Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lapis Lazuli - The Stone of Azure

The word 'lapis' means stone in Latin. 'Lazuli' has a rather more complicated etymology that begins with the ancient Persian word for an area where the stone was mined. This area was eventually associated not only with where the stone was mined, but also with its intense blue color. Lazuli essentially means azure, thus The Stone Of Azure, or the blue stone. Technically it is a rock, not a mineral, because there is more than one kind of mineral in it. The best quality stones have flecks or streaks of gold colored pyrite mixed in. There can also be flecks or streaks of white in the stone, but the more white a stone contains the more the value decreases.

The stone has been mined in a certain area of Afghanistan for 6,500 years. The stone has been found in areas of predynasty Egypt and Neolithic burial grounds in what is now Pakistan. In ancient times, the stone was called sapphire. Egyptians used it extensively for carvings of the sacred scarab beetle, and as amulets that utilized the mystical powers the stone was believed to have. Cleopatra used the ground stone as eye shadow. Ancient Romans used it for jewelry, mosaics and thought the stone was an aphrodisiac. During medieval and renaissance times the stone was used to decorate churches and royal palaces. Vases and other objects were made from it. Deep blue color in paintings before the 19th century was probably ground lapis lazuli which was used to make the color ultramarine. The ground stone was also mixed with milk and used as a compress for boils and ulcers.

The best quality stone is still found in Afghanistan, with other deposits in The United States (California and Colorado), Canada, Russia, and South America. The stone is relatively soft, so care should be used when wearing it. Too much sunlight can also affect the color. The stone also has a curious trait of emitting a terrible smell when it is cut by the jeweler, due perhaps to the sulfur content of the stone.

In some parts of the world the stone is known as the stone of friendship. It is one of the earliest known stones used for jewelry and decoration. The intense blue, highlighted by flecks of gold, have kept it a very popular gemstone for thousands of years.

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