An incredible stone found in human history since the beginning of time. Lapis Lazuli is a deep blue semi precious stone. Lapis is defined as a rock geologically speaking. I also found out that it appears in the most ancient civilizations known to man. Furthermore it was of utmost importance because it was a stone used to revere gods and God. Its spiritual journey through the Silk Route to acquire the Lapis Lazuli for temples and churches superseded primitive quests. I give you a summary of the most interesting facts of the beautiful Lapis Lazuli… Enjoy!
Meaning – Etymology
Lapis is the Latin word for “stone” and lazuli comes from the Medieval Latin lazulum. It had such an impact in history that the English meaning of the word azure came from the name and color of lapis lazuli.
Let’s talk a little about the chemical part (a little boring for my taste, but necessary) of lapis. I promise I will be quick. Lapis Lazuli is composed mostly by Lazurite (25% – 40%), Sodalite (blue), calcite (white) and pyrite (metallic yellow). This beautiful rocks formula is: (Na, Ca)8 (AISiO4)6 (S, SO4, Cl)1-2. The intense blue color is due to the presence of the trifulsur radical anion in the crystal. It also has a translucent and uneven fracture.
Lapis Lazuli is formed in crystalline marble due to an increase in temperature caused by the intrusion of magma into cooler rocks. This process is called contact metamorphism.
The best quality material contains less calcite and pyrite. You can also look for this quality in the same place I do, in Nammu.com.
Its color goes from deep blue, purplish blue to greenish blue. When it has too much pyrite it may cause the stone to have a dull greenish tint.
The incredible Blue Mountain is the mountain where the lapis mines are. This mysterious mountain is situated along the right bank of the Kokcha River in the Badakshan Province. They are in the mountains northeastern part of Afghanistan. Badakshan is an inhospitable group of bare mountains. It consists mainly of metamorphic and plutonic rocks.
Lapis Lazulis mayor deposits are found in the Sar-e-Sang mines. . People have been mining Sar-e-Sang mine for more than 6,000 years. As incredible as it sounds, the same mines are still being mined today. The access to the ancient mines which are actually caves high above a valley floor is very dangerous. Home to the most poisonous snake in the world, the Krait, the mountain terrain is treacherous. Scorpions are common. Whether Mujahidin rebels are at the mines to acquire the chunks of lapis to trade for arms in Germany, Kaffir bandits or other local tribesmen, the conclusion is the same. The message is to stay away or die.
Afghanistan has the most expensive and precious lapis. It has a rich uniform deep blue color and little to no white calcite veining and also a few flecks of glittering pyrite. The white calcite veining will diminish the value.
Lapis is also extracted in the Andes (near Ovalle Cordillera, Coquimbo, Chile). To the west of Lake Baikal in Siberia, at the Tultui Lazurite deposit and the Pamir Mountains near Khorog, in Russia. Lapis Lazuli is mined in smaller amounts in Angola; Argentina; Upper Burma near Morgok. In Pakistan; Baffin Island, Canada; Ariccia, Peperino and Monte Somma, Vesuvius, Italy, Ragavapooram, Masulipatum, India. It is also found in the United States in San Bernardino County California and in Gunnison County, Colorado.
Chilean lapis and Russian lapis are of a lesser quality. Lapis from these regions is a topic I will talk about later. The lapis mined from these regions have a strong whitish or gray color and like I told you before distinguished readers, this diminishes its value.
In the past the principal technique of mining was the use of fire to split the rock. After this they poured water to cool the rock. This process made the rocks crack, allowing access to the minerals. The technique used today is blasting. This is a very dangerous practice with no safety protocols what so ever.
Historians believe the link between lapis lazuli and human beliefs dates back over 6,500 years. Ancient civilizations, including Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Roman and Greek, valued highly this stone.
Neolithic men were the first who created the first jewelry. They would bore a small hole through the Lapis Lazuli and string the pebbles of blue with a thread.
4,000 years ago, artists created objects like cylinder seals, necklaces. They also made amulets, animal statuettes and inlay on important statues, mostly in the eyes where it absorbs all attention to the figure.
It had such an importance in life as well in the after life. Prove of that is that Lapis Lazuli was also found in Neolithic tombs in Mauritania and in the Caucasus. The wealthiest tombs of the first dynasties had lapis. The Egyptians listed it in their funeral items and also used it at the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
Ancient kings demanded lapis for royal workshops which fashioned many pieces for daily living in lapis including parches boards and talismans as symbols of truth.
