Lapis Lazuli: The Starry Gem of Antiquity


Lapis Lazuli, a name rooted in the Persian word ‘lazhward’, translates to ‘blue’. This gemstone has graced jewelry, amulets, carvings, and talismans for centuries. Historically significant, it adorned Aaron’s ‘Breastplate of Judgement’, as mentioned in the Bible (Exodus: xxviii, 15-30). Additionally, it served as an inscription stone for select passages from the Book of the Dead. Today, its allure remains undiminished, finding its way into beads, carvings, and diverse jewelry pieces. Lapis lazuli even represents the oceans in globes crafted from natural minerals. Historically, artists ground it into a powder, creating the vibrant “ultramarine” pigment, a favorite among pre-Renaissance painters.

Unlike many gemstones that are pure minerals, lapis lazuli is a composite rock. Its constituents include lazurite, sodalite, hauyne, calcite, and pyrite. The gleaming specks of pyrite set against its deep blue backdrop often draw comparisons to a starlit night sky. This unique combination aids in distinguishing genuine lapis lazuli from many, but not all, imitations. Among semi-opaque stones, lapis lazuli stands out as the most prized.


While Afghanistan is the primary source of lapis lazuli, deposits are also found in:

  • Siberia
  • Chile
  • United States
  • Pakistan
  • Canada

Properties and Enhancements

With a hardness of 5 – 5.5 on the Mohs scale, lapis lazuli is relatively soft. It’s not uncommon for the stone to undergo dyeing to enhance its color.

Simulants mimicking lapis lazuli’s appearance abound in the market. These include glass, plastic, enamel, and various dyed gems.

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