Lapis Lazuli

Meaning and Properties

Lapis Lazuli History

Lapis lazuli is one of the oldest opaque gemstones in history--more than 6,500 years! This rich blue stone includes tiny flecks of mica, like a night sky full of stars. Its most well-known source is deep in the mountains of modern Afghanistan.

This stone's two-part name comes from two different cultures: lapis is a Latin word meaning "stone," while lazuli comes from the Persian word lazhuward, meaning "blue." It is not an element nor a mineral--it is a rock containing multiple minerals: lazurite, diopside, calcite, pyrite and more.

Biblical scholars believe that references in the Old Testament to "sapphire" actually indicate lapis lazuli, as the sapphire gemstone was not known in the Middle East before the Roman Empire. Beloved by the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Minoans, Chinese, Greeks and up to the Romans, this deep blue stone has been used in the finest of art through the ages. One of the most famous uses of the stone is in the death mask of King Tutankhamen, where it is inlaid, along with turquoise and carnelian, in bright gold. One of his successors, Cleopatra, was known to use ground lapis lazuli as eyeshadow. Marco Polo wrote about the lapis lazuli mines way back in 1271!

In the Middle Ages, painters ground up lapis lazuli to make the deep blue paint called ultramarine--the blue used to paint the robes of Mary of Nazareth on church walls and ceilings like in the Sistine Chapel. Meanwhile, in South America, pre-Columbian cultures such as the Diguita and Inca were carving, trading and warring over lapis lazuli from mines in what are now Argentina and Chile.


In this video, learn what Lapis Lazuli is, where it comes from and the metaphysical properties of this beautiful deep blue stone that includes tiny flecks of mica, creating a look of a night sky full of stars. Join royalty and explore with strength and courage all the design possibilities of this ancient stone discovered over 7,000 years ago.

Lapis Lazuli Metaphysical Properties

The Sumerians believed that the spirit of their gods lived within the stone, while the ancient Egyptians saw it as a symbol of the night sky. Since the earliest of times, lapis lazuli has been associated with royalty, strength and courage, wisdom and intellect, friendship and truth.

From antiquity, lapis lazuli has been worn in the belief that it will ward off evil. In ancient Egypt, it was powdered and worn about the eyes to improve eyesight. Today, it is considered by some to be an aid to balancing the brow chakra (which influences vision and hearing). Imbalances of the brow (or blue) chakra are said to cause headaches, anxiety and disorders of the skin.

Lapis Lazuli Geological Properties

Lapis lazuli is an intensely blue stone made of a deep blue lazurite, cloudy white calcite, sparkly pyrite and other minerals. This beautiful mixture of textures gives lapis lazuli its characteristic look.

Lapis lazuli is found with limestone or as separate boulders. Stones from what is now modern Afghanistan and Pakistan are still considered to be of the best quality. Argentina also produces a premium deep blue variety. Lapis lazuli is found in the USA and Canada and less intense blue examples are found in Chile and in the former USSR.

Mineral Information Sulfur containing sodium aluminum silicate
Chemical Composition Na8(Al6Si6O24)S2
Color Deep blue
Hardness 5 to 6 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 2.4 - 2.9
Refractive Index Approximately 1.50

Proper Care of Lapis Lazuli

Lapis lazuli sits in the middle of the Mohs Hardness Scale, making it harder than a range of other popular stones, yet softer than many transparent faceted gems. Lapis is sensitive to pressure, heat and (with its calcite content) household cleaners and abrasives. Lapis lazuli should not be placed in direct sunlight for longer periods of time as the sun can cause the color of the stone to fade.

Even though lapis lazuli can go in water, it is not recommended to leave the stone in water for extended periods of time due to its porous nature. Clean undyed lapis with lukewarm soapy water and test dyed materials to see how they react to water before cleaning. Wipe them with a soft cloth and store dry, in a separate bag or box where it can neither scratch nor be scratched by other jewelry. Avoid ultrasound and steam cleaners!

To learn more about lapis lazuli and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of Gemstones of the World.

Designing with Lapis Lazuli

Royal blue lapis lazuli characteristically has either whitish or yellowish matrix or feathering. When it is flecked with white, it is perfectly complemented by silver and turquoise for a Southwestern look. If it has brassy specks, it is regal with gold. Lapis also has darker regions that can be accented when strung with black onyx or antiqued silver beads. For a harmonious combination, mix lapis with faceted purple amethyst, and for a dazzling look, use it in a design with coral or fire-orange carnelian. Topaz can enhance the natural colors, or mix lapis lazuli with malachite for a real color treat.

View more resources featuring lapis-lazuli, including Design Ideas, Videos, Tutorials and more!

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