The French stone industry currently is going through a golden period. Perhaps never before in recent times have the French stonemasons found themselves so busy as they are now. What explains this most positive situation? Is it due to the Paris Olympic Games, scheduled for 2024, an event that has always created a construction boom in the years leading to it? We spoke to Mr Claude Gargi, Chief Editor of the French magazine, Pierre Actual, for his insights. Below are some of his observations.
"There is a new interest for natural materials (wood and stone), because of the sociological awareness for the protection of the environment. Whenever it is possible more and more specifiers, both in the public and private sector, try to use local materials. This is particularly true with stone projects. And we are lucky to have a lot of stone resources (limestone, hard limestone, granite) in different areas of France. Today the French stone industry is well organised with syndicates and stone associations for the defense of the stone companies and promotion of the use of stone. The technical center provides great help too, giving technical answers to everybody (stone companies, specifiers ...) who wants to use natural stone. We also have a special label:IG- Indication Geographique (like Denomination of Origin for food) , which certifies the provenance of the stone. We have I. G. for Brittany granite, Burgundy limestone, Rhône-Alpes limestone, Arudy marble (Pyrénées). This interest and greater activity goes beyond the scheduled Olympics, with an enormous project called Grand Paris. This project involves construction of railways all around Paris with a lot of stations, offices, housing, etc. For the Olympics and beyond the Games".
On where the demand for stone exists:
" The market spread around big cities like Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse... but is not restricted to only these places. Even small cities use natural stone for public projects because they can find the resource not far away".
On what kind of natural stones are used in public sector projects:
" In France we use granite and hard limestone. Paris is always the first market. Since a few years back there a big project close to París, in the city of Neuilly-sur-Seine.
City of La Rochelle. Combe brune limestone
On the use of natural stone in private sector projects:
"French people like to use natural materials like wood and stone. After the pandemic not just in private homes but also in hotels, restaurants etc.people have wanted to change the kitchen, the bathroom, they want to have a new garden. During the pandemic the French government helped the companies to survive so as to protect the economy. There was, as a result, a lot of money to spend once the worst of the pandemic was over".
On imported stone:
" France imports all kinds of stones- granite, marble, limestone. I don't know if there is a particular color that is preferred but I think the price is more important. We import more and more stone from South Europe, and less and less from Asia. This is partially due to environmental sensibilites but also due to the logistical problems faced during the pandemic".
On the stone industry companies and issues:
"Because the market for stone is growing, the fact that the government helped companies to protect the economy, we currently have a lot of problems in finding workers. There are no new workshops being set up. That is why active companies have more and more orders. The big problem is finding skilled labour. We have a very good system for stone education, but there are not a lot of students. All the differents stone school organisations try to be attractive for young people but it is difficult. The problem is that we are 10 years too late. When the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burned, I thought that the schools for training in stone and for wood would be full of demand. Not at all. "
On the use of thick stone in France:
"Thick stone is a choice of the architects. The first architect who built again with thick stone was Gilles Perraudin, more than 20 years ago. It is an environmental and economic choice to make walls with blocks. The advantages- easy to build. No thermal insulation, if possible. The stone is already produced by nature, so no industrial process needed. It is a kind of philosophical attitude towards green construction".
The situation of quartz and porcelain in the French market:
"There was a fight of a marble company against a quartz manufacturer company 5 years ago or maybe more. There has been an effect. More and more marble companies try to sell natural stone because of this fight and because the preference for natural materials. I think that little by little ceramic is going to take the place of quartz. The arrival of new very decorative natural materials like quartzite are giving a boost to the natural stone market even if the price is high".
On the duration of the good moment:
"I think that the use of natural material has a really sociological element and demand will continue after the Olympics and Grand Paris projects".
On the use of stone in the funerary segment:
"The funerary segment needs to be analysed in two ways. There is very good French production and there are also imports from far away. But it is more or less stable in the distribution. Cremation is always growing but not at a very fast rate now".
On new textures and materials:
"Yes, designers are rediscovering marble, new colours and new textures. And as I said before the new materials like quartzite help to grow the market for stone. I have spoken with decoration marble companies and they say that the average price of their jobs is growing notably because of these new materials".