The name Lapis comes for the Persian word 'Lazur' meaning 'blue stone'. Lapis is a deep blue metamorphic rock formed by multiple minerals, mostly lazurite, sodalite, calcite and pyrite. It is an opaque predominantly blue stone, and is contains inclusions of white calcite and pyrite. It is a rich medium to royal blue with gold flecks (pyrite). Lazurite is what gives lapis its blue color. The best quality contains less calcite and pyrite. Lower grade lapis is a lighter blue with more white than gold flecks. Sometimes it is called denim lapis.
Lapis lazuli is frequently treated after it is cut and before it is sold as finished gemstones. The stone is slightly porous and that allows it to accept and hold dye. Much of the material that enters the market has been treated with a blue dye to remove
the visibility of the white calcite. It is often treated with wax or oil that improves the luster of the polished surfaces and seals the dyed calcite.
The mining of lapis dates back as far as 3000BC. The lapis was used to make jewelry items, beads and sculptures in the time of the Pharaohs. Lapis appears in many Egyptian archaeological sites. They used powdered lapis as a cosmetic and pigment.
It is mined in the Sar-i-sang mines and Badakhshan province in northeast Afghanistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan are still the major source of lapis but it is also mined in Russia and the Andes mountains in Chile. Smaller quantities are mined in Italy, Mongolia, United States and Canada. Many of the best deposits have been mined out so top quality stone is becoming hard to get.
Lapis is highly regarded because of its beautiful color and the valuable ultramarine dye derived from it. It is a popular material for cutting into cabochons and beads. It is also used in inlay and mosaic projects. It has a MOHS hardness of about 5, which makes it very soft for use in a ring or bracelet. It is best used in jewelry such as earrings, pins and pendants. Those items will show less abrasion from wear. Today lapis is still used in jewelry but using it as a pigment has been replaced with modern materials except by artists who want to use historical methods.
As with almost all stones there are mythological meanings and uses. Lapis is said to be the universal symbol of wisdom and truth. Many believe Lapis is used for enlightenment, truth and developing psychic gifts. Lapis encourages honesty of the spirit and is a stone of friendship. It is said to have a strong energy that may challenge people and this makes lapis a powerful stone for spiritual health and growth. Some use it as a third eye, and is said to initiate psychic abilities or powers. It is often used during meditation as it stimulates the desire for knowledge, truth and understanding, bringing calm and harmony to the wearer or carrier, relieving any negative thoughts.