From crust to kitchen: documenting the journey of quartz
As one of the most abundant minerals on Earth, it makes sense for quartz – chemical name Silicon dioxide – to be used for a variety of applications. From watches, jewellery and building materials to bathroom and kitchen worktops, quartz is a highly available material that makes up 12 per cent of the Earth’s crust by volume.
Not only is it useful, quartz is also beautiful, ensuring when it is not being used as a strong, flexible material, it is sitting side by side with some of the globe’s more expensive gems.
Quartz: This is your life
Previously believed to be ‘water ice’ – permanently frozen after great lengths of time – by Roman philosophers, quartz dates back far into the past; it even appears in Australian Aboriginal mythology. Fast forwarding to 1845, scientists used the material for laboratory purposes and found it could be synthesized, ensuring by 1950 it was being produced and sold commercially. Now, we know there are many varieties of quartz that fall under two categories – macrocrystalline and microcrystalline.
If a type of quartz falls under the macrocrystalline category, it means the individual crystals are visible to the naked eye as well as take a transparent form. Well known varieties like amethyst, milky quartz, citrine and rose quartz all fall under this category. In microcrystalline quartz varieties, the crystals are only visible under high magnification and tend to be translucent or opaque, according to rocksandminerals4u.com.
In terms of colour, quartz has as many hues as the spectrum permits. Generally, clear quartz is the most common followed by a white or cloudy tint. Purple, pink, grey, brown and black also commonly feature.
As well as being versatile, one of quartz’s prime characteristics is its strength. Rating at a seven on the Mohs hardness scale (diamond ranks at ten, for comparison), quartz is a supremely strong element that is ideal for use as a worktop or countertop – areas where strength is a big requirement.
“These [quartz] countertops are close to indestructible,” claims independent contractor, Joe Everitt. “They’re so durable that most manufacturers offer a warranty, something you won’t find with, say, granite.”
Quartz is not just used for worktops. The mineral is also found in watches and clocks due to its piezoelectric properties. Certain crystals, like quartz, can make electricity flow through them if squeezed hard enough and the result is a tiny battery, with a positive charge on one side and a negative on the other, according to explainthatstuff.com. Quartz crystals maintain a precise frequency standard, helping to regulate the movement of a watch or clock, making timepieces like quartz watches extremely accurate.
Mining and manufacture
The prevalence of quartz around the world, particularly in the United States and Brazil – means that the mineral is found in a vast number of quarries. Using a variety of techniques – drilling and blasting for the actual mining process; crushing, separating, grinding and classifying for the processing – quartz is mined and engineered, ready to be sent to manufacturers who saw and calibrate the stone according to market demand.
Explosives are sometimes used to expose a deep seam of quartz, though this tends to be risky as quartz can be damaged if exposed to a sudden and significant change in temperature. Using explosives on surface quartz is not recommended.
The application of quartz
Quartz’s non-porous surface, strength and natural beauty makes it ideal for its application as a worktop. However, quartz worktops are generally presented as part of a compound as opposed to a pure state straight from the quarry. Compounds tend to include over 90 per cent natural quartz with a mixture of glass, resin, polymers and pigments to create a range of types and colours.
Different types of resin are used by different manufacturers. For instance, Silestone is a compound made from 94 per cent natural quartz while Caesarstone is made from 93 per cent quartz. Each uses a variety of resins to create unique characteristics; Silestone offers antibacterial protection whereas Compac, another type of worktop, is ideal for areas prone to high abrasion and necessitating scratch resistance. Each type has its own positives but all offer a material of quality and strength, making quartz ideal for application as a worktop.
When customers choose the type of quartz they desire, manufacturers use professional templaters to create a template of the worktop; talking customers through the proposed layout, measurements and specifications. However, due to the way quartz is engineered, no two worktops are ever the same – the colour, speckles and patterns may be there, but no two patterns are ever the same. As a result, every slab of quartz is unique to the owner.
The quartz worktop is then fabricated – cut using state-of-the-art machinery from a slab of quartz to a customer’s specifications – and installed, rounding off a remarkable journey from the depths of the earth to kitchens and bathrooms all over the world.