reported having sold all of their unhewn and semi-finished blocks on display, and there was also positive feedback from companies in the Balkan region and Turkey, despite the current crisis affecting the Turkish Lira. Giovanni Mantovani, CEO of event organiser Veronafiere, said: “Internationality is one of the key words for understanding the success of Marmomac. We have created a natural stone community that can rely on the events we organise in…the United States, Brazil, Egypt, and Morocco.”

At any natural stone exhibition, especially one with the sheer scale and international scope of Marmomac, identifying current product trends is difficult. There are so many quarries and processors from around the globe, many promoting local speciality stones, that the trends can get obscured by the enormous variety of products on display. And, of course, due to its Italian heritage, marble is always centre stage at Verona.

Marble colours

This year, as ever, the classic white marble varieties were prominent. White marbles, like Carrara and Statuario, still enjoy widespread appeal, and were often paired with dramatic black contrasts, notably Nero Marquinia. If there was one direction for marble this year it was towards more strongly veined, heavily figured and dramatic options, often book-matched. Also catching the eye were white marbles with golden or silver veining. Glamour appears to be the order of the day, and this was carried through into onyx and semi-precious stone like agate.

Colour of choice was blue stones. These came in many forms, from white marbles with soft blue veins, through to ultra-dramatic, intense blue quartz. Classic Belgian blue limestone rubbed shoulders with powerful blue Brazilian slate, and there was also a good showing of translucent blue stones from the top Italian processors. Azul bahia and Sodalite offered more blue choices.

With the equipment halls displaying inspirational computer-generated sculpting and carving options, it would be easy to overlook the more commonplace grinding and polishing procedures. But Marmomac really emphasised texture as well as tone, with satin, matt, bush-hammered, lapatto, flamed, leather and striated strip surfaces, given equal prominence to semi-polished and highly polished gloss surfaces.

Some of the riven and brushed travertine floor tile looked very striking, offering a liveable colour with just enough surface variety to add long-lasting interest.
Black Chinese slate also looks like a strong contender for contemporary interiors as the surface is smoother than many other slates, while its colour versions are less busy and more suited to today’s conservative taste.

And, retailers or designers seeking a truly classic tile will have warmed to the excellent range of Crema Marfil selections on display. This classic Spanish marble tile from the Alicante region of Spain, features a pale beige background with brown to red figuring. It is restful, elegant, beautiful, and versatile.

At Marmomac, many exhibitors offered just the right amount of veining to reassure that the stone is of the highest quality. Equally at home in a kitchen, bathroom, hallway, or conservatory, Crema Marfil is suitable for many applications, both domestic and commercial.

Everyday stone

One of the key features of Marmomac 2018 was the way it married the commercial side of the natural stone sector with the world of architecture, design, art, and luxury brands to emphasise the functional and aesthetic potential of natural stone. This was most clearly seen in The Italian Stone Theatre, a hall that emphasised the interplay between natural stone and advanced processing technologies through avant-garde installations by a number of top designers.

Water was a unifying element that animated The Italian Stone Theatre. Not surprisingly, the theme for 2018 was Water and Stone, where water’s fluid nature provided both contrast and a dialogue with the solidity of stone. Overall, this hall showed how the functional possibilities of stone in construction and design have significantly evolved due to stone processing machinery and the creative way that architects, designers, and artists have embraced this technology.

In The Italian Stone Theatre, a large expanse of water defined the space in which the exhibitions were set up. The displays were connected by elevated stone pavements, fabricated in Gneiss Blumaggia split stone by Mec and Materica Stone, and enhanced by dramatic theatrical lighting.

Among the various exhibitions were Liquido, Solido, Litico (Liquid, Solid, Stone), curated by Raffaello Galiotto. It promoted ideas for wellness environments through prototype furniture and accessories for bathrooms, saunas, thermal baths, and spas.

Marea by Elena Salmistraro, one of the works as part of Liquid, Solid, Stone, won the third edition of the Icon Award and will now be adopted as the marketing image for Marmomac 2019. Produced by Vicentina Marmi with Donatoni Macchine in Arabescato Orobico from Cave Gamba, Marea interprets marble in a complex bathroom sculpture.

Aesthetically complex, it simultaneously references classical, post-modern, contemporary and primitive figurative elements. Marea is a kind of painting on a book-matched slab of marble, in which solid forms are isolated, simplified, and embedded in a composition that creates a bath and a sink. The simple, almost rigid, shapes contrast powerfully with the characteristic stripes of Abrobescato Orobico, creating an installation that has both complexity and richness.

In Architetture per l’acqua, curated by Vincenzo Pavan, three companies collaborated with architects to develop projects focusing on façade cladding and reflective architectural elements. The result was a scenic exhibition comprising three stone towers overlooking a large pond. For the façades, marbles and natural stones of different origins were selected and processed by partner companies.

Brand & Stone, curated by Giorgio Canale, showcased concepts from high-end furniture brand s and design accessories. They included Antoniolupi, Baxter, Tonino Lamborghini Casa, Gervasoni, Horm, Imperfettolab, Luxury Living Group, and Qeeboo Milano.

The standout item came from Formitalia Luxury Group, which has been producing and distributing the Tonino Lamborghini Casa line for over fifteen years. They made a special edition of the GT desk in Ombra di Caravaggio marble. It features a double support with a symmetrical leg form that highlights the aerodynamic character of the design.
Percorsi d’Arte, also curated by Galiotto, investigates the artistic use of machinery in the processing of stone materials. With the expansion of numerical control technologies, the natural stone sector has installed increasingly high-performance systems. Even for art workshops, initially reluctant to introduce such devices, the use of these new tools seems now to be viewed as an interesting opportunity for renewal.

For Marmomac 2018, a group of international artists sharing an experimental research in the use of new technologies, created a series of works designed and implemented entirely with software and computer-controlled machinery. All works were created from blocks measuring 1,800 by 800 by 300mm, inviting creativity and lateral thinking while also minimising waste. The designers were Nicolas Bertoux, Raffaello Galiotto, Sylvestre Gauvrit, and Jon Isherwood.

The Young Stone Project exhibition displayed objects and prototypes in stone from undergraduate and post-graduate design students. It brought together work from students at Bar Polytechnic University, University of Pescara, University of Rome La Sapienza, University of Ferrara, Cignaroli Academy of Fine Arts, the San Zeno School, and the Verona-based Construction & Building School.

Another key theme at Marmomac was the leading role stone has to play in sustainable urban development and re-development projects. “Marmomac is the true heart of the international stone industry community and the thermometer for this market,” said Mantovani. “Marmomac has the merit of having revolutionised the once residual or luxury use of natural stone into everyday life and urban contexts.”

Veronafiere president, Maurizio Danese, said, “Stone is a very ancient material that is experiencing a new renaissance that Marmomac…interprets by simultaneously promoting two directions of development in the sector: design and technology.”

Business opportunities linked with natural stone were, as ever, at the heart of Marmomac. Product categories were redefined this year to make them more stringent and rational.

Photography: Luca Morandini.