Natural stone is one of man’s original building materials. The appearance, longevity, and durability have made it a material for the ages.

It’s not perfect, however. Natural stone is subject to cracking, for example, and its unique character often means more is wasted in off-cuts. It can also be expensive.

Engineered stone, in contrast, has been developed to offer the appearance of natural stone at a lower price, with none of the drawbacks, according to Werner Nierhoff of RMS Natural Stone and Ceramics.

Engineered stone, Nierhoff said, is also generically known as Caesarstone, after the largest manufacturer dominating this market segment. The material is resin-bound quartz, sometimes with traces of glass or mirror for effect, as well as coloured dye.

Thanks to its price and predictability, engineered stone is a staple in newer apartment blocks.

“For the apartment block with 100 apartments, you can rely on it,” Nierhoff said.With natural stone, you might find yourself at the end, and you need another 10 slabs because some are broken, or it didn’t provide the outcome you wanted in terms of looks. The stone has less veining, or whatever it may be. They are much more irregular in their appearance.”

Engineered stone comes in endless varieties of colours and patterns, including those that mimic natural stone, which is a strong trend lately. Computer technology has made man-made products virtually indistinguishable from natural ones.

That technology has resulted in a more expensive product, however, than the volume-selling engineered stone, Nierhoff said. More expensive, in fact, than some natural stone.

“There are natural stones which are actually cheaper than good quality engineered stone, but obviously engineered stone also comes in many different qualities and price ranges,” he noted.

Though engineered stone has increased in price, it’s nowhere close to high-end natural stone.

“Calacatta and Arabescato, the white ones from Italy, are, here at least, in heavy demand,” Nierhoff said. “We see sort of fleshlike veining, in the white with with the grey veining that’s much sought after and very expensive. There’s no cost comparison between engineered stone and those high-demand, low-supply, very expensive natural stones. They are three, four, five times the price.”

Stonemasons, Nierhoff said, like working with engineered stone because they can use more of the material, with less wasted as off-cuts.

“You can use a full piece, and you can use it in most cases any which way you like. It’s solid throughout. There’s no danger of cracks, no fissures. It’s easier to work with because it’s man made. It’s 100 per cent the same from one end to the other,” he noted.

Functionally, both materials are comparable, but natural stone offers advantages. For instance, engineered stone can be vulnerable to extreme heat because it contains resin.

The prestige factor, however, is where natural stone dominates.

There is a ‘natural’ appeal in natural stone,” Nierhoff said. “It is taken for granted that a 4- or 5-star hotel has its interior done in natural stone and all ensuite are finished in natural stone, too. A prestigious bank will always have their main branches look the part, done in natural stone. It’s the human desire to reflect prestige by means of the ‘look’, the materials chosen for the way we present ourselves to the world.”

Developers of high-end dwellings, Nierhoff noted, rely on natural stone.

“It is an important sales argument to have a designer kitchen in Calacatta marble, with MIELE appliances, as well as floors, bathrooms, and the pool surrounds in natural stone,” he said. “I know of cases where even the garage floor was done with natural stone.”