Lapis lazuli stone
Lapis lazuli is a stone used for more than 7000 years in many artistic fields such as painting, sculpture, jewelry, ...
Its name of ultramarine blue is given to it since 5th century in Europe when one spoke about this rare and precious blue come from beyond the seas.
Real lapis lazuli stone cabochons used for jewelry creation
Its name comes from the Latin "lapis" which means "stone" and Arabic Andalusian "azul" itself from Persian "lasaward" which means "blue".
Here is a short summary about lapis lazuli and its geographical and historical journey :
- Composition, quality and maintenance
- How to recognize a real lapis lazuli stone?
- Price of natural lapis lazuli
- The deposits
- Lapis lazuli in the arts
Examples of custom made jewelry in natural lapis lazuli stones
Composition, quality and maintenance
Its main component is lazurite, which gives it its intense blue color very popular until the 19th century in painting mainly.
However, lapis lazuli contains other minerals, such as calcite, a white mineral see colorless, also pyrite, which gives the stone this illusion of starry sky, sometimes also sodalite or micas, ...
Raw Lapis lazuli : Blue Lazurite, White Calcite and Golden Pyrite
Its hardness is ranked between 5 and 5.5 on the Mohs scale.
It is a very friable stone since porous. Its contact with chemicals or even some cosmetics a little aggressive is to banish, to preserve the quality of the stone.
If you want to clean it, water and mild soap will do the trick, you can also use a cloth previously rubbed with beeswax, which gives a little sparkle to your stone.
The quality and price of lapis lazuli depends on its more or less sustained ultramarine color and inclusions of other minerals.
A lapis lazuli must contain at least 25% lazurite to be named as such. The more it contains calcite, the more it will be clear or translucent, and therefore lose value (stone right below photo).
Three quality lapis lazuli
The most sought-after color is ultramarine blue, with few inclusions of calcite or not at all, but with many inclusions of pyrites for the glittery effect (left stone above).
There are three colors of lapis lazuli according to Persian writings :
- Nili (dark blue)
- Assemani (pale blue)
- Sabz (blue green)
However, it sometimes happens to find this ornamental stone in reconstituted form. In a case like this, the falls of this stone have generally been reduced to powders and then mixed with resin to give it shape.
Example of reconstituted lapis lazuli stone
Synthetic lapis lazuli is made of the same process, except that this base powder is itself synthetic at the beginning.
The stone is sometimes also simply tinted, in this case, a touch with a little acetone partially dissolves the bluish colors.
How to recognize a real lapis lazuli stone ?
Note that it is very difficult to differentiate by eye or photo a natural lapis lazuli stone natural reconstituted lapis stone or imitation.
Our article on turquoises and their imitations will certainly interest you for the same reason.
The means of test that I give you are destructive, I do not know others unfortunately, they will help you to test a sample of the stones which you wish to buy.
If your stone is a vulgar imitation of a tinted stone, then rubbing it with a cloth soaked in acetone will cause the stone to fade and your cloth to turn blue.
If you stone is a reconstitution made of a mixture with lapis powder and resin, then it will burn with the flame and will be destroyed, but you will know :).
With this blue torch flame test (which indicates a temperature of nearly 1400 °C), the real lapis lazuli stone doesn't burn, doesn't disintegrate and doesn't completely lose its color as does the natural turquoise.
However we can notice that it loses its ultramarine color to take a night blue color, this test is therefore destructive.
In general, to avoid buying toc, avoid the purchase of the ebay of a stone from a Chinese or Indian supplier and the price is ridiculous, there you can be certain that it is not a real lapis stone.
Lapis lazuli prices
Of course, if the price offered is ridiculously low, you can doubt that you do not buy a fine stone.
To give you a vague idea of the price of this stone, here are some examples :
- Low quality lapis price : less than 50 dollars per kilogram
- Average lapis lazuli price : 100 dollars per kilogram, or about 1 euro per gram
- Price lapis lazuli good quality : 200 dollars per kilogram or 2 euros per gram
I invite you to browse this website of gemstones suppliers to give you an idea of the market prices.
Lapis lazuli is found in several countries around the globe: Russia (Siberia), Chile, Canada, United States, Pakistan, ...
