Lapis Lazuli: The Wonder Stone

Lapis lazuli, prized for its intense blue color, is a semi-precious gemstone which gets its name from the place where it was first mined. Its name is derived from the Latin word "lapis" meaning stone and the Persian word "lazhuward" meaning blue.

Although predominantly found in the mines of Afghanistan where it has been mined for over 6,000 years, it is also found as far as the Andes Mountains near Chile and near the Baikal Lake in Russia. This gem is also mined in small amounts in countries like India, Pakistan, Italy, Canada and the United States of America.

Afghanistan is said to be the biggest producer of Lapis in the world. The country has six
operational Lapis mines, the largest of them being located in Badakhshan province. From these mines, bulk of it is exported to India, which is the largest importer of raw semi-precious stones and the exporter of higher quality gems.

Lapis is mostly composed of the mineral known as lazurite. This mineral is blue in color and gives Lapis its intense color. Its other major mineral components are calcite and sodalite. Lapis is found in the marble crystalline form in nature, formed by a process called contact metamorphism of limestone. It is sensitive to heat, acid, and alkali. The gemstones containing higher concentration of these two minerals are of higher grade and more expensive as compared to the rest of the Lapis grades i.e. a higher grade Lapis contains very low concentration or residual amounts of calcite and sodalite. A lapis crystal made mostly of laruzite has never been documented. Most samples found and reviewed by geologists mainly contain Hauyne.

Nowadays, Lapis Lazuli can also be made artificially by the Gilson process (invented in 1970). The artificial Lapis should most accurately be called an imitation of the Lapis as it differs from the natural Lapis in some of it physical and chemical properties.

This gemstone has been highly regarded for its color since the time of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations.  The European traders discovered Lapis some 2000 years ago and began exporting it in large amounts into Europe by the end of the Middle ages. In Europe, the Lapis was ground into a fine blue powder and sold as an expensive and intense blue pigment called ultramarine dye (or simply ultramarine). It was made available to only the most noteworthy painters and artists of the Renaissance and the Baroque.

One of the finest examples of Renaissance paintings that used the ultramarine is the “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which was painted by Johannes Vermeer in 1665. The ultramarine was used by painters to depict the clothing of central figures in their paintings and was typically used to depict clothing of Virgin Mary during that period.

Many ancient artifacts made of Lapis Lazuli have been found from various eras. Pendants made of Lapis dating back to 2900 B.C. have been found among the remnants of the great
Mesopotamian civilization. The Egyptians made scarabs out of Lapis rock. It was also used as a pigment to depict the eyes on the tomb mask of Tutenkhamun. Majestic statues made of Lapis rock have been discovered in India from the Mughal era. Several famous Lapis artifacts have also been discovered in China from the period of Qing dynasty.

Lapis is easy to polish and gives-off a radiant blue shine. It is used to make jewelry, mosaics, frescos, carvings, statues, ornaments and boxes. As a gemstone, Lapis Lazuli is used traditionally in jewelry as pendants and as beads. It is considered a semi-precious gemstone and is widely worn by both men and women embedded in their necklaces, earrings, and rings.  Artifacts made from Lapis Lazuli are highly valued for their "true blue" color (also known as ultramarine).

This gemstone has become a part of Asian and Western cultures (and myths and rituals).
According to Indian Astrology, this stone is known for its spiritual healing powers. It is known to increase strength, immunity and virility. It is the planetary stone of Capricorn and is associated with the Zodiac sign Libra. In the Feng Shui, Lapis is associated with the water element and is associated with wisdom, wealth and abundance.

If you like the color blue, you can order Lapis jewelry – it is beautiful and mystical to look at, so much so that even the great poet W.B. Yeats wrote a whole poem to it. If you like, you can even get Lapis beads and make your own jewelry. It’s cheaper than most other gems, but its beauty is as astonishing as any other.