Marble is a metamorphic rock. Metamorphic rock means rock that has changed. Metamorphic rocks are formed from other materials already existing on the earth’s surface. Igneous rocks are formed directly from lava or the earth’s molten core. Marble is formed from limestone. In geological terms, marble is a crystallized form of limestone or dolomite. Stonecutters use a broader definition. They will call the crystallized forms of a few other stones marble, too, as they have similar veining and take the same high gloss polish in a way other stones don’t. This is because stone cutters have been working with marble for thousands of years, long before anyone could tell the difference between calcium carbonate and magnesium silicate.
Dolomitic marble is a close relative of regular marble. Standard marble is made of calcite (CaCO3), and dolomitic marble has a little magnesium in the mix (CaMgCO3). There is not a huge difference between the two variations, except that dolomitic marble is a little bit slower to etch. You’ll have a moment to wipe up a spill before the chemical reaction takes place.
While marble is primarily made of calcite, it’s possible for the original limestone to have occasional layers of sand or chert. Chert is a marine rock made of pure silica. These interlopers turn into areas of quartz as marble undergoes metamorphism. The end result is a stone that is mostly calcite with some quartz. This combination of ingredients has kicked off industry-wide confusion, because calcite and quartz have distinctly different properties but they look alike.
Unfortunately, marble that contains minor amounts of quartz is sometimes labeled soft quartzite, which is both an oxymoron and a misnomer. There is no such thing as soft quartzite, and that term should be avoided by dealers, designers, and customers alike. Marble that contains small areas of quartz is still marble and should just be called marble. Super White is one well-known example of a mislabeled stone. White Super is a dolomitic marble with occasional bits of quartz. It is neither quartzite nor soft quartzite. It’s marble, and a gorgeous one at that.
The term marble is often applied broadly rather than literally. Many stone restoration professionals categorize marbles, limestones, and travertines together as a family of stone because they require similar maintenance and refinishing techniques. Polished limestone is sometimes called marble. While there’s not a huge difference between the two, marble is much denser and therefore is resistant to staining. If a slab has fossils, shell fragments, or has open pockets within the stone, it is limestone. Many stones classified as black marble are actually black limestones. This is particularly true for dark colored stones with stark white veins.
Marble remains a popular choice for countertops, backsplashes, bathrooms, tabletops, flooring, and cladding. Marble’s versatility makes it at home in an ancient Greek sculpture, in a lavish hotel lobby, or on a hardworking kitchen island. Marble also finds its way into our lives as household objects like cheese boards, rolling pins, vases, and lamps.
Despite the emergence of marble lookalikes, there’s nothing quite like the real thing. Real marble has qualities that cannot be replicated in a lab.
Marble is found around the world making it a symbol of luxury in so many cultures. As each seam of marble is formed by a unique set of circumstances, marble from different quarries is often strikingly different. In some cases, marble from the same seam can look very different depending on the type and quantity of minerals present. This natural patterning is unrepeatable: each slab is completely unique. As a result, marble can be hard to match. This makes it important to make sure you order enough for your whole project at once.
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