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The Truth About Travertine

25 February

Not all travertine is the same. That’s a fact!  Shop around and you will find numerous websites selling travertine tiles of one description or another but the generic nature of "Travertine" has made it easy for some internet retailers to sell poor quality travertine as "Premium Quality". We are not one of them and we can demonstrate this.
Part of the problem is the very nature of travertine.  It's impossible to compare different companies’ offerings due to its generic nature.  After all, it’s not like its marble cousins where each product only comes from one source.  For example, Silver Shadow marble comes from one quarry and generally goes by one name in the market.  Travertine comes from many different quarries, but is still just called "travertine".

What is travertine?
Travertine is a type of limestone deposited by hot mineral springs called karst. The water movement from the springs erodes the travertine, creating holes in the stones structure. The structure of travertine can be likened to that of a honeycomb, where small pockets or cavities exist within the stone; these are exposed as holes in the surface when it's cut into tiles.  These holes can either be left open or filled by the factory making the tiles with a cement based filler. Occasionally a resin filler is used especially in polished travertine. 
The Main Origins Of Travertine:

Most travertine available in the UK (some say as much as 95%) comes from the Denizli region of turkey.  In fact, the majority is quarried from just two quarries - Alimoglu & Cakmak.  Travertine tiles sold as "Ivory" or "light" generally comes from Cakmak and Classic (and its variations like Premium Classic & "Medium") comes from the Alimoglu quarry.  In Denizili there are literally hundreds of factories who buy blocks of travertine stone from these quarries, cut them into slabs then into travertine tiles, amongst numerous other travertine products.  However, only a certain number of factories have sophisticated enough equipment (usually made in Italy) to produce travertine tiles to a standard acceptable to the UK market in general.  There are numerous other areas In Turkey with Travertine quarries like the Karaman region.  Travertine from this region is less known and harder to access but generally higher quality - we source a number of our travertines from this region and they are supplied to us on an exclusive basis so incomparable to anything else available from our competition.

Travertine also originates from other regions close to Turkey, in particular Iran.  Iranian travertine used to be commonplace in the UK around 10 years ago but has since diminished in popularity due to various trade embargoes and the higher costs associated with procuring tiles from there over its neighbours like Turkey where the prices have but cut over and over again by Turkish suppliers moving to the UK and attacking the market.  If you can still find Iranian travertine in the UK then it is generally denser and of a higher quality than Denizili travertine.

Probably the best Travertine in the world originates from Italy.  Numerous shades of cream/beige and glorious colours like red and orange are found in the Italian mountains.  Historically used in famous monuments like the colonnade of St Peter's Square in Rome where the travertine was quarried from the famous Old Bernini quarry and ubiquitously used by the Romans for general construction, Italy has a long standing love affair with Travertino.  However, as we found when we tried to introduce an Italian Travertine option to the range, it's ridiculously expensive to get a medium/light colour beige Travertino which is in broad terms similar to Turkish travertine in its appearance.  If you can find it in the UK (even the big hitters like Mandarin Stone and Fired Earth don’t offer Italian Travertine in their ranges) expect to pay more than Italian marble like the famous Carrara or Botticino Fiorrito at prices hitting £80/sqm! Yes, it is that expensive....

The grades & different qualities of travertine:
Focusing on “honed & filled” Turkish travertine, in quality terms, Travertine Tiles are generally graded into three different categories as:

  • First choice [aka Export Quality]
  • Standard [aka Standart in Turkey]
  • Commercial Choice.

Commercial choice is often [but not always and this depends on the factory producing the tile] then subcategorised into C1 [aka high commercial], C2 and C3 with the latter two being the lowest quality grades.  But what's the real difference between these grades?
Before we get to that it's worth mentioning how and who select the tiles running off a travertine production line into their respective grades as practically every piece coming off the line will need to be selected, by hand, as to what grade it falls into.  Who does this?  Mainly women, and it's a labour intensive job with fast running machines and heavy tiles to move into crates.  In Turkey the task of "selection" is generally given to women as I'm told they have better eyes for distinguishing between different grades than men! 
So, the real facts about quality and the different "selections" is here.

First Choice/Export Quality:
This is the highest grade.  Generally first choice travertine is even in colour from tile to tile and has very little filler (if any) used to fill the natural occurring holes in the surface. The overall percentage of a factories tile production that comes out as first choice varies but it is usually less than 10%. This makes it harder to get hold of and of course it’s the most expensive to buy. Export quality travertine is rare in the UK due to its cost and most is snapped up from the factories by buyers from China and other foreign markets where there is high demand for the best product. Travertine factories have no problems in selling first choice material so the prices are always high and never discounted.

Standard Quality:
On average, 40-50% of a travertine tile factories production quantity is standard selection. Overall there is more filler used and there can be more variation in general colour from tile to tile. Travertine bought as Standard quality from a factory is generally considered as “Premium Quality” in the UK market.  Unfortunately, as we touched on above there are numerous people selling travertine as Premium quality that clearly isn’t and it can be difficult for customers to fully understand the difference and the implications of buying lower quality travertine unless they have already had experience with travertine.

