The stone of friendship and truth ~ Lapis lazuli is regarded by many people around the world as the stone of friendship and truth. The blue stone is said to encourage harmony in relationships and help its wearer to be authentic and give his or her opinion openly.
Description ~ Lapis is a rock and not a mineral because it is made up from various other minerals. To be a mineral it would have one constituent only.
Lapis lazuli is an opaque rock that mainly consists of diopside and lazurite. It came into being millions of years ago during the metamorphosis of lime to marble. Uncut, lapis lazuli is matt and of a deep, dark blue colour, often with golden inclusions and whitish marble veins. The small inclusions with their golden shimmer, which give the stone the magic of a starry sky, are not of gold as people used to think, but of pyrites. Their cause is iron. The blue colour comes from the sulphur content of the lazurite and may range from pure ultramarine to a lighter blue. At between 5 and 6 on the Mohs scale, this stone is among the less hard gemstones.
The main component of lapis lazuli is lazurite (25% to 40%), a feldspathoid silicate mineral composed of sodium, aluminium, silicon, oxygen, sulfur, and chloride. Its formula is (Na,Ca)8(AlSiO4)6(S,SO4,Cl)1-2 Most lapis lazuli also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue) and pyrite (metallic yellow). Other possible constituents are augite, diopside, enstatite, mica, hauynite, hornblende and nosean. Some contain trace amounts of the sulfur rich lollingite variety geyerite.
Lapis lazuli usually occurs in crystalline marble as a result of contact metamorphism. The finest color is intense blue, lightly dusted with small flecks of golden pyrite. There should be no white calcite veins and the pyrite inclusions should be small. Stones that contain too much calcite or pyrite are not as valuable. Patches of pyrite are an important help in identifying the stone as genuine and do not detract from its value. Often, inferior lapis is dyed to improve its color, but this is often a very dark blue with a noticeable grey cast.
Lapis takes an excellent polish and can be made into jewellery, carvings, boxes, mosaics, ornaments and vases. In architecture it has been used for cladding the walls and columns of palaces and churches. It was also ground and processed to make the pigment Ultramarine for tempera paint and, more rarely, oil paint. Its usage as a pigment in oil paint ended in the early 19th century as a chemically identical synthetic variety, often called French Ultramarine, became available.
Cultural and historical/mythical usage ~ In ancient Egypt lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets and ornaments such as scarabs; it was also used by the Assyrians and Babylonians for seals. Lapis jewelry has been found at excavations of the Predynastic Egyptian site Naqada (3300–3100 B.C.), and powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra herself.
As inscribed in the 140th chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, lapis lazuli, in the shape of an eye set in gold, was considered an amulet of great power. On the last day of the month, an offering was made before this symbolic eye, for it was believed that, on that day, the supreme being placed such an image on his head.
The ancient royal Sumerian tombs of Ur, located near the Euphrates River in lower Iraq, contained more than 6000 beautifully executed lapis lazuli statuettes of birds, deer, and rodents as well as dishes, beads, and cylinder seals. These carved artifacts undoubtedly came from material mined in Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan. Much Sumerian and Akkadian poetry makes reference to lapis lazuli as a gem befitting royal splendor.
In ancient times, lapis lazuli was known as sapphire, which is the name that is used today for the blue corundum variety sapphire. It appears to have been the sapphire of ancient writers because Pliny refers to sapphirus as a stone sprinkled with specks of gold. A similar reference can be found in the Hebrew Bible in Job 28:6.
The Romans believed that lapis was a powerful aphrodisiac. In the Middle Ages, it was thought to keep the limbs healthy, and free the soul from error, envy and fear.
It was once believed that lapis had medicinal properties. It was ground down, mixed with milk and applied as a dressing for boils and ulcers.
Many of the blues in painting from medieval Illuminated manuscripts to Renaissance panels were derived from lapis lazuli. Ground to a powder and processed to remove impurities and isolate the component lazurite, it forms the pigment ultramarine. This clear, bright blue, which was one of the few available to painters before the 19th century, cost a princely sum. As tempera painting was superseded by the advent of oil paint in the Renaissance, painters found that the brilliance of ultramarine was greatly diminished when it was ground in oil and this, along with its cost, led to a steady decline in usage. Since the synthetic version of ultramarine was discovered in the 19th century (along with other 19th century blues, such as cobalt blue), production and use of the natural variety has almost ceased, though several pigment companies still produce it and some painters are still attracted to its brilliance and its romantic history.