Lapis Lazuli
 
December Birthstone.  Lapis Lazuli is a gemstone of the kind that might have come straight out of the Arabian Nights:  a deep blue with golden inclusions of pyrites which shimmer like little stars.
 
Beautiful blues in paintings from the Renaissance are thanks to the blue of Lapis Lazuli, the opaque blue gem material that was the secret ingredient in ultramarine, the valuable pigment that all the old masters used to capture the rich blues of the sea and sky and the robes of the Virgin Mary.    The color was not duplicated by any other substance until 1834, but even now, some argue there is no substitute:  unlike other pigments, ultramarine, centuries old still glows with rich color today.
 
 
Lapis Lazuli is a gemstone with a grand past.   It was among the first gemstones to be worn as jewelry and worked on.    At excavations in the ancient centers of culture around the Mediterranean, archaeologists have again and again found among the grave furnishings decorative chains and figures made of Lapis Lazuli – clear indications that the deep blue stone was already popular thousands of years ago among the people of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome.   Historians say that the city of Ur on the Euphrates plied a keen Lapis Lazuli trade as long ago as the 5000 B.C., the material coming to the land of the two great rivers from the famous deposits in Afghanistan.   In other cultures, Lapis Lazuli was regarded as a holy stone.   Particularly in the Middle East, it was thought to have magical powers.   Countless signet rings, scarabs and figures were wrought from the blue stone which Alexander the Great brought to Europe.   There, the color was referred to as 'ultramarine', which means 'from beyond the sea'.
 
As benefits a gem that has been international currency for millennia, the name Lapis Lazuli is a mélange of languages.    From the Latin, 'lapis' meaning stone and from the Arabic, 'azul' meaning blue.
 
Lapis Lazuli is still mined at the deposits of the ancient world in Afghanistan.    Today, Lapis Lazuli is also mined in Chile.   Small quantities are also produced in Siberia, the United States and Myanmar.
 
 
Lapis lazuli is an opaque rock that mainly consists of diopside and lazurite.   Uncut Lapis Lazuli has a matte finish and is of a deep, dark blue color, 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.  This veining is cause by iron.   The blue color 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.   Lapis Lazuli is somewhat porous and should be protected from chemicals and solvents.
 
 
The Most Expensive Blue of All Time
 
Ground up into a powder and stirred together with binding-agents, the marble-like gemstone can be used to manufacture radiant blue watercolors, tempera or oil-paints.    Before the year 1834, when it became possible to produce this color synthetically, the only ultramarine available was that valuable substance made from genuine Lapis Lazuli that shines out at us from many works of art today.   Many pictures of the Madonna, for example, were created using this paint.   In those days, ultramarine blue was not only precious and so intense that its radiance outshone all other colors, but it was also very expensive.   Unlike all other blue pigments, which tend to pale in the light, the ultramarine in these paintings has lost none of its radiance.   Nowadays, the blue pigment obtained from Lapis Lazuli is mainly used in restoration work and by collectors of historical paints.
 
Many cutters turn up their nose when cutting Lapis Lazuli, for as soon as the stone comes into contact with the cutting-disc it gives off a specific smell.   An experienced cutter can even tell from the odor how intense the color is.   When polishing this stone, he must handle it gently due to its modest hardness and not subject it to much pressure.   But, there is no need for the wearer to worry.  Should Lapis Lazuli grow matte from having been worn too much, it can easily be repolished at any time.   Lapis Lazuli is often sealed with colorless wax or a synthetic resin.    As long as these substances are not mixed with any type of coloring agent, this sealing process simply has the effect of improving the stone's wearing qualities.
 
The best raw stones still come from the steep Hindu Kush in the north-east of Afghanistan.   Lumps of blue rock, extracted from the inhospitable mountains by blasting, are brought down into the valley in the summer months by mules.   There are also deposits in Russia, to the west of Lake Baikal, and in the Chilean Andes, where the blue rock often has white or grey lime running through it.   In smaller amounts, Lapis Lazuli is also found in Italy, Mongolia, the USA, Canada, Myanmar and Pakistan, but good qualities are rare all over.   For this reason, the prices of jewelry with Lapis Lazuli varies widely, from luxurious to inexpensive.   Prices of this gemstone are largely dependent on the beauty and intensity of the color.   The most popular color is an intense, deep blue.   Finely distributed crystals of pyrites which shimmer in gold and look like sequins will increase the value of the gemstone.
 
Lapis lazuli is a versatile and popular gemstone which has shown extraordinary stability in the turbulent tides of fashion.    No wonder, since it has fascinated both men and women for thousands of years with its fabulous color and those golden points of light formed by pyrites.
 
 
 
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Warrenton, OR 97146
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