Mark McMunn

Calacatta marble is one of the world’s most loved and cherished stones. Quarried for centuries, with installations of equal vintage all over the world, Calacatta marble stands as one of the marbles that has provided architectural ornamentation in lockstep with the rise of western civilization. How natural it seems that this marble should be one of the most expensive marbles in the world, correct? Well, Calacatta marble used to be just a little bit more expensive than travertine, but now the cost of a Calacatta slab is sometimes equal to the value of a very nice used car. 

In the 1980s, Calacatta marbles could be bought for less than $5 per square foot (psf), F.O.B. Italy all day long, before the price began to rise in the early 1990s. Today, you can buy Calacatta marble exported from Italy, anywhere in the world, from about $45 psf to well above $50 psf, depending on the distribution and size of the veining in the slabs.  It is not unusual for slabs of Calacatta marble to sell for well over $100 psf at many slab yards across the USA. To say that the price of the Calacatta marbles has gone up a lot would be putting it mildly. Any astute observer can see that the price is getting perhaps too high. How did this happen and why should we care?

The price rise can be attributed to many things, such as insidious inflation, the Euro, etc., but the biggest driver really has been the demand for Calacatta in Asia. Asian demand for this material has been a good thing for the Carrara economy because it has kept the Italian white marbles relevant, even though new white marbles from around the world keep arriving in the market every year. That Asia continues to heavily demand the Calacatta whites versus its own domestic white marbles speaks volumes about the beauty and prestige that the Calacatta marbles provide. This just goes to show that prices can rise out of the blue for any number of reasons. 

Now that the price of some Calacatta slabs are set above $100 per square foot here in the USA, weigh your options before committing to that project.Now that the price of some Calacatta slabs are set above $100 psf here in the USA, what does the fabricator need to consider? First, a fabricator needs to consider that this material is now too expensive to handle at all, and simply pass on any job of not only Calacatta, but of any material where one miscut can mean the difference between making any money at all, and taking a loss by paying north of $5,000 for a replacement slab.

If the project happens to be a book match job, the best decision you could make is to simply walk away if your shop does not have lots of previous experience with book matching. If you want to offer book matched countertops, then cut your teeth on simpler, less expensive materials, otherwise leave a book matched Calacatta job and the risk to the much more experienced shops. Secondly, put explanations into your proposal detailing the risks and limitations of working with a material like Calacatta marble. It needs to be in writing that you will give your “best efforts” to accomplish the job as drawn, especially if the job is a book match job, but in the event of a crack or miscut, that you will only make repairs and NOT furnish a new slab. 

A few years ago a volume kitchen shop got into trouble by agreeing to furnish and install a book matched split-level island top with several levels and partitions “according to plans and specs.” There were notes written on the architectural drawings stating that “no misaligned book matched veins would be acceptable, nor would any repairs.” 

This invoice from the mid 1980s shows the actual cost of Calacatta marble slabs, F.O.B. Italy, at that time. Some Calacatta slabs now exceed $100 per square foot.

This invoice from the mid 1980s shows the actual cost of Calacatta marble slabs, F.O.B. Italy, at that time. Some Calacatta slabs now exceed $100 per square foot.

Naturally, a piece was miscut, and the veining became more misaligned at each level. The shop tried hard to get out of this position, but they were on the hook. The clearly stated notes by the architect on the drawings allowed no escape, and the fabricator ended up having to buy two new matching slabs and start over. That shop could have simply qualified their bid by excluding the notes, and giving an alternate proposal on their bid that would allow them to still come out on top if cracks or miscuts occurred. The lesson here is to read architectural notes carefully and know that you can qualify your bid, and if the customer does not accept, walk away from the job.

Something new has arrived in the marketplace that specifically addresses the problems with Calacatta marble mentioned in this article, and that is quartz stone that looks almost exactly like the real thing. First, the cost is a lot less, and therefore the risk, compared to the natural material. Second, if you make a miscut you may still have to buy another slab, but you will only have to buy one slab and not two, because quartz stone slabs have the same veining pattern repeated over and over. 

Quartz stone does take a lot of the risk out of working with Calacatta marble, but this begs the question of authenticity. Even though quartz stone slabs of a Calacatta pattern are themselves not cheap – more than $1,250 each, or more – why would consumers want an artificial copy of the real thing? Is there something in the shape and movement of the veining against the white background of Calacatta marble that strikes a cord with us, and makes us value it above many other natural stone materials? 

Many people understandably might choose to have a copy of the Mona Lisa framed on their wall, but that is a paper picture copy worth a few dollars or less for a singular historical masterpiece. So what is it then that motivates us to have this particular marble installed in our surroundings? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. Maybe we should not try to answer that question and simply just enjoy the marble. 

As fabricators, let’s just do our job and provide the best fabrication and installations that we can and leave the heavy questions to the philosophers.