Map of the mining countries of lapis lazuli
But the main deposit, which is also best known for the quality of its stones is in Afghanistan, in the province of Badakshan, in the north of the country.
Badakshan province and the lapis lazuli mine of Sar-e-sang
It is in the mine of Sar-e-Sang located at about 2500 meters of altitude that one finds the most beautiful lapis lazuli stones, of an intense blue and containing little calcite.
However, getting there is very complicated and even dangerous in these high mountain areas. Be it from Kabul, its capital or any other part of the country.
It takes on average 4 days to get to the entrance of the mines, with a vehicle, on a donkey, on foot, ... All in dangerous conditions due to the rough terrain and possible aggression.
The lapis lazuli mines are exploitable about 4 months in the year depending on the extreme climatic conditions at the top.
Afghan miner from Badakhshan province
Extraction of lapis lazuli blocks from the Sar-en-Sang mine from the article by Philip Poupin visible here (fr)
The lapis lazuli blocks are then sent to the four corners of the globe to be worked by lapidaries for figurative decoration, litotherapy or jewelry for example.
It's possible to find crude in mineral markets like for example here in Ste Marie aux Mines where the stone can be bought by the kilo.
Lapis lazuli rocks for sale by the kilo at the mineral market of Sainte Marie aux Mines
Lapis lazuli in arts
The lapis lazuli has been exploited in many artistic fields for millennia. But not only in its stone aspect.
Indeed, lapis lazuli has long been transformed into pigment for pictorial works and for some very well known.
True ultramarine blue pigment from the lapis lazuli rock
Used in the Middle Ages, for example, this pigment was used for illuminations in religious manuscripts.
In the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo will have demanded it for his interpretation of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, just like Johannes Vermeer, who, in the seventeenth century, knew how to handle this pigment for his famous paintings, Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Milkmaid for example.
The Last Judgment of Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, 16th Century, Vatican
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer oil on canvas circa 1665, Mauritshuis, Netherlands
Its ultramarine blue was very popular in the art world though very expensive. This is why a synthetic pigment was created in the 19th century to make the price more accessible.
But only the pigment coming from the lapis lazuli rock bears the name of true ultramarine blue.
Lapis lazuli sculptures are visible all over the world. Some of the most impressive of them are at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Table in bronze and lapis lazuli of the Hermitage museum
The Louvre museum houses some magnificent sculptures mainly from Egypt but not only.
You can also admire the famous nave of Marie Antoinette lapis lazuli and silver enamelled silver about 40 cm in height.
Nave of Marie Antoinette in vermeil and lapis lazuli preserved in the Louvre Museum
Lapis lazuli is omnipresent in artistic circles, mainly jewelry.
In the craft of jewelry, we find this blue rock in a large number of civilization for millennia.
Although lapis lazuli is accessible to all today, it was not the case in Mesopotamia where it was reserved for princes and deities. The stone symbolized then the attributes of the Gods, the life force.
She accompanied the powerful into the grave, as here this Sumerian finery found in the ancient city of Ur, present-day Iraq.
Replica of a Sumerian finery from the following of a Queen, British Museum
The supposed Sumerian queen, Pu-Abi, possessed the famous headgear of nearly 10130 tiny lapis lazuli beads preserved at the Penn Museum.
In ancient Egypt, lapis lazuli, called "the eyes of the Gods", was also reserved for elites.
Considered sacred, it served as a talisman to ward off bad luck and was a sign of political and religious power.
Egyptian princess Sit-Hathor-Yunet's breastplate: gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian and turquoise preserved at the Metropolitan Museum in New York
Whether in Tuareg or Kabyle handicrafts, Berber jewelry also uses lapis lazuli for ornaments, although enamel is most often used for bright blues.
Example of Berber jewel of Karuni, site of ethnic jewels
In North America, Navajo goldsmiths still use this stone as in Nepal, where many jewels contain lapis lazuli, sometimes reconstituted.
Navajo crafts in silver and lapis lazuli
As we understand it, lapis lazuli is a stone that pleases a lot and has been for a long time in the artistic field. It remains timeless and for all styles in jewelry-goldsmith.
One of Faberge's Easter eggs is also made of lapis lazuli and gold : the egg of the Tsarevich. See our article on Fabergé eggs.
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