A deep blue gemstone with a long history, Lapis Lazuli was one of the first stones ever to be used and worn in jewelry. Around the Mediterranean, excavations have provided archaeologists with examples of Lapis jewelry in the form of necklaces and other objects discovered in tombs, placed there to accompany the deceased into the hereafter. Lapis Lazuli was cherished thousands of years ago by the peoples of Mesopotamia (where the blue stone symbolized the heavens and was used to decorate the ceilings of temples), Persia, Greece and Rome. In Egypt, it was used to adorn statues of the gods. Lapis was first mined 6,000 years ago. In those days, the stones were mined in what is now Afghanistan. In other cultures, Lapis Lazuli was also worshipped as a holy stone. In far Eastern countries, Lapis was considered to be a gemstone with magical powers. Numerous seals, rings, scarabs and objects were crafted from the blue stone.
Introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great, Lapis was viewed as a cure for melancholy and fever. Its use was reserved for the very wealthy. Here the color was called, “Ultramarine,” meaning, “from beyond the seas.”
Lapis Lazuli is a compound of “Lapis,” the Latin word for stone, and the Arabian word, “Azul,” denoting the color blue. Lapis is always a brilliant blue with violet or greenish tints. The value of this color to the world of art was enormous in that the Ultramarine blue paint used by the Grand Old Masters was nothing more than ground down Lapis Lazuli. It was pulverized and added to a mixture of binding agents, thus turning the marble-like gemstone into a bright blue paint suitable for watercolors, tempera and oil paintings, before it became possible in 1834 to manufacture the color artificially. Currently the blue pigment derived from Lapis lazuli is still applied, especially for renovations/restorations by those seeking to approximate the historic color.
Lapis Lazuli is an opaque stone consisting mainly of Diopside and Lazurite, and was created millions of years ago in the course of the metamorphic process of turning chalk into marble stone. Unpolished, Lapis lazuli seems dull and dark blue, often with golden inclusions and whitish veins from marble. Contrary to former theories, however, the small twinkling and shining inclusions are not gold but Pyrite, and caused by iron. The blue color is caused by the sulfuric contents of Lazurite. It is not considered a hard gemstone in comparison to others.
Used in the creation of both cane handles and shafts (although far rarer in the latter), Lapis was one of Faberge’s favorite precious stones. For many people the world over, Lapis is considered a stone of truth and friendship. The blue stone is reputed to bring about harmony in relationships and to help its wearer be an authentic individual, one who openly states his or her opinion.