Lapis Lazuli’s exotic blue color works equally well in both gold and silver jewelry. It ranges from a fine ultramarine blue to a light-blue, almost gray, color and hits every point of saturation in between. Like many gemstones, it has been used as an adornment since the dawn of civilization.
Lapis is a metamorphic rock that derives its blue color from its primary component – the mineral Lazurite (though varying amounts of Sodalite also contribute to the blueness of Lapis). It is a semi-precious gemstone that is quite affordable. It is graded based on a traditional Afghani system (Afghanistan remains the primary source of lapis) with the most brilliant blue inclusion-free stones being afforded the highest grade and the gray-blue calcite-included pieces being afforded the lowest grade. Some people strongly prefer pyrite included lapis over uniform blue lapis. The best pyrite-included pieces look like a sea of blue with tiny flakes of gold scattered throughout.
We regularly offer for sale many pieces of jewelry that feature pyrite as a primary or secondary gemstone. The Brooch to the left is an excellent antique example of a brooch that heavily the subtle beauty of lapis. The single, large teardrop shaped stone has speckled white and gold inclusions that are remniscent of an artistic depiction of the cosmos. It has an infiniteness to it that charms the eye. The brooch itself is an antique arts and crafts style piece forged from hammered and hand shaped silver. A trombone clasp is attached at the back for added security.
Lapis can be found in every conceivable type of jewelry and every period from ancient to that which was manufactured this morning. The earrings below are set with lapis cabochons that capture the non-uniformity of this earthy stone. One cabochon exhibits bold pyrite inclusions while the other is nearly inclusion free.
Lapis is used prominently in Native American Jewelry. The shell shaped, hand engraved earrings below are Navajo made and rely on two brilliant blue oval lapis cabochons. Both stones have strong pyrite inclusions that contrast well against the silver background.
We also frequently encounter lesser-grade lapis set in 950 silver. These pieces are almost certainly all of Mexican origin and usually utilize hinged links for bracelets, necklaces and even some earrings. Below is an example of one such piece. You can see that the lapis used ranges in saturation and inclusion. The round cabochon towards the top left has heavy white calcite-inclusions and no pyrite-inclusions. The teardrop shaped cabochon at the center has an abundance of pyrite-inclusions with little white streaking. This is one of the things that makes all natural gemstone jewelry, and particularly lapis, such a joy to wear.
There are many stones that imitate lapis, but should not be confused with lapis. First among them is sodalite – a less brilliant blue stone which usually occurs in lapis, but is not lapis by itself. Sodalite is quite a lovely stone, but it should not be marketed as lapis. The large modern pendant below is set with a dark Sodalite cabochon. It lacks the brilliance of lapis but has its own unique beauty.
Other stones that frequently mimic lapis include dyed howlite, dyed calcite, imitation “Gilson” lapis and blue glass. All of these stones can be fairly reliably distinguished from real lapis with a simple macroscopic analysis.
A recently more trendy stone in the “lapis world” is pale blue stone termed “Denim Lapis” which can be identified by its sky blue color and blotch inclusions. This stone was always popular in southwestern jewelry and used to be substantially cheaper than regular lapis. However, a rise in popularity has pushed the price of this once inferior grade stone to be competitive with its more traditional cousins. A baby blue variety of Chilean origin has become quite popular in recent years and is often seen on television shopping networks. The ring below is is an example of a piece that that features a large Chillean denim lapis cabochon.