Lapis Lazuli Gemstone Information
About Lapis Lazuli - History and Introduction
Lapis lazuli, often referred to as just 'lapis', has been used as a gemstone for thousands of years. It has been mined from Afghanistan since the early 7th millennium BC, and it was discovered in ancient burial sites throughout the Caucasus, the Mehrgarh and even as far as the Republic of Mauritania. The funeral mask for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh 'King Tut' was even discovered to have been decorated with lapis lazuli.
This historical stone has a name closely associated with its intense color. Its name was derived from the Latin word 'lapis' meaning 'stone', and from the Arabic and Persian word 'lazaward'. 'Lazaward" was the Persian name for lapis stone, as well as the name of its mining location. In other parts of the world, words for 'blue' were named after the color of lapis, including the English word 'azure'; Italian 'azzurro'; Polish 'azur'; Spanish 'azur' and Romanian 'azuriu'. Today, lapis lazuli is still considered to be one of the most important opaque blue gemstones available.
Lapis usually forms in crystalline marble through the geological process of contact metamorphism and due to its composition, it is technically defined as a rock rather than a mineral. It is primarily composed of lazurite, while the remaining composition is made up of sodalite, calcite, pyrite and other various minor constituents. The varying composition is what influences its exact coloring.
Identifying Lapis Lazuli Back to Top
Lapis lazuli by definition is a rock primarily composed of lazurite (25% to 40%), calcite and pyrite. Lazurite is a feldspathoid silicate and belongs to the sodalite group of minerals. Minor constituents can include augite, diopside, enstatite, mica, hauynite, hornblende and nosean. Lapis lazuli can be easily confused with other blue opaque gems such as azurite and sodalite, but azurite has a lower hardness and is typically darker in color than lapis lazuli; while sodalite in most cases, has a lighter color and its granularity is not as fine as that of lapis lazuli.
Lapis Lazuli Origin and Gemstone Sources Back to Top
Discovered 6000 years ago, the oldest lapis lazuli deposits are located in the difficult terrain of the West Hindu-Kush Mountains in Afghanistan. Today, Afghanistan is known to produce the finest quality lapis lazuli and is also the most significant source. Other commercial deposits have been also found in Angola, Argentina, Canada, Chile (North of Santiago), India, Italy, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Russia and the United States (California and Colorado).
Buying Lapis Lazuli and Determining Lapis Lazuli Value Back to Top
Lapis Lazuli Gemological Properties: Back to Top
Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemology-related terms.
Lapis Lazuli: Similar and Associated Gems: Back to Top
Lapis lazuli is often referred to as just 'lapis' or 'lazurite' for short. It is technically not related to any single mineral due to its varying composition, however, it does have many close gem and mineral associations since it forms with and alongside many other popular gems, including calcite, pyrite, hauyne and sodalite.
Lapis lazuli is very similar in appearance to a variety of gems such as sodalite, azurite, turquoise, pietersite, hawk's eye, charoite and opal.
Lapis Lazuli Legends and Metaphysical Healing Properties Back to Top
Lapis lazuli is a real veteran in the illustrious history of gemstones. Indeed, it was used as jewelry as early as prehistoric times. In the Middle Ages it gained additional popularity as a pigment to produce ultramarine color for painters or to tint cloth. Some palaces, churches and mosques throughout the Middle East and Europe display wall panels and columns with lapis lazuli inlays. For people around the world, lapis lazuli is considered a stone of truth and friendship. The blue stone is reputed to promote harmony in relationships. Historians believe the link between lapis lazuli and human beliefs dates back over 6,500 years. The stone is believed to have been highly prized by many ancient civilizations, including Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Roman and Greek.
In antiquity, as well as in the Middle Ages, people believed that the cosmos was reflected in gemstones. Lapis lazuli is assigned to the planet Jupiter. The healing powers of gems remain a controversial issue, but have been mentioned for centuries by healers, shamans and medicine men around the world. Whether it's based on fact or is merely a placebo effect, it truly doesn't matter as long as it helps those in need. Lapis lazuli is said to be of help for headaches, sore throats and varicose veins. It is also known to help with alleviating cramps, stiffness and fertility problems.
Lapis Lazuli Jewelry Design Ideas Back to Top
For thousands of years, Lapis lazuli has been treasured the world over since antiquity for its intense beautiful blue color. Lapis takes an excellent polish and is often used for both men's and ladies' jewelry. It is most often cut into cabochons, beads, inlays or tablets. But lapis lazuli's use has never been limited to jewelry alone. Throughout its history lapis has been a popular carving material, frequently fashioned into many ornamental and decorative objects.
Despite its low price, lapis lazuli can be found in many high-end designer jewelry lines, typically accented with diamond and gold. Today, it is often carved for brooches, pins and large sculptures because it is relatively affordable and available in large sizes. Lapis is one of the most popular stones today for men's jewelry and can often be found in shirt studs and tie tacks, and especially in large cabochon rings. Today, it is considered to be an all-time classic stone when set in silver.
Note: Buy colored gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Colored stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamond by weight in comparison.
Lapis Lazuli Gemstone and Jewelry Care Back to Top
Lapis is considered to be fairy tough, but it is also fairly soft at 5-6 on the Mohs scale. It's softer than many gemstones, but with care, jewelry and ornaments can last for many generations. Lapis can be quite sensitive to strong pressure, high temperatures and harsh household chemicals and cleaners. Avoid exposing lapis to bleach or sulfuric acid. Most lapis lazuli can be cleaned using warm, soapy water, but some dyed materials may not be stable. For dyed or impregnated stones, it's best to test a small area first to ensure stability. Wipe down stones using only a soft cloth and be sure to rinse well to remove any soapy residue.
Always remove any lapis gems or jewelry before exercising, playing sports or engaging in vigorous household chores. When storing your lapis lazuli, store it separately from other gems and jewelry to prevent scratches and fractures. It is best to wrap your stones using a soft cloth and place them into a fabric-lined jewelry box for extra protection.
- First Published: September-06-2006
- Last Updated: February-12-2014
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