In the world of countertops, Quartz has become a major rival to natural stone. Not to be confused with the natural crystalline mineral, Quartz – the engineered stone – is a popular choice for a number of reasons: durability, consistent patterns, nearly invisible seams, limitless color selection, resistance to stains and scratches, and a price point that appeals to the budget-conscious. More and more, engineered stone is edging out even the finest natural quartzite, granite and marble, even in high-end kitchens.
But as perfect as Quartz may seem to finicky customers, buyers should be aware that all Quartz is not made to the same standards. There are a few basic traits of all Quartz products. They all contain ground up quartz which is mixed with a resin that adheres all the bits of stone together, a pigment to give the product unique solid colors, or striations that mimic the veins of natural stone. Most Quartz is engineered using the same techniques and machinery developed by the Breton company. The appearance and durability of the product largely depends on how it is manufactured and the ratio of ground quartz to resin and pigment.
What is Bretonstone?
Homeowners looking for a simple way to tell whether the Quartz they’re eyeing will fulfill their kitchen dreams or cause years of frustration, can ask their seller or fabricator if the Quartz was manufactured using licensed Bretonstone Technology. There are roughly 60 Bretonstone Slab plants operating around the world that manufacture Quartz using the Bretonstone technology and machinery patented by Breton S.p.A., of Italy. Popular Quartz brands such as Radianz, Silestone, Ceasarstone, and Cambria are made in these Bretonstone Slab Plants, as are many lesser known brands.
Bretonstone Quartz contains 94 percent aggregate stone, mostly quartz, according to the Breton website. The aggregate make-up can also include granite, quartzite, basalt, silica sand, marble, dolomite, or virtually any other siliceous or calcareous stone. The mix of stone will depend on the look and feel the manufacturer is seeking to achieve. Some people like the super-smooth look of finely ground aggregate; others may like the look of granite, with larger stone particles. Mineral fillers, bonding agents and coloring agents are mixed with the aggregate to create the final look and adhere the product together.
The high ratio of stone to resin, gives Bretonstone slabs the hardness that makes Quartz so attractive and resistant to scratching, etching, chipping and staining. Manufacturers use the patented technology to achieve the high stone to resin ratio. Materials are poured into elastomeric molds that undergo a patented vacuum process called “compaction by Vibrocompression,” according the Breton company website. The end result is a product that exceeds the durability of a lot of natural stone and many other types of Quartz that are not manufactured the same way. A Quartz company must be licensed by the Breton company to use the patented technology and special machinery.
Why is it Important to use Bretonstone Technology?
Quartz made using techniques other than Bretonstone technology may be durable too, but it depends on the ratio of quartz to resin, the stone used, and the resin used. Buyers have ended up with slabs that melt, bend, scratch, chip and stain by opting for cheap Quartz, that contains too much resin. Some non-Breton slabs have been known to contain as much 2 percent more resin than non-Bretonstone products. Prior to anti-dumping measures placed on Chinese Quartz after American manufacturers and distributors launched complaints a few years ago, the US market was being flooded by cheap, poorly performing Quartz products. Some of those products even contained resins that did not meet food safety standards. While the problem has subsided, it still exists. It has simply shifted. It is best to be wary of cheap Quartz products from any nation.
When shopping for Quartz, buyers who choose to select a non-Bretonstone product should ask a lot of questions about the product specifications. The first and easiest route is to ask if the slab was manufactured in a licensed Bretonstone Slab Plant. If the fabricator or granite salesperson cannot answer the question, wait for them to find out and show proof, or just walk away.
It is not a given that inexpensive Quartz is faulty or toxic, however. One way to verify that the product is at least safe for food preparation, is to ask for proof that the product has been tested to meet food safety standards. The product should be NSF/ANSI 51 Food Zone certified. NSF/ANSI stands for National Sanitization Foundation/American National Standards Institute.
NSF evaluates the safety of products that come in contact with food, but it’s important to note that the safety criteria changes depending on how that contact occurs and whether the food that made contact with the surface is likely to be consumed. Consumers looking for safe countertops need to make sure the NSF 51 certification is for Food Zone surfaces, not Splash Zone surfaces.
For instance, a backsplash is prone to moisture accumulation from hot liquids in pots and pans, or splatters from foods such as soups or tomato sauce. Material intended for backsplashes only might seek Splash Zone certification. They would be evaluated in a different way, such as for resistance to absorption of moisture and mold growth.
A countertop, on the other hand, should meet a more rigorous standard because people often eat food that has come in direct contact with the countertop surface. It’s not likely – or recommended (for reasons other than safety) – that a person will use a countertop to directly carve a roast or chop vegetables on the surface. But many people leave fresh produce on the countertop, and people generally expect to be able to safely eat a cracker, or piece of cheese that landed on the countertop.
Many disreputable Quartz companies have claimed to have NSF 51 certification, but they don’t disclose that their certification is for Splash Zone, rather than the more rigorous Food Zone certification. It’s important to ask!
What Other Issues are Found with Non-Bretonstone Products?
Aside from food safety issues, lower end Quartz can have aesthetic problems. Pigments may not be uniform, there may be slight color differences between slabs, and the aggregate may not be evenly distributed throughout the slab. Further, quality problems can surface. A product made with too much resin might bend, or a product made with an inferior resin might be more prone to chips and cracks, or even melting under temperatures that most Quartz can endure.
It pays to ask the fabricator, or the Quartz dealer questions, especially when you’re dealing with stone that is not made with Bretonstone technology. Big red flags for problem Quartz are to-good-to-be-true prices, observable aesthetic abnormalities, and a lack of warranty from the manufacturer of the stone (not just the fabricator).
By selecting the right Quartz, homeowners can look forward to a countertop they can enjoy for years, maybe even decades. But make sure to look for the right licenses and certifications and ask for a warranty. Despite improvements over the years with anti-dumping regulations, Quartz remains a buyer-beware market. Thankfully though, consumers who want a quality product without doing a lot of research can get some assurance by choosing products made in the Bretonstone fashion. Buying from a reputable dealer like The Granite Place, which always carries a great selection of Radianz products, is a good start. Contact us today to check out our Radianz inventory!
Source on Bretonstone technical details: https://www.breton.it/en/engineered-stone/bretonstone-slabs