The Egyptians saw in the Lapis Lazuli (lapis for short) stone a connection between its dark blue color with the night of the skies and the stars with the gold pyrite flecks, in other words, an image of the heavens. They saw life in the deep blue color of water and the divine in the immense blue of the sky. For all of this they used Lapis to portray it all.
Artists represented the Nile, the most important river of Ancient Egypt in blue. Blue was also the background color of the paintings portraying the royal graves in the Valley of the Kings.
Kings used head kerchiefs painted in blue and gold. Tutankhamen used jewelry of gold and lapis.
The Egyptians also utilized this stone in artwork, amulets, jewelry and cosmetics but their use on the hair and adornments of the heavenly Goddess Isis shows how much their culture cared for the metaphysical powers of lapis.
One of the most recognized objects made by man with lapis lazuli is the incredible gold death facemask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (also known as King Tut, 1332-1232 B.C.). Exhibited in the Egyptian museum, it remains a national symbol. The mask was stripped with horizontal pieces of lapis. The lapis was also inset into harps, lyres and decorative boxes holding the organs of the mummified person. Egyptian lapidaries preferred silver and lapis to gold and used it as eye shadow and pigment.
In the Renaissance it was more expensive than gold. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Fra Angelico and other master artists also wanted the mineral for pigment. Michelangelo also used pulverized Lapis Lazuli for the Sistine Chapel (1475-1564) . I discovered that it is by far one of the most exquisite uses of Lapis Lazuli as pigment for the blues of heaven therefore the best stones were used.
Artisans and painters reserved lapis for the cloaks of Christ, angels and specially the Virgin Mary.
In the mid 1800s artists and chemists began developing synthetic blue pigments for use as alternatives to ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli. In 1824, The Societe d’Encouragement offered a prize of six thousand francs to anyone who could produce synthetic variety. After four years they gave the prize to Jean Baptiste Guimet who submitted a process he had developed in 1826.
Priests bordered Ecclesiastic Manuscripts with crushed pigment. Artisan painters also used Lapis for religious shrines and decorative elements on the altars of churches.
Tablets of the Law
One of the most incredible uses for lapis in history was in the Tablets of the Law given to Moses. It is written that the Law given to Moses on the Mount was engraved on tablets of sapphire. Here we should translate the word sapphire for lapis lazuli. First because the sapphire we know now was not yet discovered and second because there does not exist sapphires as big as the Law Tablets.
The First Breastplate
Aaron acted as the High Priest of the Twelve Tribes of Israel assigned by Moses. He was commanded to make a jeweled breastplate with twelve stones which represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Lapis Lazuli was the fifth stone representing the tribe of Issachar.
In the 1 century B.C the Buddhist religion migrated from China to the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan. They built two Buddhas on a vertical sandstone cliff. One of 170 feet high and the second 115 feet high. These Buddha’s represent the importance of this lapis valley to the Chinese.
The Yungang Grottoes are ancient Chinese Buddhist Temples grottoes or caves near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi. It is on the valley of the Shi River at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountains. It is one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple complex was built from 1406 to 1420 in the southeastern part of central Beijing during the reign of the Yongle Emperor. The Yongle Emperor also constructed the Forbidden City in Beijing. He used abundant Lapis Lazuli in the construction of this magnificent complex regarded as a Taoist Temple.
They made the famous Chinese fish,the carp. This exquisite fish amulet is a prize you can acquire in your favorite Nammu.com store.
The Chinese artistic and cultural richness of the Chinese ritualistic traditions combined with the skills of the craftsmen lead to magical lapis Lazuli pieces. The perfect combination of ancient Chinese culture and modern art.
Lapis Lazuli affects positively over our nervous system, speech, hearing, pituitary, reduce pain and also inflammation. It lowers blood pressure and aids the respiratory system. The exquisite lapis has a direct link with our head. That is the reason why it relieves headaches, especially migraines and epilepsy. The use of this blue mineral rock can be very helpful for people that have Asperger’s syndrome or autism.
Lapis Lazuli is one of the oldest spiritual stones known to man, used by healers, priests and also royalty, for power, wisdom and to stimulate psychic abilities and also inner vision. It releases stress. It stimulates enlightment and enhancing dreamwork. As a protection stone, it also recognizes psychic attacks and blocks it, returning the energy back to its source. It helps us be ourselves and liberates us from compromises and holding back, with lapis you can be the ruler in your own (spiritual) kingdom.
