Lapis Lazuli


Made of Many Minerals

Lapis lazuli is actually a rock composed of many distinct minerals, including lazurite, sodalite, calcite, and pyrite (fool’s gold). Lazurite and sodalite give lapis its vivid blue color, while calcite and pyrite give lapis its characteristic white veining and brassy speckles.

Colors of Lapis

Due to its composite makeup, lapis may range in color from a light blue variety called denim lapis to a highly prized deep blue variety.

Caring for Lapis

Lapis lazuli is often sealed with colorless wax or resin. As long as these substances are not mixed with any coloring agent, this sealing process simply has the effect of improving the stone's wearing qualities. Thus the stone should always be protected from acidic substances and too much sunlight.


Afghan Lapis

The finest and most highly prized lapis in the world has been mined in Afghanistan for nearly 6,000 years. Lapis lazuli was among the first gemstones used in jewelry and traded along the earliest trade routes of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

From his travels throughout Europe and Asia, Alexander the Great brought to Greece countless signet rings, scarabs, and figurines that were carved from lapis lazuli.

Cleopatra’s Eye Shadow

Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, favored this brilliant blue gemstone, and used lapis as makeup and as a healing salve for the eyes.

Michelangelo’s Ultramarine

In Europe the deep blue color of lapis was referred to as ultramarine. Painters prized powdered lapis as a pigment for paint, and only Afghan craftsmen new the secret of making pure lapis powder that was free from calcite or pyrite.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Crusades were interrupting trade routes, pure Afghan lapis powder became more expensive than gold leaf. Renaissance painters sacrificed fortunes to pay for precious Afghan lapis powder.

In most paintings made before the 1800s only the most precious symbols, such as the Madonna, were painted using priceless ultramarine pigments.

Azurite, a less expensive blue gemstone, was also used to make blue pigment, though the azure-blues tended toward more greenish shades of blue. Many artists preferred ultramarine, as their colors tended toward more violet shades of blue. Michelangelo used both azure-blue and ultramarine, and prized each for their distinct qualities. He said:

While azurite gives depth to the seas,
ultramarine gives height to the skies.

(MIchelangelo, 15th century)


Sumerian Lapis: The Epic of Gilgamesh

In many cultures, particularly in the Middle East, lapis lazuli was regarded as a holy stone and thought to have magical powers. The ancient Sumerian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh mentions lapis often, describing the horns of the Bull of Heaven made of lapis.

Egyptian Lapis: The Book of the Dead

The ancient Egyptians dressed their dead Pharaohs in the two most precious materials of their time: gold and lapis lazuli. They believed that lapis represented the god Ra, who crossed the sky to bring the Pharaoh as a son of Ra to Heaven. The following funeral rites found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen show the important symbolism of lapis to the ancient Egyptians:

Oh look, you are lamented!
Look, you are exalted!
 Look, you are strong!
Your upper body is of lapis lazuli.
Ra shines on your face, dressing it in gold,
and Horus has covered it with lapis lazuli.
Your eyebrows are the two sisters that have united,
and Horus has encrusted them with lapis  lazuli.
It is your eyes that see Mount Bakku,
your eyelashes with be preserved for all time,
their eyelids are of genuine lapis lazuli.
(Egyptian Book of the Dead)

Egyptians also believed that lapis helped them communicate with gods. The 140th chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a powerful amulet made in the shape of an eye, set in gold, and inlayed with lapis lazuli.

The book explains that on the last day of each month the Supreme Being placed a similar amulet its forehead, so by sacrifice and meditation one could establish a connection with the Supreme Being and gain health and mental clarity.

Consequently lapis has long been thought to promote spiritual healing, mental clarity, and increased psychic abilities.

Dreaming of Lapis Lazuli

In Victorian times, dreaming of lapis foretold of faithful love.


Hour: 4:00 am

Birthstone, pre-1900: December

Wedding anniversary, traditional: 9th

Angel: Uriel

Planet: Venus

Zodiac: Libra

Canadian Province:
Yukon Territories: lazulite, official mineral

Canada (sodalite), Chile, and Bolivia

See Also

Azurite, Calcite, Fool's Gold and Sodalite

lapis lazuli cabochon with distinctive brassy pyrite speckles

Navajo bracelet set with light blue denim lapis



gold scarab amulet found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun set with turquoise, carnelian and lapis lazuli

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