Many companies claim they hand carve fire surrounds and other ornaments themselves, however, the vast majority, including most of the brand leaders actually buy their fire surrounds from China or some other country with low labour costs where they are largely machined.
Carrara, instead of being the top quality marble as used by Michelangelo becomes any old white marble or in some cases not marble at all but quartzite, which in fact dissolves in hot water and Bath stone that has never seen south western England. Remember, when buying these inferior materials the financial saving is not passed down to you the client, it pays for the plush showrooms, expensive web sites, ads in glossy magazines and half a dozen reps - in fact nothing that adds to the quality of the piece.
Before obtaining a quotation there is an assumption that hand carved is much more expensive than machine made, but this is often not the case.
When a company claims to produce their own items: ask where their workshop is, ask to talk to one of their craftsmen., ask where the stone comes from and a little about it, ask where they trained and what is their experience, and ask why it takes 12 weeks to take delivery of a fire surround that needs altering by 25 mm to the one in the shop.
The problem is, many members of the public are impressed by expensively designed shops in the right post code. In the future, when children and grandchildren are discussing their predecessors hand carved commission, would you rather they were saying “he got it from a dealer in Kensington who later sold cars, he was a very good salesman and they had lovely brochures” or “ the man who carved this also carved work for Windsor Castle and for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey”.
We are not fire surround manufacturers or water feature makers, we are stonemasons and architectural sculptors. We carve all types of fire surrounds, fountains, urns, etc. It is only coming back to the design sector from heritage and high end commissions that I notice the lack of quality being offered, all in the name of greater profits for those jumping on a gravy train.
Don't buy from a middle man, go direct to the craftsmen. You may not get your plush showroom but you do get the true bespoke experience and a hand carved piece wholly original, and an antique of the future.