Lapis Lazuli, a Complete Guide - 2019

Lapis Lazuli is a beautiful stone. Gem quality Lapis has an intense blue that is captivating.  Lapis has been highly prized for thousands of years. Gareth Eckley carves Lapis as family crests, portrait cameos, celtic knots or animal studies. This is a delicate process and requires care and patience. Gareth shares his expertise, gained by working with Lapis for 30 years.

LAZURITE CRYSTAL

Intense Blue Lazurite Crystal on Calcite. Lazurite gives Lapis Lazuli it's intense color. Gem quality Lapis has a very high content of well saturated blue Lazurite along with some golden color iron pyrites.

Signet Rings with Family Crests in Lapis Lazuli by Gareth Eckley

Signet Ring with Lapis Lazuli Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms, with a Motto, carved in reverse for sealing onto Lapis Lazuli. Set in 14kt Gold to make a family Signet ring.

Family Crest ring in Lapis Lazuli

Signet ring by Gareth Eckley, in 14kt gold with Lapis Lazuli. Hand carved, in reverse, for sealing, with a coat of arms.

Lapis Lazuli is a beautiful stone for a distinctive signet ring. Lapis is a softer stone and needs to be protected from damage. Gareth designs his signet rings to have a raised bezel to protect the edge of the stone.

Other jewelers raise the stone above the gold to make it easier too carve. This leaves the stone very vulnerable to breakage. Gareth has replaced many ring stones that were broken because of this design flaw. Family crests carved in Lapis Lazuli must be polished. This two stage process makes them a premium option.

How to look after your Lapis Jewelry, cleaning and care

Lapis_crest_bird-oval-tnLapis is relatively soft, softer than glass. For a ring, look for a setting where the gold rises above the edge of the Lapis to protect the edge from damage. Remove your ring  if doing rough work, such as landscaping, gardening, rock climbing. Place it on a leather or metal necklace tucked under a shirt.

Smooth Lapis can be wiped with a cloth. Family crests with engraved and carved details may need to be cleaned by soaking in soap solution and brushing with a toothbrush. Keep Lapis dry as water can affect the yellow pyrites. Prolonged exposure to strong sunlight may cause fading over a long period of time. I have not seen this with my customer's Lapis jewelry, but it is a possibility.

Caution jewelers that the ultrasonic or steam cleaner may cause damage to the stone, especially if the solution is a harsh one. Lapis must never be placed in acid pickle, used by jewelers to clean gold after soldering. Most jewelers know this but point this out to your jeweler.

When a ring is resized larger or smaller, pressure can be exerted onto the stone. This may cause the stone to crack. Make your jeweler sign an affadavit that if the stone is broken they will pay for a replacement of the same quality.

Guide to how Lapis Lazuli is graded and valued.

The intensity and saturation of the finest Lapis comes from the amount of Lazurite in the rock and from the quantity and position of Sulphur radical anons in the crystal lattice. This varies with location and even within a single rock. Lapis Lazuli that is perfectly saturated with the most intense blue color is very rare and expensive.

Afghan GEM Quality

Lapis Lazuli Gem Quality

Perfect gem quality Lapis Lazuli has a deep saturated blue color. No white calcite, only a small amount of yellow pyrites and no veins or bands. Price guide - from $70 to $1000 per gram, $1750 - $25000 per oz.
Lapis-lazuli-AAA-grade-slab
Afghan AAA Grade

Top AAA Grade Lapis Lazuli

Deep blue saturated color, more pyrites is allowed, some white calcite areas, veins, and bands need to be subtle. Smaller stones can be cut from this example that is free of imperfections. Price guide - from $5 - $50 per gram, $125 - $1250 per oz.
Afghan AA Grade

Lapis Lazuli - AA Grade

Good Deep blue color. More yellow pyrites, larger amounts of white calcite, banding, and veins. Price guide - From 25 cents per gram to $2.50 per gram, $7 - $65 per oz.
Lapis-Lazuli-cushion-AA-grade-sq
AA Grade

Lapis Lazuli AA Grade Polished

A Polished cushion of Lapis Lazuli. A well-saturated deep blue color. This is AA grade due to the white areas.
A Grade

Lapis Lazuli A Grade

Paler blue color, not as saturated. Large areas of white Calcite, gray Hauynite and large areas of Pyrites. Large banding and veins of white. Price Guide 10 - 20 cents per gram, $2 - $5 per gram.

