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.
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.
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,
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!
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