Lapis Lazuli: The beautiful cobalt blue of lapis lazuli seems to appeal to everyone. I got to thinking about it because of a pair of earrings that I made using the gemstone and sterling silver. Every time I took my earring displays out to set up for a show, the lapis earrings were tarnished. Normally, the silver doesn't tarnish very quickly because of the way we store it. Even the extra lapis earrings stored in plastic bags were tarnishing. I mentioned to Paul that there must be sulfur in the lapis because sulfur is what tarnishes silver. Plastic bags are used to protect the silver from the sulfur in the air to prevents it from tarnishing. I got to thinking there must be sulfur in the bag in order for it to tarnish in the bag. The only possible culprit was the lapis. That started a hunt for information for lapis and thought I would share what I knew and found with you.
"Lapis" is the Persian word for blue. In hardness, it comes in at 5.5 on a scale of 1 - 10 with 1 for chalk and 10 for diamonds. It's a mixture of lazurite, pyrite, and white calcite. Lazurite is a blue mineral that gives lapis its color. Pyrite is what everyone thinks looks like gold running through it -appealing to many and white calcite is the white running through it. It has a lot of other elements including sulfur which is in the lazurite. I couldn't find confirmation, but will only guess that it emits a sulfur gas that is causing the tarnish. FYI, I have personal lapis pieces stored in a silver-safe jewelry box which don't tarnish -that's a good way to store silver to prevent tarnishing. The plastic bags is a good alternative.
Lapis has been mined in Afghanistan for over 7,000 years and the best quality of lapis comes from there. It is is evenly colored deep blue with a hint of violet and little or no pyrite or white calcite veins. The medium grade comes from Russia and has a little more variation of color with more pyrite.
The lowest grade comes from Chile and has a lot of white calcite running through it and has come to be known as "denim lapis" in recent years.
Price wise, the best 'AAA' quality from Afghanistan can cost more than 10 times the Chilean lapis. However, just because the quality of lapis is low, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have an appeal of it's own. Many people like it for the things that make it less valuable. The soft blue tones complement denim which is an American wardrobe staple and automatically makes any jewelry go with anything worn with the denim.
Lapis has a long history of many meanings and uses that evolved throughout the years too numerous to mention all. Many different cultures think lapis holds some of the same qualities. Until recently, it was on par or exceeded the ornamental value of a diamond. It has been used in medicine and cosmetics -most notably Cleopatra used finely ground lapis on her upper eyelids. The ancient Romans thought it was an aphrodisiac, people in the Middle Ages thought it kept the arms and legs healthy. They also thought it gave a feeling of emotional well-being. The great masters ground up the stone and mixed it with oil to create the beautiful ultramarine color used in their paintings. Fast forward to today where some think it's mental qualities include open mindedness, well-being, enlightenment, self-knowledge, intuitiveness, and mental clarity; and it's physical qualities aid in sleep, the senses of hearing and speech, and pain and inflammation. A stone for everyone, but not surprising given the time it has been mined. Is there any truth to this? Who can say for sure, but everyone knows that color has a big impact on us and I could see where looking at the beautiful blue stone would be calming which would carry though to better health.
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