Gem Carvings in Lapis Lazuli by Gareth

lapis-lazuli-gem-carving-celtic-knot-A

Lapis Celtic Knot Gem Carving Front

Hand carved with a Celtic triangular knot on a curved surface.
Lapis-lazuli-gem-carving-celtic-knot-B

Lapis Celtic Knot Gem Carving Back

Triangular Celtic knot carved onto a flat surface.
lapis-lazuli-pendant-feat

Angelfish Silver Necklace carved in Lapis Lazuli.

Carved on both the front and the back to make an unusual gift.

Carving lapis Lazuli is a difficult, advanced process. A stable stone, free from cracks and with a solid structure is required for a good carving. Lapis Lazuli is a soft stone and does not like heat or pressure.

The carver has to have a light and delicate touch to avoid damage. Carvings in Lapis must be polished. This makes carving Lapis a long process and great experience is needed to create the best results.

Ask Gareth Eckley to hand carve an eagle, lion, wolf, animal, totem or any design into Lapis for you.

What is Lapis Lazuli ?

lapis-lazuli-lazurite-crystal-featThe beautiful, blue stone called Lapis Lazuli has been used in jewelry since ancient times. Lapis was a favorite of the Ancient Egyptians. It was inlaid into the Tutenkamun death mask, his sarcophagus and other ancient jewels.

Lapis is named after the Persian word 'Lazhward' for blue.  The deep ultramarine blue color of the finest Lapis is highly prized and owes it's color to the mineral Lazurite.  This is sometimes found as a single crystal as in this example here.

Lapis forms as a result of metamorphic action on limestone though contact with molten granite which creates  crystalline marble and new minerals including Lapis.

The intensity and saturation of the finest Lapis comes from the amount of Lazurite in the rock and from the quantity and position of Sulphur radical anons in the crystal lattice. This varies with location and even within a single rock.

Lapis Lazuli that is perfectly saturated with the most intense blue color is very rare and expensive.

The minerals that together make up Lapis Lazuli are Lazurite, Hauynite, Noselite, Sodalite, Calcite, Diopside and Iron Pyrites. The golden color of Iron Pyrites accent the deep blue to great effect. The highest quality Lapis Lazuli has a greater concentration of Lazurite and less Calcite.

Lapis Lazuli Cameo Jewelry

titian-painting-lapis-lazuli-paint-sq

Lapis Lazuli Cameo Bracelet

Victorian Jewel carved set with 5 Cameos carved into Lapis Lazuli
victorian-lapis-lazuli-cameo-bracelet-side

Lapis Lazuli Cameos

Close up to show the superb finish of the high relief cameos.
victorian-lapis-lazuli-cameo-bracelet_3

Reverse of the Lapis Lazuli Bracelet

The Lapis cameos set in 18kt Gold with Barrel shaped Lapis beads.

Antique Lapis Lazuli Cameo

This 500 year old cameo is carved with the portrait of Cosimo De Medici, Duke of Florence and Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Victorian Lapis Ring

High relief Cameo in Lapis Lazuli, set in Gold with blue enamel and Diamond.
victorian-lapis-lazuli-cameo-ring-top-sq

Lapis Cameo Ring

Gold ring with Lapis cameo, with blue enamel and Diamonds.

Portrait Cameo Ring in Lapis and Gold by Gareth Eckley.

lapis-lazuli-cameo-ring-side-6-sq
miller-portrait-lapis-cameo-ring-sq
cameo-ring-lapis-lazuli-top-B-6-sq

Custom cameo portrait ring made by Gareth at Portrait Cameos. Hand carved with the portrait of a man in Lapis Lazuli. The photograph is of a renowned explorer and grandfather of the customer. Set in a gold ring with Lapis lazuli inlaid panels on the shoulders. These are protected and enhanced by gold Acanthus leaf details pinned onto the sides.

Where is Lapis Lazuli Found ?

Lapis Lazuli GEM-AAA Grade RoughAfghanistan - Persian Lapis

The finest Lapis Lazuli has always been found in Afghanistan. The mines of the Badakshan region, near the Russian border, have been mined for 6000 years. The traveler Marco Polo visited them in 1271. These mines were the source of Ancient Egypts' Lapis and are still used to this day.

