Lapis lazuli is a type of metamorphic rock that is mined and processed either as a source of ultramarine dye or as a gem (even though technically, lapis lazuli is not a mineral or mineraloid).
Lapis lazuli is a type of metamorphic rock that has inclusions of minerals. So each specimen of lapis lazuli has a slightly different composition. The blue color is from lazurite, which itself is a type of mineral from the silicate family. This metamorphic rock has been around for millions of years on the Earth, and it has permeated culture in different parts of the world for many, many centuries as well.
The best kinds of lapis lazuli have deep color saturation and are unbroken by mineral inclusions. Some specimens may have a mapping of white streaks and smudges. The white coloration is due to calcite inclusions in the rock.
The majority of people enjoy unbroken colors better, but it’s still a personal call when you are buying lapis lazuli jewelry. Some collectors prefer more exotic-looking gems, and many of the chemical inclusions in lapis lazuli provide the texturing that some collectors prefer.
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What’s in lapis lazuli?
Since lapis lazuli is a metamorphic rock, it is comprised of different minerals that complete the whole. Apart from lazurite, the following minerals are commonly found in lapis lazuli: diopside, calcite, dolomite, pyrite, hauyne, and wollastonite, mica, and afghanite. Three crystals stand out in terms of importance: lazurite, calcite, and pyrite. Lazurite is responsible for the beautiful blue color that made lapis lazuli an essential source of ultramarine dyes. Calcite is accountable for the streaks of white that are organically splotched throughout some samples of lapis lazuli.
And finally, pyrite is responsible for the dots and streaks of gold coloration. Pyrite is also called “fool’s gold” because of its shiny, metallic appearance and gold color. Pyrite earned its moniker because it used to be ‘traded’ as gold even if the only gold it has its shiny color.
Not all lapis lazuli mined has a deep and vibrant color. Many of them have a faded denim look that not everyone likes (because of the calcite content), but this is a subjective call because people have different preferences.
Pyrite, on the other hand, seldom appears in large splotches (unlike calcite), but instead, it seems like fine grains interspersed randomly in different quantities across the metamorphic rock. Some of the lapis lazuli mined are found growing on marble. Contact metamorphism allows the lapis lazuli to grow from random chunks of limestone.
Where is Lapis Lazuli Found?
The most significant source of lapis lazuli in modern times in Afghanistan. This has caused some people to say that lapis lazuli is a conflict mineral because the Taliban and the IS control some of the mines in the country.
What does “conflict mineral” mean? It means that there is international pressure on the government of Afghanistan to track where the lapis lazuli is coming from, so people don’t end up buying the metamorphic rock from questionable sources.
What are Lapis Lazuli Colors?
Lapis lazuli has been in use as a source of a valuable ultramarine pigment for over a thousand years now. Its value as a pigment source will likely never wane, and it is also useful as a gem and is traded as such in the world market.
The variations of lapis lazuli are based on where they were mined. Specific internal characteristics of lapis lazuli make identification more manageable if you know the drill.
- Badakshan lapis lazuli – The Badakshan mines in Afghanistan produce the world’s best lapis lazuli, either for pigment production or jewelry. The lapis lazuli here occurs in big blocks with a characteristic white matrix. Crystal lapis lazuli is also mined here.
- Pakistan lapis lazuli – Pakistan lapis lazuli features reliable and uninterrupted color saturation with no calcite mixed with the blue. The majority of Pakistan lapis lazuli has a smattering of pyrite.
- Colorado lapis lazuli – Mined at the Italian Mountain, lapis lazuli occur in string patterns with pyrite.
- California’s lapis lazuli – California specimens have a more greyish appearance mixed with the blue and have white spotting patterns.
- Studyanka River lapis lazuli – Mined in Mongolia, specimens from the Studyanka River mines feature a lighter blue color with white patterns.
- Chilean Andes lapis lazuli – This variation is a mix of blue and gray bands. Not as highly valued as lapis lazuli from the mines in Afghanistan. May also contains some green spotting here and there.
- Siberian or Russian lapis lazuli – Higher quality lapis lazuli that may contain both pyrite and calcite.
Which Lapis Lazuli Color is Most Valuable?
The most valuable lapis lazuli in the market today will be the Afghan lapis lazuli (also called Persian lapis lazuli) because of the quality of its formation and the consistency of color saturation. Siberian lapis lazuli comes in as a close second, followed by lapis lazuli taken from the Chilean Andes.
According to experts, the most prized lapis lazuli has the least amount of internal inclusions like calcite and pyrite. The more impurities there are in a sample of lapis lazuli, the lower its value. However, in terms of appeal, as we mentioned earlier, some people enjoy the presence of these impurities on their rocks because they don’t exactly look bad.
Lapis Lazuli Price
How much are lapis lazuli stones worth?
The price of lapis lazuli depends on the quality of its color, cut, clarity, and the specimen’s carat weight. Lapis lazuli in itself is not an expensive gemstone – it is not even a gemstone, to begin with. The lowest quality lapis lazuli can cost just $1 per carat, while the higher quality ones can go for as much as $100 per carat.
Ultramarine dye of the highest quality used for artistic productions and other applications can cost $1000 per pound or more, depending on the actual lapis lazuli content. Take note that not all of the market dyes that are marked with “lapis lazuli” are genuine – some are made with synthetic lapis lazuli, which is now preferred by many artists because of their price point and versatility in application.