Lapis lazuli is a crystal of truth. It encourages self awareness, dignity, honesty and uprightness. Lapis also makes us enjoy contact with others and also helps us convey feelings and emotions clearly. It reveals inner truth. Allows self-expression without holding back or compromising. It encourages dignify in friendship and social ability.
It helps us face and accept that we are confronted with, while at the same time allowing us to also express our own opinion. It also helps us to contain conflicts.
Lapis activates the psychic centers at the Third Eye and balance the energies of the Throat Chakra. The Brow Chakra also called the Third Eye is the center of our perception and command.
It balances the important and the unimportant, sorting meaning from data and impressions. The throat chakra is the voice of the body.
Imitation Lapis Lazuli is very common. In more recent times large volumes of synthetically produced lapis have flooded the market place. The imitation techniques are getting better each day. Some of it is such a good quality that it is hard to tell apart from the real thing.
Many cheap minerals and gemstones can be dyed to imitate lapis. Poor quality jasper, white howlite, spinel, sodalite or calcite can be used for this purpose.
Magnification will reveal a totally unnatural appearance to this material. Here is where you’ll see the perfect golden specks patterns the fakes have. The flat blue and the white streaks when scratched will also be present.
Natural Lapis Lazuli will have a reaction to the Chelsea Filter. The Chelsea Filter is a dichromatic filter. It can only transmit light in 2 regions of the spectrum, deep red and yellow-green. Genuine Lapis Lazuli will react with a weak brownish red and the synthe tic lapis will react with a bright red color.
There are numerous medieval recipes for the making of lapis pigment. One formula was the one from, the Benedictine monk Theophilus in the twelfth century. Another formula which is also used today is the one from Italian Cennino Cennini in the fourteenth to fifteenth century.
Cennini wrote, “Ultramarine is a colour illustrious, beautiful and most perfect, beyond all other colours; on could not say anything about it or do anything with it, that its quality would not still surpass.” He continues, “Choose a good stone and ensure you have the correct quantities of all ingredients ”. Which means A LOT of lapis lazuli.
The incredible workshops of Peter Carl Faberge in Russia also had access to Lapis Lazuli and fashioned one of the 58 grand Imperial Eggs for Czar Nicholas II in that material. It was a gift to his wife, the Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna on Easter Day 1912. The image of their eight year old son Alexis was the surprise inside the egg. The frame was on top of a Lapis Lazuli base. It’s on display at the Virginia Museum of Art in Richmond. The most recent sell of an Imperial Egg was in 2007 at Christies for 18.5 million dollars.
Salvador Dali also designed sculptured jewels in artistic forms with Lapis Lazuli.
Experts in Idar-Oberstein use lasers to cut beautiful pieces. Lapis is also used for cuff links, pendants, and earrings, rings. Lapis is also set into watch faces, and inlaid onto clocks or for marquetry on fine woods. Carvings can also be found in fine stones particularly in Hong Kong and mainland China where they are worked more exquisitely than anywhere in the world.
Caring for Lapis Lazuli
Lapis Lazuli is a porous rock so it should never come in contact with chemicals and solvents. Mild, warm and soapy water is the best way to clean this delicate stone.
It should always be protected from rubbing and scratching against harder stones and surfaces like other jewelry. This is due to lapis having a hardness of 5.0 to 5.5.
Remember, you should always have a special care with lapis. Keep in mind that it has been with us since the beginning of human history and be sure it will be here long after we’ve left. The beautiful and enigmatic stone, Lapis Lazuli! I hope dear readers you have enjoyed reading this post as I did writing it. ‘Till the next time.
Today it is calculated at 9000kg (10tons) per year of production. From the sale of lapis to the manufacturers at least $5 million is returned to the Afghans.
The afghan gemstone wealth is undetermined and also mostly undiscovered.
Afghanistan per se is a gemstone in its own. A vast and also a rich country, beautiful and also magical. The world’s oldest known commercial source of gemstone…
Mankind has used Lapis for the arts, for religion, for healing mind and body and since the most ancient cultures, for representing and worshiping gods. In other words Lapis has been a part of our lives since the beginning.
Lapis Lazuli had, has and will keep having a significant importance in human life. I know it and I know you know it too.