The mines are extremely remote, at a height of 11,000 - 16,000 feet. It is difficult to get heavy machinery to them and pack animals are still used to carry the Lapis Lazuli to markets in Kabul, Afghanistan or North Pakistan.

Russia - Siberian Lapis

Found near lake Baikal, and Bokhara in Turkestan. Gem quality or AAA grade Lapis is seldom found in Russia. The blue is less intense and there is more white Calcite and banding of the rock. This material is often used for ornamental purposes and seldom for jewelry.

Chile - Chilean Lapis

This Lapis is dominated by white Calcite with only lesser amounts of the blue Lazurite. The blue color is less intense than Afghan sourced Lapis. This is often dyed to appear darker and used for bead necklaces and inexpensive jewelry. Found in the Andes of Ovalle, Coquimbo.

Lapis Lazuli Easter Egg by Faberge. A gift for the Tzar of Imperial Russia.

For a long time it was assumed that this beautiful Egg was one of the Imperial Easter Eggs. Research however, proved that there is no place for this Egg in the series of Imperial Easter Eggs. The Egg has no visible Fabergé markings. Maybe it was made for one of the other members of the Imperial Family.

Faberge Lapis Lazuli Easter Egg-sq

Lapis Lazuli Hens Egg by Faberge

Lapis lazuli Hen Faberge Egg (1886) given to Alexander III to Czarina Maria Fyodorovna. Opens to reveal a secret surprise jewel inside. One of the famous Easter eggs that Faberge made for the Tsars of Russia.
lapis-lazuli-hen-egg-faberge-side-sq

Lapis Lazuli Easter Egg

Faberge egg for the Tzarina. Made from Gold, enamel, lapis lazuli, pearls, diamonds, rubies. In the Cleveland Museum collection.
faberge-lapis-lazuli-egg-open-8-sq

Opens to Reveal Enameled Yellow Yolk

Realistic yellow enamel yolk that opens to reveal a diamond crown. Inside the crown is a Ruby.

Mining for Lapis Lazuli in Afghanistan

Lapis Lazuli at the Tuscon Gem Show

New find of Lapis Lazuli on Baffin Island, Canada.

Lapis Lazuli the stone of the Gods in Ancient Egypt

Tutankhamun's Gold Mask

The eyebrows and eyeliner are made from Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan. Colored glass called Faience is used for the headdress

Lapis Scarab Bracelet worn by Tutankhamun

The scarab beetle Khopri was a symbol of the rising sun and the resurrection of the dead. They were always included in the burial to aid the journey into the afterlife. This scarab bracelet is made of gold, lapis-lazuli, carnelian, turquoise and other semi-precious stones. The small circumference of this bracelet suggests that it was made for Tutankhamun when he was a child. Found in the Valley of the Kings, by Howard Carter. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Lapis-Scarab-Bracelet-Tutankhamun-A
ancient-egyptian-lapis-lazuli-scarab-amulet-sq

Pectoral with Lapis Lazuli Scarab

Lapis beetle scarab pushes a gold disc between two uraei, each wearing the crown of upper Egypt. Decorated with Lotus flowers. Sesonchis II, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Sesonchis II Pectoral Lapis scarab-feat

Pectoral with Lapis Lazuli Scarab

Lapis beetle scarab on a gold pectoral for Sesonchis II, British Museum, UK.
Lapis bracelet Sesonchis II

Lapis and Gold Bracelet with Eye of Horus

Belonged to Sesonchis I, and is 3000 years old. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Ancient Egyptian Pectoral in Lapis and Gold

Lapis Lazuli and gold, pectoral from the tomb of Sesonchis II. Decorated with Lotus flowers. Sesonchis II, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Lapis was the stone of Laz, the Babylonian goddess of love and was widely believed to make you lucky in love. The gemstone also represents Ishtar the Sumerian goddess of battle and love. Lapis was the most highly prized gemstone to the Ancient Egyptians, the deep celestial blue symbolized royalty, honor, the gods and power. Lapis lazuli represents a universal symbol of truth.  Lapis lazuli was valuable to the ancient Egyptians as an image of the heavens. Its dark-blue coloration was the indigo of the night sky while the white-gold flecks of pyrite represented the imperishable stars. Lapis was often used to represent the sky godess Neut and her daughter Isis, goddess of heaven.

