Man-made / Engineered marble is becoming a trend, but is it a worthy alternative to natural marble?
Natural Marble and Engineered Marble
The pristine elegance and luxury of marble are timeless. A natural metamorphosed limestone or dolomite rock, marble continues to be highly desirable. Many homeowners are partial to the classic and beautiful natural stone to adorn and elevate their interiors.
However, a recent interior trend sees interior designers and homebuyers increasingly using artificial or engineered marbles to create a style-statement similar to that of real marble. These `faux marble’, which has similar look and feel as natural marble, has become a versatile material used to make countertops and vanity tops, along with sinks, backsplashes, showers, and bathtubs.
One of the most popular alternatives to marble is Quartz – a man-made, engineered product of natural stone fused with polymer resin. Other engineered counterparts include Silestone, Dekton, Compac quartz and Neolith porcelain, etc. which appear to be attractive alternatives depending on the colour and pattern chosen.
Marble dining tables can also last more than a lifetime, especially if they are paired with bases made from long-lasting materials. Hence, they are often an heirloom piece that owners can hand down from one generation to the next.
Selecting between natural and engineered marble may pose a dilemma for homeowners today. It is important to be aware that man-made marble can present some disadvantages that manufacturers often try to gloss over, all of which should be considered carefully before making your choices.
Aesthetic: Natural Marble vs Engineered Marble
Natural marble occurs naturally, it is quarried from the earth and considered a high-end, luxury material. When limestone is subjected to intense geological pressure and heat, it forms marble. The colours and veins in the stone are a result of other minerals present within or around the stone.
Engineered marble, on the other hand, is created by mixing marble dust with resin polymers and colour pigments. As the stone is manufactured, colours and veins can be manipulated for a desired result.
Natural marble has long been associated with luxury and sophistication. While engineered marble comes close to replicating the real thing, it can never quite look and feel the same. While artificial marble and real marble look almost identical from a distance, up close, one can recognise their differences.
For instance, since the engineered product is mass-produced, the patterns will not be as unique or deep as natural stone.
Both natural and artificial marbles share a comparable colour palette with predominantly whites, tans, and earth tones. Real marble has unique colours, patterns, and a mirror-like shine with visual depth. Artificial marble colours mimic marble but look flat in comparison and some gel-coat gloss can look plastic.
Natural stone can be ordered to a wider range of size and shape specifications. As a result, you could potentially source a single large slab as a benchtop. However, since engineered marble is only made in certain sizes you may need to join a number of slabs to get the size you want. And that means visible joins in your benchtops.
Environmental Impact: Natural Marble vs Engineered Marble
The eco-conscious should also consider the environmental impacts of engineered and natural marble. Natural marble has a low embodied energy, which means it doesn’t require much energy to manufacture the finished product.
Engineered marble, on the other hand, has a much higher embodied energy. It also requires more chemical inputs during the manufacturing process. While it can be made locally, cutting down on transport resources, the crushed stone may still need to be imported.
Generally, real marble is more expensive than artificial marble but the prices of artificial marbles have increased over the years and many of them are at par with real marble.
Analogy with Diamonds
We can draw an analogy between marbles and diamonds. Diamonds are the purest and hardest form of carbon, a natural element on the earth. Both natural and synthetic diamonds require carbon, intense heat and high pressure to grow. While mined diamonds form within the earth, synthetic diamonds are made in an environment with cutting-edge equipment that mirrors the earth’s mantle conditions.
So although costume jewellery such as synthetic diamonds and artificial stones are attractive and worthy replica, their worth and appraisement cannot be compared to real diamonds and gemstones. Owners’ attachment to costume pieces of jewellery is temporary while many would have a true sense of emotional attachment to the real stones.
The Value of Natural Marble Can Never Be Replaced
Remember Marvin Gaye’s song `Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’? Cliché as it may sound, this sentiment can apply across the board.
The true value and prestige of natural marble may be imitable to a certain extent, but it can never be replaced.