|A slice of an amethyst stalactite from Artigas|
Department Uruguay photo: Rob Lavinsky
Quartz manufacturing has opened up such incredible opportunities for bringing extremely durable, beautiful, and easily-maintained natural stone surfaces into the home. Quartz has always been a prized natural gemstone—the names of many familiar semi-precious stones are actually members of the quartz family, such as jasper, onyx, amethyst, or agate. But in the last decade, its popularity as a home building material has skyrocketed.
Since 2004, US sales of quartz countertops have increased by 60 percent. Ten or fifteen years ago, quartz countertops were prohibitively expensive, and many homeowners didn’t consider the price hike worth the advantages quartz might offer over other natural stones like granite or marble. But relative prices have come down, and manufacturing techniques are only getting better, faster, and more efficient.
There are quartz counters that are hewn from single quarried slabs of rock, but most quartz today is engineered stone, which combines about 93-97 percent of ground natural quartz aggregates with polymer resin. This mixture produces a super-hard, basically un-stainable, and extremely beautiful slab of stone.
The manufacturing process of most quartz countertops begins with inspecting the raw materials for quality and homogeny, feeding them into a mixer, and blending them into a substance that resembles wet sand. The mixture is then poured into a mold, creating slabs which are then compacted with a special vacuum and vibration process with a pressure of 100 tons. This compacting is what makes granite so smooth—it’s much less porous than other natural stone like granite, meaning that quartz rarely needs to be sealed, is easier to clean or disinfect, and repels stains better. These pressed slabs are then heated in a kiln at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which cures the resin. After they rest, the slabs are polished to a beautiful shine with diamond abrasive.
One of the best properties of quartz is its versatility in terms of color. Quartz forms beautiful agates naturally, and you can buy quartz counters that maintain the integrity of these agates in a single stunning surface. On the other hand, because you can also grind the quartz mixture so finely, you can achieve essentially uniform color. Stones like granite and marble have natural variation along the slab that might be too unpredictable for your interior. Quartz slabs can also be mixed with dyes, and achieve basically any color you want. And finally, the luminosity of your counter will be unparalleled.