Mesopotamian Cylindrical Seals in Lapis Lazuli

Cylinder seals were a small, carved stone cylinder that was used to make an impression in wet clay. When rolled on the wet clay, the seal left an impression that could prove ownership or identity. Invented in Mesopotamia in 3500 BC and also used by the Ancient Egyptians. Most are from 5000 - 6000 years old. Lapis seals were the most treasured of all and only Pharoes or Kings used them.

Lapis Lazuli Cylindrical Seal

Mesopotamian Cylindrical seal in Lapis Lazuli showing all sides and the top.

Lapis Lazuli Cylindrical Seal

Mesopotamian Cylindrical seal in Lapis Lazuli with rolled out impression onto wet clay

How to Cut and Polish Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli is a difficult stone to work with for the lapidary and gem carver. The stone is soft, but as it is technically a rock made from a combination of materials, it often develops an orange peel surface. This is known as undercutting and happens because the hard and soft materials polish at different rates. Soaking Lapis in distilled water can help to prevent oil or compounds penetrating any voids or fractures. There is good info from other gemstone cutters on the Orchid forums

Safety

Safety is very important as Lapis gives off a toxic dust when cut. This contains sulphur and copper and should not be inhaled. Always cut Lapis with water to keep the dust from forming. If using carving points charged with Diamond, the wax, silicone or oil lubricant will keep the dust away.

Cutting

Lapis cuts quickly as it is a soft material. The diamond saw is very fast, when slabbing or trimming. Keep the stone wet with either an oil based or water based coolant.

Grinding

Grinding can be done with a less agressive wheel than for Quartz or Agate. Use a 220 grit instead of 100 grit for material removal, 320 - 400 grit for shaping and 600 - 1200 grit for final smoothing. Nova wheels are good for this as they cushion the stone.

Sanding

Curved surfaces such as cabochons can be sanded with 600, 1200, 3000 grit, applied to belts or pads. Keep the stone wet, in motion with a light touch to avoid flats or a build up of heat.

Polishing Cabochons

Polish with Linde A or Chromium Oxide on a hard Felt or hard Leather wheel. This gives a slick flow polish with minimal undercutting. Other gem cutters have used hardwood or charging polishing pads with diamond paste, 8000, 14000, 50k and 100k. However I have found that the soft pads and the numerous steps encourage undercutting.

Faceted Lapis Lazuli

Cut by Doug Menaude - Bespoke Gems

Flat Stones and Faceting lapis

Finishing flat Lapis is much more difficult. I have tried many combinations of laps and grit. Sanding works well with 1200 and 3000 on Copper or Tin.

Polishing Flats and Facets

For Diamond I pre-polish with 8000 on a tin lap then polish with 50K on a tin lap. However, Linde A works very well on a tin lap and is now my favorite method. You can get a glossy and flat surface with no undercutting.

This faceted Lapis is by Doug Menaude who will cut gemstones to order. Visit his website at Bespoke Gems

Problems and Issues

If the stone gets too hot, particles of pyrites or quartz can be ripped out of the stone and cause a deep scratch as they are dragged over the surface. Heat generated by running dry and too much pressure can also cause cracks and fractures.

Necklace and Earring Suite in Lapis Lazuli and Pearl by Gareth

LAPIS SUITE - NECKLACE & EARRINGS

 Lady Diana Gibson-Watt asked me to create a jewelry suite from some of her collection of Lapis lazuli gemstones and natural pearls.

Diana had toured the middle east in the 1950s. She visited Jordan, Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan where she bought her Lapis.

I designed a pendant with a pearl enhancer in 18kt yellow gold to fit over the pearl necklace.

The central Lapis is encircled by fully drilled pearls on gold pegs with gold spacers in between. The drop earrings match the pendant.

Click the button for more examples of jewelry that I designed for Lady Gibson Watt.

How to Identify Real Lapis from Imitations

Lapis is often imitated by other lower value gemstones. For example stones sold as Swiss Lapis - dyed Chalcedony or German Lapis - dyed Jasper and Canadian Lapis- Sodalite are all imitations.

Real Lapis of lower quality may be dyed, waxed or oiled to improve it's color. You can test this by dipping a cotton bud in acetone (nail polish remover), rub this across the stone and if dyed, the color will transfer onto the cotton.

