Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli


Lapis is the Latin word for "stone" and lazuli is the genitive form of the Medieval Latin lazulum, which is taken from theArabic" لاجورد"(lājaward), itself from the Persian " لاجورد" (lājavard), which is the name of the stone in Persian and also of a place where lapis lazuli was mined.

The name "Lapis lazuli" came to be associated with its color. The English word azure, French azur, Italian azzurro, Polish lazur, Romanian azur and azuriu, Portuguese and spanish azul, and Hungarian azúr all come from the name and color of lapis lazuli.

Lapis lazuli or lapis for short, is a deep blue, semi precious stone prized since antiquity for its intense color. As early as the 7th millennium BC, lapis lazuli was mined in the Sar-i Sang mines, in Shortugai, and in other mines in the Badakhshan province in northeast Afghanistan. Lapis was highly valued by the Indus Valley Civilisation (3300–1900 BC). Lapis beads have been found at neolithic burials in Mehrgarh, the Caucasus, and even as far from Afghanistan as Mauritania. It was used in the funeral mask of Tutankhamun (1341–1323 BC).

At the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli began to be exported to Europe, where it was ground into powder and made into ultramarine, the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments. It was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, including Masaccio, Perugino, Tizian and Vermeer and was often reserved for the clothing of the central figures of their paintings, especially the Virgin Mary.

Today, mines in northeast Afghanistan and Pakistan are still the major source of lapis lazuli. Important amounts are also produced from mines west of Lake Baikal in Russia, and in the Andes mountains in Chile. Smaller quantities are mined in Italy, Mongolia, the United States, and Canada.

Historians believe the link between humans and lapis lazuli stretches back more than 6,500 years. The gem was treasured by the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome. They valued it for its vivid, exquisite color, and prized it as much as they prized other blue gems like sapphire and turquoise.

Badakshan, a province in present-day Afghanistan, is a forbidding wasteland of mountains, bare of any vegetation. The sheer mountain faces rise as high as 17,000 feet, and are scored with treacherous ravines. Humans make their way there to seek one thing only: the azure treasure that is fine lapis lazuli.

The same was true as far back as 700 BC, when the region was part of a country known as Bactria. The lapis mines that were producing then are still producing today. They are, in fact, the world’s oldest known commercial gemstone sources.

The ancient mines of Bactria—now Afghanistan—are still producing lapis today. This
fine-color specimen was named "The Owl" because of its distinctive shape. It weighs
about 2 lbs. (1 kg).

Merchant caravans transported their precious blue cargo across Bactria, on their way to the great cities of the ancient Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Persians. Marco Polo referred to the area’s lapis mines in 1271, but few outsiders have seen them because of their inhospitable location.


The most important mineral component of lapis lazuli is lazurite (25% to 40%), a feldspathoid silicate mineral. Most lapis lazuli also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue), and pyrite (metallic yellow). 

Lapis lazuli usually occurs in crystalline marble as a result of contact metamorphism.

The intense blue color is due to the presence of the trisulfur radical anion in the crystal. An electronic excitation of one electron from the highest doubly filled molecular orbital into the lowest singly occupied orbital results in a very intense absorption line.

For thousands of years, lapis has been fashioned to show off its rich, dark color. Typically, lapis used in jewelry has been cut into cabochons, beads, inlays, and tablets. But lapis lazuli’s use has never been limited to jewelry alone. It’s also a popular carving material. Throughout its history, lapis has been fashioned into practical objects, including game boards, bowls, dagger handles, hair combs, and amulets.



Gem and mineral hardness is measured on the Mohs scale. 
Lapis is between 5 and 6 on the Mohs scale, depending on its composition. With care, lapis jewelry and carvings can delight their owners for generations. Its toughness is considered Fair.

The dye used in some lapis can come off if it’s rubbed with acetone (nail polish remover) or denatured alcohol, so it’s sometimes sealed with wax or plastic. Wax sealers can deteriorate when they’re exposed to heat or solvents.

Lapis that hasn’t been dyed might be impregnated with wax or oil to improve its color and luster. These treatments have only fair stability, and a gemologist can detect them.

Wearers should remove the jewelry when sleeping and showering in order to protect it from damage and corrosion. Lapis lazuli is more fragile than other stones, and users should not expose the jewelry to water. Doing so damages the protective coating, which leads to chips and cracks. Because the stones have high sulfur content, the stones emit a strong odor if damage results in chips or cracks.

When washing hands, washing dishes, or performing other household chores, users should place the jewelry in a safe place, especially rings, to prevent them from coming into contact with moisture and harsh chemicals.

If the jewelry box is unavailable, jewelry owners should wear protective gloves; tuck a necklace inside a shirt, or place bracelets and rings inside their pockets. If the jewelry does come in contact with chemicals or water, wearers should clean and dry the stones as soon as possible. The longer the chemicals are in contact with the chemicals, the more damage they cause.

Lapis laszuli jewelry should be stored in a safe place. To protect it from moisture and damage, they should wrap the pieces in a soft cloth and place them in a jewelry box. In addition to moisture, the stones are particularly susceptible to extreme temperature changes. Lapis lazuli jewelry should always be in a climate controlled storage area. Jewelry owners should never keep the jewelry in a car or any other location exposed to direct sunlight.


Lapis Lazuli can be best cleaned with a soft cloth and warm and gentle soapy water. Be sure to rinse well to remove all soapy residue. 

As with most other gemstones, avoid the use of ultrasonic cleaners, as well as heat steamers since cleaning it with soapy water is the safer method. 

It is best to test a small, inconspicuous area first, because some dye treatments are not stable.  

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