Best kept secret

Belgian black, grey and red marble.

The intense Belgian Black marble, highly sought after for its pure and glossy appearance, is only available from one quarry in the world. It’s in Belgium, where other distinct marbles such as the Gris des Ardennes and the Rouge Royal are also extracted. Here we meet a passionate quarry director, Francis Kezirian, and a designer, Ben Storms, who are pioneering the production and use of Belgian Black today – to them, Belgian Black is a currency and an obsession.

The quest for authenticity in contemporary architecture and interiors is one of the big drivers of the increasing demand for natural stone and for marble in particular. For most of us, marble rhymes with Carrara. The Italian city and its surrounding region has numerous operative quarries. While interior designers jet off to Tuscany to take their personal pick, we decided to stay North to explore Belgian marbles. The hand-full of sites is mostly located in the South-West of Belgium and represents only a fraction of the global industry. What surfaces is the high quality and the historical relevance of these marbles, which are hailed by connoisseurs and heritage specialists.

The ‘Belgian Black’ is one of the most sought-after marbles today. It is in fact a dense grey limestone that looks rather dull when extracted, but after being polished it gets a deep black glossy finish. The top range is magically homogenous and free of any veins or marks. Archaeological research tells that the stone has been extracted from Belgian quarries since Roman times, to create mosaics for stately villas. But it was during the Renaissance that the marble rose to fame as the perfect black base for the colourful stone inlays for decorative objects and furniture, created for the Medici family in Florence. Eventually, its structural and aesthetic properties made it also popular for architectural use. It can be found at numerous world-famous sites in Belgium as well as abroad, such as the Palace of Versailles, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and Westminster Abbey in London. In the late 19th and early 20th century the stone was highly fashionable and the quarries were most productive. During the world wars the production suffered and never really picked up again, mostly due to the difficult underground extraction and demise in the number of skilled workers.

With only one operative Belgian Black quarry left in the village Golzinne and a worldwide interest in the stone, the price tag is accordingly expensive. The complex extraction - the last underground exploration in Belgium - takes places at depths up to 75 metres below the ground and is only handled by a small team of highly specialised workers. As the banks of marble have a steep gradient of nearly twenty percent, the main difficulty is to bring the cut pieces of marble up to the surface along the slippery slope.