Lapis Lazuli Description
Lapis frequently contains varying amounts of whitish calcite matrix—the host rock that surrounds the gem—or flecks or veins of glinting yellow pyrite, or both. The gem can also have a smoothly uniform bodycolor, free of visible pyrite and calcite.
Lapis is semitranslucent to opaque, with a waxy to vitreous luster. It has fair toughness, and its hardness ranges from 5 to 6 on the Mohs scale, depending on the mix of minerals.
Variously described as indigo, royal, midnight, or marine blue, lapis lazuli’s signature hue is slightly greenish blue to violetish blue, medium to dark in tone, and highly saturated. In its most-prized form, lapis lazuli has no visible calcite, although it might have gold-colored pyrite flecks. If the flecks are small and sprinkled attractively throughout the gem, their presence doesn’t necessarily lower lapis lazuli’s value. The lowest-quality lapis looks dull and green, the result of an excess of pyrite. Lapis with white calcite streaks is less valuable.
Although many people associate lapis with dark blue, it’s also found in other shades of blue, and even other hues. Its color can range from deep violet blue and royal blue to light blue to turquoise blue to a greenish blue. The combination of different minerals in the aggregate determines the color. For example, lazurite is responsible for producing royal blue lapis, while a mineral called afghanite creates a pale blue shade.
Worldwide, lapis is mined in several areas. The traditional source of the finest lapis lazuli is the same today as it was thousands of years ago—the mountains of Afghanistan. Other major sources are Chile and Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. Minor sources are Angola, Canada, Colorado (US), and Pakistan.