The sweet sounding, somewhat melodic name of this gem is composed of 'Lapis', the Latin word for stone, and 'Azula', which comes from the Arabic and means 'blue'. 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.
Lazurite is the ingredient responsible for producing the gem’s most prized color— Bright Royal Blue. Worldwide, Lapis is mined in several areas. The traditional source of the finest Lapis Lazuli is the same today as it was thousands of years ago—the mountains of Afghanistan. Other major sources are Chile and Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. Minor sources are Angola, Canada, Colorado (US), and Pakistan. However Afghanistan is considered the source of the best-quality Lapis, treasured for its beautiful deep blue color.
Lapis was among the first gemstones to be worn as jewelry. At excavations in the ancient centers of cultures around the Mediterranean, archeologists have again and again found among the grave furnishings decorative chains and figures made of Lapis Lazuli – clear indications that the deep blue stone was already popular thousands of years ago among the people of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome. 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. In some cultures, Lapis Lazuli was regarded as a "holy stone". Particularly in the Middle East, it was thought to have magical powers. Lapis will always be known as the blue stone which Alexander the Great brought to Europe. Some theories explain that this is why the color was referred to as 'ultramarine', which translated means something like 'from beyond the sea'.
What an incredible blue! The worth of this stone to the World of Art is immeasurable, for the Ultramarine of the Old Masters is nothing other than genuine Lapis Lazuli. Ground up into a powder and stirred up together with binding agents, the marble-like gemstone can be used to manufacture radiant blue watercolors, tempera or oil paints. Before the year 1834, when it became possible to produce this color synthetically, the only ultramarine available was that valuable substance made from genuine Lapis Lazuli that shines out at us from many works of art today. Many pictures of the Madonna, for example, were created using this paint. But in those days, ultramarine blue was not only precious and so intense that its radiance outshone all other colors, it was also very expensive. But unlike all other blue pigments, which tend to pale in the light, it has lost none of its radiance to this very day. Nowadays, the blue pigment obtained from Lapis Lazuli is mainly used in restoration work and by collectors of historical paints.COLOR - COLOR IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUALITY FACTOR FOR LAPIS LAZULI
Warm, soapy water is the safest way to clean lapis lazuli. It’s best to test a small, inconspicuous area first because some dye treatments are not stable.
Photos Courtesy of GIA