Monday, January 8, 2018

Gemstone Highlight: Lapiz Lazuli

Polished Lapiz

Lapis lazuli is classified as a rock whose most important mineral component is lazurite (a formula comprised of sulfate, sulfur and chloride.) Along with other constituents, most lapis also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue) and pyrite (metallic yellow). Its intense blue color is due to the presence of the radical anion (a charged, free radical) whose molecularity creates a very intense absorption line. Lapis lazuli usually occurs in crystalline marble as a result of contact metamorphism, a result of the temperature increase caused by the intrusion of magma into cooler country rock.  Simply put, Lapis is a rock consisting mainly of diopside and lazurite and came into being millions of years ago during the metamorphosis of lime to marble.


Lapis is the Latin word for stone and lazuli is of Medievel Latin, taken from Arabic and formerly the Persian word lazaward, which is the name of the stone in Persian and also of the place where lapis lazuli was mined. The English word azur comes from the name and color of lapis lazuli. In many cases a color is associated with the naming of the stone, but not with lapis.  The name of the stone instead came to be associated with its color.

This deep blue stone ( usually abbreviated to just lapis) has a record of being mined in northeastern Afghanistan as early as the 7th millennium BC. However, beads have been found at 4th millennium BC settlements, and a dagger with a lapis handle, a bowl, amulets, beads and inlays have been found in the Royal Tombs of Ur dating back to the 3rd millennium BC.  The eyebrows of King Tutankhamun (shown right) are made of lapis. Another interesting fact is that powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra.  As lapis began to be exported into Europe, it was ground into powder and made into the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments.  It was used by artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods often reserved for the clothing of the central figure of the painting, like the Virgin Mary.  Afghanistan is still a major source of lapis, however other notable mines include Lake Baikal in Russia and the Andes Mountains in Chile.  Small mines include those in Italy, Canada, Mongolia and the United States.


On the Moh's scale of hardness, it sits at 5 to 5.5 and when cutting or polishing the stone, it must be handled gently and not given too much pressure.  It normally has a dull finish, but most lapis is sealed with a colorless wax or synthetic resin extending and improving the stone's wearing qualities and retaining its ability to be re-polished.  It is said that many a cutter "turns up his nose" when cutting lapis as it gives off a notable smell when it comes in contact with the cutting device.

Lapis jewelery should always be protected from acidic substances, and never exposed to too much sunlight. Cleaning is simply wiping with a polishing cloth, and a little warm water and very soft brush if necessary.  Because it is not very hard, lapis jewelry should be stored away from other jewelry as to prevent scratching or other damage.

Lapis is regarded as the stone of friendship and truth. Said to encourage relationship harmony, it helps its wearer to be authentic, wise and open.  It is also purported to be a powerful crystal for achieving a higher state of mind and enhancing one's intellectual ability.


Although the traditional birthstone for December is Turquoise, the recommended alternative is Lapis Laluzi. It is also the stone for the 9th Anniversary.

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