Another imitation is made by compressing real or synthetic Lapis powder under heat and pressure to make a block. This is then cut and polished to make cabochons or beads. This Imitation Lapis Factory article is very informative. In Italian use translate to read.

Howlite Dyed to Imitate Lapis Lazuli-300

Howlite Dyed to Imitate Lapis

While the color is convincing, note that there are no golden iron pyrites in the stone
https://nammu.com/eng/how-to-tell-if-lapis-lazuli-is-real/

Real Lapis v Synthetic Lapis

The synthetic Lapis has an unusual even, intense color. Only the most expensive, gem quality Afghan stones have this color and saturation. With a lens, you can see that the iron pyrites are not naturally formed or distributed throughout the material.
Sodalite-Cabochon-300-sq

Sodalite used to Imitate Lapis

Note that there are no golden iron pyrites in the stone

Designer Jewelry with Lapis Lazuli

Lapis Lazuli cameo with gold detail necklace

Lapis Lazuli Cameo Necklace

Lapis Lazuli Necklace from the Jean-Francois Fichot Collection
modern-ring-Lapis-Lazuli-diamond-1960-sq

Designer Jewel from 1960

A Mondrian-influenced example of abstract art jewelry. Sculpted in rich and substantial 18 karat yellow gold, inlaid with Lapis Lazuli and sparkling with .80 carat of bright-white diamonds.
Faberge Lapis Lazuli Easter Egg-sq

Faberge Easter Egg in Lapis

Lapis lazuli Hen Faberge Egg (1886) given to Alexander III to Czarina Maria Fyodorovna

The Finest Ultramarine Blue Paint is Made from Crushed Lapis Lazuli

In the Renaissance, painters ground the stone to make ultramarine, a blue pigment used for skies and seas.

Titian 'Bacchus and Adrienne' from 1521.

sistine-chapel-lapis-fresco-paint-sq

Michelangelo Fresco in the Sistine Chapel, 1512

Vermeer-The Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_Lapis-Pigment-(1665)-500Lapis Lazuli has been used to make blue pigment for centuries. Ground Lapis Lazuli has been used to dye cloth and for art. There are examples from Bhuddist monks from the 4th century.

Painters of the Renaissance such as Cellini, Michelangelo and of course Titian used ground Lapis pigment for their paintings.

Titian, is regarded as one of the finest portrait artists. His signature effect was to use Ultramarine blue that he created by grinding Lapis and mixing it with Linseed Oil.

This is actually known as Titian blue by some and can be seen on his painting of 'Bacchus and Adrienne' from 1521. I saw this in the National Gallery in London. While the other oil paint has faded the blue of the robes and the background is still as intense now as when first painted 500 years ago.

Michelangelo used Lapis Lazuli powder to pigment tempura paints for the blues in his fresco in the Sistine chapel.

The girl with the pearl earring by Vermeer uses lapis pigment for her headscarf. This is a brilliant blue, especially as it is 400 years old.

An excellent resource is this page on how to make pigment and paint from lapis lazuli by Silwa of Swaneholm. The most informative and well researched article on Lapis Lazuli to make Ultramarine blue pigment is by David Marguiles.

The process involves crushing the Lapis, then using various processes and agents to remove the impurities. The best quality Lapis gives a more intense final result than when cheaper material is used. The washed and clean powder is is used to pigment tempra paint for frescos or can be mixed with linseed oil to make an oil paint.

You can buy real lapis lazuli pigment from Lapis Lazuli World, listed at $1300 per Kilogram ( 2.2 lbs ).

Video showing the Process of Crushing Lapis to Powder

Video showing the Process of making Pigment from Lapis Lazuli

Book a Design Consultation for Your Custom Jewel. Upload Your Photos To Gareth Eckley

G.I.A Guide to Lapis Lazuli

A guide to the mineralogy and value of Lapis Lazuli from the Gemological Association of America.

I.G.S Guide to Lapis Lazuli Symbolism

International Gem Society guide to Symbolism of Lapis Lazuli

Tutenkamun's Gold Mask

Lapis was highly prized in Ancient Egypt and was used by the Pharaohs to aid in the afterlife.

Making Ultramarine Blue from Lapis

Superb guide to how Lapis is ground to make pigment for paint or dyes for cloth

Bio for Gareth Eckley

More about Gareth Eckley. The jeweler, gemstone portrait artist, and designer.
TOP