Lapis Lazuli has a long history in the arts: it has been ground down as a pigment, known as ‘ultra-marina’ (over the sea) for painting and dying and carved in jewellery.
Gemstones: Lapis Lazuli
Since the 7th millennium BCE the world’s sole source of Lapis Lazuli came from Afghanistan, either in the Sar-I Sang mine or mines in the Badakhshan province. Other large deposits have been found in Russia and Chile and small quantities have been found in Pakistan, Italy, Mongolia, Canada and the United States of America.
Unlike other precious or semi-precious materials, Lapis Lazuli is a rock. As a rock, rather than a gemstone, it doesn’t have a complex crystal structure or a reflective lustre. Instead, the visual value of Lapis Lazuli lies in its distinct deep blue colour and the flecks of white calcite and golden pyrite which emulate the surface of the night sky dotted with stars. Its visual similarity to the night sky has led Lapis Lazuli to be repeatedly linked to the heavens, and imbued with religious symbolism.
Lapis is graded 5-5.5 on the Mohs hardness scale and is therefore fairly easy to carve. From Babylonia to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome lapis has been carved with mythic figures and symbols into amulets, intaglio rings or votive offerings. Due to its density, Lapis is also commonly carved into beads strung into statement necklaces or bracelets and rarely used in large quantities in earrings.