The archetypal blue stone, (the name from the Arabic and Latin meaning blue stone), and in its finest manifestations, what a blue it is. A deep, rich royal colour of the most gorgeous hue, sometimes flecked with white calcite and the golden stars in the sky as inclusions of fine pyrite. The colouring agent is sulphur. Lapis lazuli unlike most other gemstones is not considered to be a mineral, but a rock, composed of a number of different minerals. In addition to lazurite (25-40%) it combines in varying quantities, augite, calcite, diopside, mica, hornblend, sodalite and pyrite.
The main source of the best lapis lazuli always has been and still is, Afghanistan. For 6000 years the finest material has come from the Badakhstan mines in the western Hindu Kush. There are Russian deposits of a lesser quality from the Lake Baikal region, and Chile also produces a lapis, though of a type containing much more of the white calcium. Other deposits are found in Angola, Burma, Pakistan, USA and the Atlas mountains of Morocco.
Like turquoise, lapis lazuli has been used since prehistoric times in jewellery. The mask of Tutankhamun has lapis inlays, and the stone was used as a gemstone for millennia by the Egyptians.. Objects containing lapis, including scarabs, pendants and beads date as early as at least 3100 BC. Powdered lapis was also used in cosmetics (the first eye shadow), as a pigment and as a medicine. It has been found in the royal tombs of ancient Sumeria. In the 4th century BC, both the Chinese and Greeks carved various Lapis lazuli artifacts. Ancient references to sapphire, the “sapphirus” of the Romans, probably, in fact, refer to lapis lazuli. Its modern name originates in the Persian word “lazhuward”, meaning blue, and the Arabic word “lazaward”meaning heaven or sky, and came into use in Europe during the Middle Ages. Indeed, a lot of the mythology surrounding lapis probably stems from the dark blue of the stone flecked with gold pyrite resembling the night sky, the dwelling place of God. A medieval treatise suggested that meditation on the stone carried the soul to heavenly contemplation. To the Buddhists of antiquity, lapis lazuli brought peace of mind and equanimity, and was good for dispelling evil thoughts. But in the end it is always to its glorious colour that we return. A colour so imbued with a spiritual nature that it was used by the Renaissance artists to create the ultramarine blue used to colour the cloaks of the saints and of the virgin Mary herself!! Its importance as a colouring agent at that time was also in part due to the unnatainability of natural blue dyes of any kind and also due to the purity of its colour. The depiction of Heaven itself as the colour of lapis lazuli, the sacred colour of paradise. in modern times, as the astronauts of Apollo 8 discovered, it is the colour of our home, the very earth itself, viewed from outer space. Lapis is a relatively rare stone , and good quality lapis is becoming rarer. Some dealers of the stone have begun to colour enhance poor grade lapis with blue dyes. Sometimes the buyer is aware of a stone with this kind of provenance. Sometimes unfortunately he is not. Lapis lazuli, and turquoise are the birthstones for December.