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Lapis Lazuli

By Sherry Gingery, From Rockytier, Oct. 2005 via Gem Cutters' News, Nov 2006

Merely the name "lapis lazuli" brings to mind thoughts of far off and exotic places. From the ancient royal Sumerian tombs of Ur which were found to contain more then 6,000 lapis carvings to Egyptian burial sites dating before 3000 B.C. where lapis was used to adorn the sarcophagi of ancient Pharaohs.

This rich blue stone has been sought after and adored for centuries.

First mined 6,000 years ago, the rock was transported from the remote mountain valley called Kokcha in Afghanistan to Egypt and present day Iraq.

Later advancing to Europe, lapis was used in jewelry as an ornamental stone and even ground to make a powdered pigment for paints.

Today lapis is mined in Chile, Russia, Canada and the United States, though Afghanistan still produces the finest quality material.

Lapis lazuli is mostly lazurite, but contains pyrite among other minerals. It was because of these small crystals of pyrite that Pliny the Elder described the stone as a fragment of the starry firmament.

Lapis, being a 5-6 on the MOHS scale, must be worked carefully and without undue pressure on the wheel.

While being polished the stone will commonly give off a foul odor, this is due to sulfur that is inherent in the structure of lazurite.

To protect the finished piece from dulling with wear the surface may be sealed with colorless wax or a synthetic resin. Even with this precaution the stone should be protected from acid based substances and overexposure to sunlight.