Lapis luzauli (often shortened to ‘lapis’) is a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense blue color. It was among the first gemstones to be worn as jewelry. Lapis lazuli gets its name from the Latin word for stone ‘lapis’ and ‘azula’, which in Arabic means blue.
Hardness: Lapis is considered 5-5.5 on the Mohs scale of hardness.
Color: Uncut, lapis lazuli is matt and of a deep, dark blue color, often with golden inclusions of pyrite and whitish marble veins. The blue color comes from the sulfur content of the lazurite and may range from pure ultramarine to a lighter blue.
Birthstone: Lapis lazuli is considered the traditional birthstone for December. It is also the planetary stone for Capricorn and the birthstone for Libra.
Scarcity: Small pieces of Lapis are not unusual but good quality stones are nearly impossible to find anywhere in the world.
Value: The price of lapis jewelry varies widely, from very expensive to quite inexpensive. The value of this gemstone is largely dependent on the intensity of the color. The most valuable color of lapis is the intense violet-blue without any white sodalite or calcite crystals in it. Fine grained, uniform stones can obtain a smooth highly polished surface not seen in lower grades. The quality of polish and the artistry of fashioning are also factors in value.
Most Common Cuts: Lapis takes an excellent polish and can be made into carvings, ornaments, vases and other artifacts. It can also be cut in cabochons for the use in lapis jewelry. Most often, it is seen in rings, earrings, and necklaces. Lapis lazuli beads are often stringed together and worn as a bead necklace.
Chemical Formula: Lapis lazuli is not a pure mineral, like most gemstones, but rather a rock composed of varying proportions of lazurite, sodalite, hauyne, calcite, and pyrite. The main component of lapis lazuli is lazurite, a mineral with the formula (Na,Ca)8(AlSiO4)6(S,SO4,Cl)1-2.
Synthetic Varieties: Due to the high demand and low supply of fine quality lapis, many manufacturers have attempted to synthesize this exquisite gemstone. It is sometimes substituted by spinel or sodalite, or by dyed jasper or howlite. Gilson (a company that produces synthetic gemstones) has produced many synthetic lapis lazuli gemstones. Although they have some similarities to the naturally occurring lapis, the synthetic Gilson lapis stones are more porous and low in hardness.
History: In ancient Egypt, lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets and scarabs and it was used in ancient Mesopotamia by the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians for seals and jewelry. Lapis lazuli was mined in the Afghanistan as early as the third millennium BC, and there are sources that were found as far east as Siberia. Afghanistan was the source of lapis for the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, as well as the later Greeks and Romans. As they did more than 5000 years ago, the best raw stones still come from northeast Afghanistan. Afghanis have always relied heavily on the stone for the countries’ economy. Despite the quantity and quality of stone found there, the terrain of the Afghanistan valley is risky which makes this stone that much more valuable. The lumps of blue rock, extracted from the inhospitable mountains by blasting, need to be carried down into the valley during the summer months by mules.
In addition to the Afghan deposits, small deposits of lapis have been extracted in the Chilean Andes, to the west of Lake Baika region of Russia, Siberia, Angola, Argentina, Burma, Pakistan, Canada, India and the United States. Jewelry uses predominate today and most commonly, this gem is set in silver in modestly priced jewelry pieces.
Rumored Healing Properties: Lapis lazuli has long been regarded around the world as the stone of friendship and truth. It is said to encourage harmony in relationships and help its wearer to give their honest opinion. It is also said to strengthen total awareness, creativity, and helps to expand one’s viewpoint. It is believed to improve sleep, cure insomnia and the Romans believed it was an aphrodisiac.
During ancient times, lapis was ground up and used for medicinal purposes. The ground powder was mixed with milk and used to relieve ulcers and boils, help in bone development and with thyroid conditions.