Lapis lazuli, also known simply as “lapis,” is a blue metamorphic rock that has been used by people as a gemstone, sculpting material, pigment, and ornamental material for thousands of years. High quality lapis lazuli can be a costly gem. The most desirable specimens have a rich, solid blue color and perhaps a few reflective pieces of gold pyrite.
Unlike most other gem materials, lapis lazuli is not a mineral. Instead, it is a rock composed of multiple minerals. The blue color of lapis lazuli is mainly derived from the presence of lazurite, a blue silicate mineral of the sodalite group.
The DEAD Pharaoh lay in state surrounded by royal embalmers and high priests. About him were assembled the ornate trappings of burial. From their burnished surfaces glittered the dull luster of crudely polished gems. Among these, and contrasting beautifully with the gold, was the rich blue of Lapis Lazuli, symbol of everlasting life and guarantee of immortality.
Lapis has been sought after and prized for so long that imitations have been used for it probably more often than for any other gem. In fact, so many minerals have been called by this name that it is now a matter of doubt just which one deserves the original title. The name has come to apply to a large family of stones whose only relation is their deep azure color. Hence the trade names we now encounter, such as Russian Lapis, Chilean Lapis, Oriental Lapis and Swiss Lapis. Swiss Lapis is a porous form of chalcedony mined in South America and cleverly dyed in Germany.
Pliny the Elder describes Lapis Lazuli as “stone of the sky” containing minute particles of gold. But most of the gems of this type that have been examined proved to contain small bits of iron pyrites. Some Persian stones, however, have turned out to be the copper ore Azurite containing actual particles of gold. A find of this same type of material was made in the early days of mining in Colorado, but due to the gold value of the rock extremely little of it found its way into jewelry.