What is Lapis?
Lapis lazuli is not a single mineral, but rather an opaque rock consisting of varying amounts of royal blue lazurite and white calcite, with minute amounts of silver pyrite. It belongs to the silicate group of minerals and forms according to the cubic crystal system. It has a hardness of 5.5 on the Mohs scale.
How does it form?
Lapis lazuli is considered a secondary mineral as it originates from primary rocks that have been altered by weathering. It occurs in areas where limestone rich in aluminium has formed in association with calcite. Water triggers a process known as contact metamorphism; over vast geological time the hydrogen and oxygen contained within the water reacts with the silicon, oxygen and aluminium within the limestone to create a new mineral called lazurite. Lazurite can only grow by mimicking the dense microcrystalline structure of its parent rock. For a rock to be called lapis lazuli it must contain both lazurite as well as calcite, which is largely composed of oxygen, calcium and sulphur. Pyrite is not considered an essential element of lapis, but it is desirable as it adds to uniqueness of the stone. Because lapis lazuli is essentially three different minerals in one, it is a particularly difficult stone to cut and polish; the unpredictability of physical qualities, such as fracture and cleavage make working with it a very time consuming process. Crystals of lapis are extemely rare and it is more commonly found in its massive habit, which appears as an earthy mass. It can also be associated with granitic rock masses, and crystalline schisms rich in aluminium.
The word lapis comes from the Latin meaning stone, while the word lazuli comes from the Arabic and is a reference to its appearance being like the sky. It has been ground to make pigment for paint since the very beginning of human civilisation; many famous paintings of the Virgin Mary feature literally lapis blue robes. It is the oldest spiritual stone known to man and in some ancient texts it is said to be as old as time itself. It features prominently in perhaps the most famous jewels of all time, those of the Egyptian king Tutankhamen. The ancient Egyptians held it as their representation of the truth, and believed it would protect them on their journey through the after life. It was considered so sacred a gem in Egypt that only priests and members of the royal house were allowed to wear it. Through the ages it has always been associated with spiritual wisdom and universal insight, strengthening both body and mind towards total awareness and perfection. One legend dating back to Babylon and ancient Persia revered lapis as the symbol of love, tenderness and fidelity. It has also been recognised to stimulate the sixth sense of creativity. An old tradition states that the law of Moses was inscribed on two blocks of lapis. The alchemists called it the “stone of heaven”. Practically, lapis lazuli can be used to enhance meditation, giving one the strength to keep a clear mind, whilst encouraging a connection between the physical and celestial planes. It will assist in the understanding of esoteric ideas, giving insights into all things sacred. If placed over the third eye it will assist in the understanding of ones dreams. A useful stone for communication, it will assist in the processing of auditory information and encourage clarity and responsiveness during speech. When applied to the physical body it will strengthen and regulate the immune system. It can be used to treat disorders concerned with the throat, and will sooth the eyes. Lapis is known to activate the regenerative energies of the body, and is thought to assist in preventing RNA/DNA damage from occurring.
Where does it form?
Although there are numerous deposits of lapis throughout the world, it is considered to be widespread rather than common, as each deposit contains only small quantities of this gem. The Kokcha River valley of Afghanistan is the only exception; this mine has been worked for over 7000 years, and is the only known source of the most prized, deep blue lapis containing relatively little calcite and some silver pyrite. Russia, Italy, United States of America and Canada have very limited deposits of mid blue lapis. The only other known source is Chile, and the stone from this area contains large quantities of calcite and has virtually no pyrite.