Commercial quality:
While there are generally three main quality grades in travertine, Export, Standard & Commercial, the commercial selection is often broken down into three different selections as below:
C1 or “High Commercial” is the better quality.
C2 a lesser overall quality.
and C3 covers everything else.
So what differentiates these?
C1 is close to standard quality – tiles might have a bit more filler and some colour elements not found in standard quality – these could be small areas of onyx (small dark rings around where the natural holes used to be) browns and dark veining. The colour perspective in quality terms is purely subjective. The extra colour elements in high commercial material often add to the character of the stone and make it more interesting. The extra filling and associated integrity of the stone is what really separates the grades. C1 or “High Commercial” is generally what is referred to as Classic in the UK. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this as long as you embrace the colour variation and the level of fill in the tiles. As classic is usually the baseline for travertine tiles and the entry level for most sellers ranges, it’s usually the most affordable option.
C2 will have significantly more filler in it and colour element like black, red and orange and other unsightly phenomenon. This is sold in the UK by many as “Classic” but is better categorised as Eco Travertine. You can find Eco travertine online for £10-12 which is undoubtedly cheap and there is no other natural stone you can buy at this price, but you have to accept that it is what it is.
C3 is generally like C2 but with more filler and more unsightly element and covers everything that can’t be categorised as above. This is overall poor quality and generally not fit for purpose. We wouldn’t recommend using C3 for anything.

The real truth about travertine and those that sell it.
Now, here’s the main issue. The very fact that there are essentially 5 different grades of travertine from Export quality to C3 commercial, and the very generic nature of beige travertine in itself, it’s been very easy for less than scrupulous suppliers to pass off one grade as another as quite often customers don’t have a real baseline for comparison so are unwittingly sold commercial quality tiles at premium quality prices.
In internet sales, where we all send out 100x100 samples, it’s easy to send out good looking samples (you wouldn’t send out a bad one on purpose, would you) and then supply something different. That’s where we differ from practically every internet seller. We guarantee that what we sell matches what we buy and we are guaranteed to be the least expensive supplier of travertine in the UK when you can genuinely compare us like-for-like. We’re so confident that we can’t be beaten on price or quality, we have devised our Travertine Challenge. Click here to see how we can demonstrate that we have the best products at the best prices.

Think about it:
The old adage of if it looks too good to be true, it generally is has been banded around for decades and it’s true about travertine as well. The question is, why would somebody sell something that should be expensive or at least reasonably priced, for nothing? It doesn’t make sense. The fact is that as direct importers, we can’t twist factories arms and make them sell us export quality travertine for commercial quality prices.  It just doesn’t happen. The truth is that most factories in Turkey capable of producing tiles to a high standard are essentially closed for business. They don’t have machines left idle waiting for customers to place orders. If they lose a customer then there is always another one waiting to buy. Most travertine production doesn’t even come to the UK – its reserved for the American market which took a dip over the past 7 years but has now come back stronger than ever and factories are struggling once again to keep up with demand so why would they sell something for nothing – that’s what they would have to do for the websites you might have happened across already to be able to sell at their prices and still make enough money to stay in business?
The truth is commercial enterprise is all about making money. Nobody builds a business for nothing – entrepreneurs and business people are fundamentally interested in making money, so why would they sell something that should be sold at least at a reasonable price for a much lower price. Well the truth is, they don’t – it’s as simple as that – you absolutely can’t buy genuine premium quality travertine for bargain basement prices.

What will happen over time?
Travertine tiles, especially those used on floors, require an amount of regular maintenance over the years. The honeycomb structure of travertine means that there will undoubtedly be small pockets of air just underneath the surface of the tiles. In time these pockets can be exposed with foot traffic and wear to the surface of the tiles. As a rule, the darker the travertine (like Dark Walnut and Noce travertine) the harder the tiles. Wear and tear tends to be more obvious in lighter colour tiles, like Ivory. 
In lower quality, less dense travertine, the pockets that are exposed with wear can be larger and form craters rather than just pin holes. Part of the maintenance required for travertine floor tiles is the refilling of these pockets and pin holes on an ongoing basis. It’s an easy job for anybody that can mix up a bit of travertine repair filler and spread it into the pit with an old credit card or the likes. The requirement to do this is much less with good quality dense travertine that only has a small amount of filler visible on the surface to start with. If you can see a lot of filler in your tiles from day of purchase (difficult to quantify how much a lot is as it’s subjective!!) then as a rule, you will need to refill more than if you didn’t have that much filler to start with.
As with all natural stone, it’s recommended that they are sealed with an appropriate stone sealer to help prevent liquid ingress. This is a very straight forward process that anybody can do by following the instructions on the sealer can. Irrespective to whether you buy the best Italian travertine or the cheapest commercial quality Turkish travertine, they will need sealing during installation and it’s recommended to re-seal every so often. Every situation is different but if you plan to spend a few hours resealing your tiles every 12months or so, you shouldn’t go wrong.

In the end…..
So that’s about it for our quick guide to travertine. To surmise, nobody sells £1s for 90p and it’s expensive to be in business so if something is cheap, there’s a really good reason for it and it won’t be charitable! Our promise to you is that you can’t buy the same products we sell anywhere else for less. When we advertise something as Premium Quality it is exactly as described above. That’s the truth.
We import directly from factories, negotiate reasonable prices based on volume orders and keep our overheads low. This allows us to sell our products at a lower than usual profit margin while still making it worth being in business!
We have full quality control over every order that leaves the factories using independent inspectors. Nothing ships without their say-so. UK online “resellers” can’t offer this level of quality control (or stock control). If you are dealing with somebody that’s operating out of an office in a commercial centre, and not a warehouse full of stock, how can they be sure their customers are going to get what they are supposed to be getting?? The truth is, they cannot.
We control everything from factory order to delivery to our customer and guarantee that you will receive exactly what you have paid for. If however you are unsatisfied with what you receive, we offer a full no quibble money back guarantee.
If you need any further information or would like to arrange a visit to see us in our warehouse, please call 0161 277 6850.

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