Composition and Physical Properties
Unlike most other gems, Lapis is not a mineral, but a rock composed of many different minerals. The distinctive blue color is derived from the presence of lazurite, a blue silicate material of the Sodalite group.
It is a metamorphic rock that contains enough lazurite to give it a distinct blue color. It can also contain significant amounts of calcite and pyrite responsible for the gold flecks and streaks that are seen in lapis beads and specimens.
Raw Lapis is dull but polishes to a high luster, is opaque, and measures between the 3 of the calcite and the 5 – 5.5 of the lazurite on the Mohs scale.
Origin and Provenance
Lapis Lazuli is found where limestone or marble have been altered by contact metamorphism from hydrothermal activity. In these rocks, the host rock undergoes mineral replacements with lazurite, developing lapis lazuli within the strata.
Afghanistan is the world’s most prolific source of Lapis Lazuli. Other countries that produce noteworthy amounts of lapis lazuli include Chile, Russia, Canada, Argentina, and Pakistan. In the United States lesser quantities of lapis lazuli have been mined in California, Colorado, and Arizona.
Industrial and Other Uses
One of the best known historical uses of lapis is the creation of the artist’s pigment of Ultramarine. Perhaps the best-known painting to utilize this pigment is Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring”. Modern artists mostly use a synthetic ultramarine pigment as the synthetic versions not only give a more consistent blue color, they are also significantly cheaper.
It is now widely known for its use a gemstone, and is popular for cutting into cabochons and beads. It is also used in mosaics and inlays and often as a material for small sculptures. It is also commonly used in jewelry, such as rings, bracelets, necklaces, malas, and cufflinks.
How to Spot Fake Lapis Lazuli
Natural lapis lazuli is be a mix of blue with white calcite and pyrite flakes. Sometime low quality lapis lazuli will be dyed blue in an attempt to hide the while calcite to make it appear as if it's of a higher quality. The fakes are generally easy to spot because a close look will show little to no visible white calcite (because it's been dyed blue) and the absence of pyrite flakes.
Another data point to help spot fake lapis lazuli is its price. If an inexpensive lapis lazuli is mostly blue and does not show a a fair amount of white calcite, then it is probably a dyed low quality lapis being passed off for a higher grade.
History and Mythological Significance
This attractive blue stone has been prevalent throughout human recorded history. It was mined in Afghanistan as far back as 7000 BC. Beads and small jewelry items have been found at Neolithic sites dating back to about 3000 BC in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Lapis also appears in many Egyptian archeological sites, again dating back to approximately 3000 BC. They used it as a cosmetic and a pigment, as well as in ornaments and jewelry.
Metaphysical and Healing Properties
Lapis Lazuli is used in holistic and alternative healing practices to open the Third Eye and the Throat chakras. It is said to enhance psychic abilities, improve communication skills and accelerate spiritual growth.
In physical healing, Lapis is said to be beneficial in alleviating the pain of migraine headaches, boosting the immune system, and treating conditions of the throat such as laryngitis or strep throat.