Pietra dura (or "hard stone") inlay flourished during the Renaissance, and was perfected in Florence, Italy.It is essentially marquetry in stone, with marbles and decorative stones chosen for their magnificent structure and colour. Intricate designs, usually of flora and fauna are first drawn and painted from natural objects and stylised.Differing coloured stones are matched to the watercolour, then cut and shaped to fit like an intricate jigsaw. The assembled piece is then laid on to a background slab, usually of black marble (but in this case egyptian porphyry) and the outline is drawn on and is cut out to receive the inlay design. Depending on the background material, the recess for the assembled picture is either chiselled out or cut out with a thin wire saw. Each process is painstakingly long and difficult to perform and many of the materials are actually quite fragile, despite their inherent hardness. In England in the 19th century, Ashford black marble (actually a limestone) was used for inlay work and the craftsmen were given materials sourced from all over Europe to use in their beautiful work. The Italian artisans used predominantly 'Belgian black' marble or 'paragon' which is much harder and takes a higher polish. This would be sliced to around 3mm thick and cut with a wire bow saw laced with damp emery grit. Once the design was fixed by animal glue into place, the slab would be laminated with a slate backing and sold as a picture or laid into a tabletop.
Each table top is unique, made from luxury marbles sourced from antique fragments or expensive collections from stone masons yards. These marbles originate from quarries beginning in antiquity, many of which are now closed.They therefore cannot be mass produced, and are true one-offs. Modern quarries produce stones of varying interest and colour, but these often look lifeless and inexpensive. Often not fit for purpose, interiors using these stones are renewed constantly as fashion dictates. Objects of rarity and quality should not need replacing. Good craftsmanship and materials speak for themselves. Handmade pieces embody the energy of a craftsman. Mass produced objects look like mass produced objects, despite an often high price tag. Antiques and bespoke items are truly of merit as they retain intrinsic value, simply by being created by hand. Indeed, there is life in hand made objects.