Once reserved for high-end homes, quartz countertops are finding their way into more kitchens and bathrooms. As brands proliferate, quartz becomes more accessible and prices more affordable.
A favored premium countertop material for kitchen and bathroom designers and architects, quartz is often confused with natural stone and solid surface countertop materials.
Like natural stone, quartz possesses a deep, rich appearance and a solid, rock-like feeling. Like solid surface, quartz has man-made additives that stabilize the material and eliminate natural stone's unpredictability. Beyond that, quartz, also called engineered stone, is its own, unique material.
Brand Similarities and Differences
All quartz countertops, despite the brand, are derived from the Breton company's original Bretonstone technology created over 50 years ago by Marcello Toncelli. Bretonstone technology and machines are licensed to 52 companies around the world. While licensees add their own flair and nuances, they are still working off of Breton's original patent.
Despite the brand, these qualities are the same:
- Composition: Around 93% mineral content. The high degree of mineral content gives quartz its distinctive look and feel. By contrast, solid surface's 66% mineral and 33% polymer content lends a silky, soapy feeling to the material.
- Hardness: The process of creating quartz countertops saves the hardest mineral (quartz) and eliminates softer minerals and impurities. This means that quartz counters are harder and more durable than natural slab granite.
- Low Water Absorption Rate: Quartz' low water absorption rate of 0.5% is on par with another low porosity material--porcelain tile. If the material weighs less than half of 1% more as a result of water absorbing into its surface, it is considered to be nonabsorbent.
- Heat Resistance: Quartz' minerals (not binders) are 100% impervious to heat, typically up to 360 F but only for a short duration. As Nancy Dalton of design firm Baywolf Dalton notes, "This material is not heat resistant. The binding materials will be damaged at high temperatures. Think hot fry pan. Some people think quartz is indestructible and that's just not the case."
- Visible Seams: Unless the countertop is small enough to be fabricated from a single slab, two slabs often need to be seamed together. Depending on the skill of the installer, this seam can be minimized but it will never be invisible.
Differences between the brands include:
- Designs and Edges: The range of designs is the single biggest difference between quartz brands. "Designs" is the industry shorthand for several qualities of the slab's visual appearance: overall color, size, and shape of minerals, streaks, and striations. Edge profiles are built into the slab at the factory, not formed by the fabricator.
- Slab Sizes: Due to the need to seam quartz, it is better to have larger slabs to reduce the chance of this happening. As Dalton notes, "I like quartz and there are several differences beyond color and pattern. When I can specify a jumbo slab and avoid using two slabs for a project, it's a win and cost savings."
- Warranties: All quartz brands come with a warranty. What differs is the length, limitations, and transferability of these warranties.
- Prices: As can be expected, prices differ between brands. Quartz slab prices are wholesale-only and are confined to the supply chain between manufacturer and approved dealer/installers. Much like purchasing an automobile, consumer quartz prices are negotiated with the dealer and are variable.
Large Countertop Manufacturers
Cambria is a privately held Minnesota-based company that began as a dairy business in 1936. Having entered the quartz countertop industry in 2000, Cambria is a relative newcomer. Within one year, Cambria had opened a 150,000 square foot factory in Le Sueur, Minnesota, and within five years it had already tripled the size of that plant.
The only American company in the quartz surfaces business, Cambria offers the widest range of designs, colors, edges, and slab sizes.
Dennis Allen of Southern California's Allen Construction says that he prefers Cambria for several reasons:
Their patterns are the most natural looking, the majority of their selections fall under one price group, they offer jumbo sized slabs which can be economical for a large project, and the hand of their finish is the smoothest and best polished.
Cambria is unusual in that it cannot be purchased at big box home improvement stores. It can only be found at kitchen and bath dealers or purchased through builders, architects, and designers.
Formed in 1987, Caesarstone calls itself "the original quartz surface manufacturer."
A publicly traded company headquartered in Israel, Caesarstone has a factory at the Kibbutz Sdot Yam and another in the Bar Lev Industrial Zone. Caesarstone was developed by the kibbutz as a way to replace its failing terrazzo tile industry.
Caesarstone is known for pushing the design envelope. Its Concetto Collection includes ten surfaces that incorporate semi-precious stones such as agate, dumortierite, tiger's eye, and even petrified wood. Its Motivo Collection offers deep embossing in crocodile skin and lace textures.
Based in Almeria, Spain, Silestone is the flagship quartz brand of Italian company Cosentino.
If Caesarstone is known for its natural stone-like appearance, Silestone's distinguishing factor is its vibrant solid colors. It's Life!, Stellar, Mythology, and Zen series offer bold, bright oranges, greens, reds, and blues that are not found with other brands.
Silestone is not just limited to countertop and backsplash materials. Matching Silestone designs are available in sinks, vanities, and shower pans.
Of the three leading quartz brands, Silestone offers the most robust warranty: 25 years (limited), transferable to subsequent owners, and with no pro-rata limitations.
|Textures||Fine, Mixed, Heavy||Smooth, Matte, Satin||Smooth, Suede (small pores), and Volcano (large pores)|
|Thicknesses||1 cm, 2 cm and 3 cm||3/4"(2 cm) and 1 1/4" (3 cm)||
1.2 cm, 2 cm and 3 cm. (1/2, ¾ and 1 ¼ inches)
|Dimensions||Standard-size slabs are 55.5˝ x 122˝. Jumbo-size slabs are 65.5˝ x 132˝.||Slabs are 56.5" x 120".||Standard size slab is 55" x 120". Jumbo: 63" x 128".|
|Warranty||Lifetime limited warranty only to the original owners of the product. The warranty is not transferable.||Lifetime limited warranty for the original owner. Transferable to subsequent owners but only on a 10 year, pro-rata basis and only if the original owner has transferred warranty on behalf of the new owner.||The 25-year limited warranty that is transferable but only if the original owner transfers the warranty to the next owner.|
* Number of edges currently listed on the company site. Brands are not limited to the edges listed. Note, too, that warranties tend not to cover edgework.
Smaller Brands Worth a Look
Producing quartz countertops requires expensive machinery and large manufacturing facilities. As such, it is not a cottage industry like laminate counters, concrete, wood, or even solid surface.
Still, a number of mid-sized companies have emerged in the last ten years. Some designers like to use these companies because they offer more reasonable prices for their clients.
Daltile ONE Quartz
Daltile, true to its name, is mostly a ceramic, porcelain, and glass tile company. With a modest roster of 38 designs, Daltile's ONE Quartz line represents cost savings that some of the larger brands do not offer.
Summer Thornton says:
In our office, we've used Daltile Pearl because it is clean and modern and nearly indestructible. It's in our work studio so we often have tile, stone, and other samples on top of it. It has resisted the scratches and chips that you would get with a natural product and it looks sleek and clean.
Originally a division of South Korean company LG, which produces everything from electronics and chemicals to solar energy equipment, LG Hausys is well-known in the countertop industry for its HI-MACS acrylic solid surface product. LG Viatera has a collection of 64 designs dispersed among beiges, tans, and grays.
"Over the years," says Dalton, "I have found [Pental's] colors and patterns to be very on trend, in fact, more so than some other well-known lines." Pental is a Seattle-based distributor that is large enough that it has its own private label quartz line. Dalton reports that Pental tends to be cheaper than other quartz brands.
Zodiaq quartz is backed by DuPont--the company that invented solid surface with Corian brand. Zodiaq's 54 quartz colors are provided in both 2 cm and 3 cm thicknesses, in 63” x 120” slabs.