A gemstone (also called lapis according to my experience and all my mineral books, despite Webster 1913 saying its shortened name is lazuli). Gem-grade lapis lazuli is royal blue, but the stone can also be found in red, purple and black. The gem-grade material generally comes from Afghanistan (though lower-quality lapis can be found in other parts of Asia, the U.S., and Chile).

Lapis is actually made up of three different minerals: lazurite (major source of the blue color), pyrite (source of the gold-colored flecks often seen in it) and calcite (which can cause white specks)

Some ancient cultures actually valued lapis lazuli as much as or more than gold, and by the Renaissance powdered lapis was used in making paints, including the shade called ultramarine. It has become less-used in jewelry and paint because of plastics and synthetics (chalcedony can be dyed for a convincing fake, as well as spinel and glass).

Lapis Lazuli
   (For Harry Clifton)

 
I HAVE heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.
Of poets that are always gay,
For everybody knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out.
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.

All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That's Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
And all the drop-scenes drop at once
Upon a hundred thousand stages,
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.

On their own feet they came, or On shipboard',
Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
Old civilizations put to the sword.
Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
No handiwork of Callimachus,
Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
Made draperies that seemed to rise
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem
Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
All things fall and are built again,
And those that build them again are gay.

Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in lapis lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird,
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.

Every discoloration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent,
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

 

   William Butler Yeats

Chemical Composition: Na8(Al6Si6O24)S2
Specific Gravity: 2.4-2.9
Refractive index: ~1.50
Double Refraction: none
Dispersion: none
Cleavage: none
Transparency: Opaque

Lapis-lazuli, also called lapis or lazurite, is not your normal type of gemstone. It is not pure like a diamond, ruby or sapphire. Lapis-lazuli is a compound consisting of various minerals, such as augite, calcite, diopside, mica, haüynite, hornblende and pyrite, just to name a few. The stone's coloration varies from dark blue to a lighter shade of blue. Because of the shuffle of ingredients found within Lapis-lazuli sometimes green coloration comes out and very rarely will a lapis-lazuli stone be completely green. Because of the pyrite, fool's gold, lapis-lazuli looks like the night sky, with the specks of gold relating to the stars. The color of the stone is very opaque, only really thin cut sections of the stone are translucent. Because of this opaqueness, lapis-lazuli is cut differently than other stones. Diamonds are cut with many facets because of their brilliance. This allows the light to be caught and bounce around inside the stone before exiting. This doesn't happen with lapis-lazuli. It is rare for a lapis-lazuli to be cut with facets as they won't be seen very well, and won't create a brilliant effect like with the diamond. Instead, Lapis-lazuli are cut on either curves or planes, meaning beads or flat and round, like a good skipping stone. However, lapis-lazuli can be used for carving, as a lapis-lazuli buddha statuette has been found in Afghanistan.

Lapis-lazuli is a rare stone, with only three main veins around the world. One of the oldest is found near the source of the Amu-Darja river in the Badakshan region of Afghanistan. The mining process in that vein is very similar to how it was thousands of years ago. Another strong vein is found on the western end of Lake Baikal in Siberia. It is also found in three nearby rivers, the Talaya, Malaya Bistraya and Sludianka. However, these deposits in Russia are considered to be of lower quality to those in Afghanistan. The Siberian lapis-lazuli tends to have less flakes of pyrite, and also a red/violet core. The last major vein, considered to be of even lower quality than the vein near Lake Baikal is the one found in the Chilean Andes Mountains. The vein is located near the sources of the Cazadores and Vias rivers, two small tributaries of the Rio Grande. Here the stone appears in beds of white and grey limestone. The lapis-lazuli found in Chile usually has a greener tint than other sources, and the stones are often marred by the strong presence of calcite, creating white patches in the stone. The Chilean lapis-lazuli also has a lighter color than its asiatic brethren. Lapis-lazuli has also been found at Mount Summa, the crater of mount Vesuvius, as well as the island of Burma.

Lapis-lazuli has had many uses over the years. A powder was made from grinding up chunks of lapis-lazuli and worked into a paint to create the color ultramarine. Nowadays, ultramarine is easily created artificially, at a much cheaper cost. Both the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and the Castle of Tsarkoe-Selo contain rooms which use lapis-lazuli as a trim. This was pure luxury and a sign of the tsar's wealth, akin to having a golden toilet seat. Lapis-lazuli was also used in jewelry as brooches, rings and amulets.

However, it might have been the ancient Egyptians who had the most interesting uses for the gemstone. Papyrus 3027, an ancient text, from the 15th century and currently residing in the Berlin Museum, spoke of a necklace made of lapis-lazuli, malachite, and jasper beads. The necklace was worn by a sick child and a chant was sung, warding off the disease. In a text from a century before, the Ebers Papyrus, a cure for cataracts is discussed. Ground lapis-lazuli is added to a mixture of milk, verdigras salve, tabasheer, stibium and "Alligator-earth", which was translated as the slime of the Nile. How this odd concoction adds to one's health, let alone cures cataracts, is beyond me. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, chapter 26 of the book was supposed to be read or inscribed onto a figure of lapis-lazuli.

The largest "find" of lapis-lazuli belongs to Senor Emilio Montes. Montes discovered a block, 24x14x9 inches in measurement and weighing 312 pounds inside an Incan tomb. The block is complete, save for chipping occuring in one of the corners. Lapis-lazuli was believed to have helped the dead reach their final destination, heaven. This was due to the celestial nature of the chiny pyrite on the dark blue background. The block resides in the Field Museum of Natural history in Chicago.


I use Lapis-lazuli instead of lapis lazuli because all the sources below used that spelling save the most recent one.

I have no idea about this whole Armenian Stone thing. According to Webby, "Armenian stone. (a) The commercial name of lapis lazuli.", however none of my sources use the phrase Amenian Stone. A google search produced several sites such as www.cst.cmich.edu/users/dietr1rv/lapis.htm and www.thaigem.com/dis_lapis.php. Neither of these sites say anything about the stone coming from Armenia, just that it's called the Armenian Stone. I guess it's just another name for the stone, even though there's no lapis-lazuli located in Armenia, hopefully, this is clearer now. Thanks to RoguePoet and panamaus for their help with this.

Sources:
Precious Stones, by Dr. Max Bauer. Charles E. Tuttle Company: Rutland Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, 1969
Gemstones of the World, by Walter Schumann. Sterling Publishing Co., New York, 1979
Simon and Schuster's guide to Rocks and Minerals, Simon and Schuster Inc. New York, 1978
The Magic of Jewels and Charms, Dr. George Frederick Kunz. J.B. Lippincott company, Philadelphia and London, 1915

La"pis laz"u*li (?). Min.

An albuminous mineral of a rich blue color. Same as Lazuli, which see.

<-- lapis, for short -->

 

© Webster 1913.

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