Umesh Punia, CEO of Glaze Granite & Marble Image Credit: Supplied

For Umesh Punia, marble and other natural stones have formed the bedrock of a successful business. The CEO of Glaze Granite & Marble and UAE resident of 26 years believes the materials he provides clients are every bit as aspirational as any other luxury product. “Like a Hermes bag or a Rolex watch, marble is a statement,” he says.

“Whatever profession or business one has made their fortune in, when they picture their dream home or office, do you think they would settle for a cheap ceramic floor? Of course not!”

Punia is clear about who his clientele are and believes that the best marble deserves to be viewed through the same sophisticated lens as any other premium product. His company sources the highest-quality marble and stones from across the world, which eventually ends up as kitchen counters, flooring in the lobby of five-star hotels and wall cladding in premium apartments.

“Discovering new and quality marble has always been more of an obsession than a livelihood,” he says. “When I started travelling to Italy in the late 90s, visiting the world’s most important stone galleries, I was fascinated and excited every time I stumbled upon a new exotic stone. I would jump at the chance to learn its origin, its source, its chemical composition, and would eagerly study its grain size, texture, hardness, polishing degree, so that I could add it to my own growing collection.”

He credits this passion as the key driver behind what is not only the largest collection of stones in the Middle East, “but probably the world”.

Punia takes pride in the ways Glaze has changed the UAE’s marble and natural stones market. “When I started out in 1995, marble was kept in open dusty yards, like any ordinary construction or masonry stones.” For him, one of the biggest ways in which Glaze has changed the local sector is its willingness to conceptualise marble from a totally different perspective.

“When I saw the way marble was displayed and showcased in the top galleries in Europe, I was mesmerised and inspired. I realised that marble is no less of an investment than a gemstone from a reputable jewellery store. You must understand — people don’t buy marble as a basic necessity; people invest in marble for their home or office for future generations to marvel upon.”

When Punia first began operating in the UAE in 1995, he saw that marble was often stored in dusty, unsheltered outdoor yards, like any other building material. Now, he considers the elevated respect for the value of natural stones such as marble in the UAE his proudest accomplishment — something that even his competition has emulated.

Image Credit: Supplied

“You should never buy a natural stone from a sample because no two pieces of natural stones can ever be the same,” he advises. “Nature never repeats its designs, and so each block or lot is completely different from the others, in terms of quality, colour, texture, tone and veining.

“At Glaze, our clients walk through the real stock, which would finally end up as the floor in their home or office.”

Business for Glaze has been good enough that Punia is opening another gallery in Abu Dhabi.

Glaze has recently introduced new types of materials to the UAE countertop market. In the quartz space, Punia has brought the leading global brand, Caesarstone, and Coante, which is based on Bretonstone technology, to the UAE. Both come with a 20-year warranty, which testifies to Punia’s vision of these being multigenerational products.

In 2020, Glaze began retailing Neolith, a scratch-, water-, fire-, chemical- and heat-proof, nearly indestructible sintered stone material. “Neolith is a superior alternative for ceramic and porcelain stone due to its durability, versatility, and unparalleled design quality.”

There is also Geoluxe, another next-gen surface product that is made by 3D printing materials such as ink.

“We have also introduced other state-of-the-art products, such as Ariostea, the most impressive porcelain slab brand from Italy, for example, which belongs to the oldest and largest Italian porcelain group, Iris Ceramic Group.”

Punia is always on the lookout for new engineered and natural stone materials to bring to this market. “We were the first to bring in Brazilian natural quartzite as a flooring and countertop product. Quartz is the hardest material besides diamonds, so its performance as flooring or counter material is incredible. The most popular quartzite is from Brazil and is extremely popular in the US.” When Glaze first brought brands such as Mont Blanc, Super White, Quartz Cremo, Fusion and Corteccia to the UAE in the noughties, they were perceived within the market as being too expensive, he adds, but they are now some of the most popular products in the gallery.

“There are over 400 natural stones in our collection. The introduction of these exotic and rare stones was our brainchild — many of them are extremely popular today, and found exclusively at Glaze.”

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