Knowing how to differentiate real lapis lazuli from fake lapis lazuli is essential. Some genuine lapis lazuli also become dyed lapis lazuli after processing, and while the third type isn’t false, it’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with what all three look like being able to make sound buying decisions.
Lapis lazuli is not a gemstone (strictly speaking) but a metamorphic rock composed of two or more minerals. Mineralization occurs upon contact metamorphism, and lapis lazuli is the result of millions of years of accumulation of minerals.
The royal blue color that lapis lazuli is well known for is the result of having lazurite. Two other minerals are notable for making this metamorphic rock striking: calcite and pyrite. Calcite is responsible for the spots or webbing of the white present in many samples of lapis lazuli. At the same time, pyrite is accountable for the gold grains present in minute quantities in some lapis lazuli specimens.
High-quality lapis lazuli has only the smallest quantities of calcite and pyrite and features the deepest royal blue you can imagine. This beautiful color is why lapis lazuli has been in use for over a thousand years as a source of blue pigment. Lapis lazuli’s pigment is called ultramarine and is the original “bluest blue” used in art applications.
Genuine lapis lazuli is also used for ornamentation and jewelry applications, but because of its hardness or durability level, it is not generally applied to rings. Because of its low hardness rating, lapis lazuli is only used for necklaces, pendants, and earrings because they are higher in the body and are generally not knocked about. Lapis lazuli is usually softer than other known minerals like quartz or agate. Placing it unprotected in a single box or organizer can result in it being scratched or ‘bruised’ by other jewelry.
When buying lapis lazuli, you must know what it looks like, and how to spot fakes. We offer several pointers:
- First of all, you must know that lapis lazuli is the frequent target of counterfeiters or fakers, so you must be observant and keen when buying this metamorphic rock from jewelers. Technology has reached the point where synthetics and simulants look almost like the real thing.
- Synthetic lapis lazulis or artificial simulants exist. These copies are almost indistinguishable from the genuine rock, and the differences can be hard to spot. One clear indicator that you are being offered a fake is the price. The carat price of lapis lazuli depends on the quality of the rock itself. So if you are being provided pure lapis lazuli with plenty of weight but the cost is below $100, for example, it’s like that you have a fake on your hands. Examine the color quality. If the beads are perfect with no signs of pyrite particles and other impurities, you may be looking at a synthetic replication or poor-quality assortment of genuine lapis lazuli that has been dyed to look perfectly blue.
- In case you get a genuine lapis lazuli that has been dyed, it’s up to you to decide if you want to buy the jewelry. Again, the dyed specimens are not technically fake, but their overt blemishes are covered to make the outcome more appealing.
- One of the fastest ways to compare a fake and a genuine lapis lazuli rock is by touching it. Lapis lazuli remains relatively cool to the touch regardless of the ambient temperatures. Simulants or fakes will warm quickly and will likely match the room temperature. Dyed lapis lazuli, however, will remain fresh as well because they are not technically fake.
- If you want a more drastic test – grab some acetone and a piece of cloth or cotton and rub the rock you are holding. If it is the genuine article, the acetone will have zero effect on lapis lazuli. On the other hand, if you have something that was dyed, the dye may come off. Fakes will likely lose color immediately, and you will see the actual material underneath the dye or pigment. If this happens, we suggest not buy what’s being sold to you because it is not the best value for your money.
- There are some instances when soladite is sold as lapis lazuli. As we mentioned before, lapis lazuli has many components, and one of them is soladite. Unfortunately, soladite alone does not qualify as lapis lazuli so you can buy it, but not at the price of actual lapis lazuli.
- Naturally, occurring lapis lazuli does not have a perfect blue appearance. Many of them, save for those mined in Afghanistan, the Chilean Andes, or Russia, have a somewhat greyish or greenish overcast about them. This is normal and is an indicator of the real thing. Unless the lapis lazuli you are looking at has been professionally cut and polished, there is no reason for it to look perfectly blue off the bat. Tumbled lapis lazuli and uncut ones should have the greying overcast that we are talking about.
- Hold the specimen to some intense light and watch for the common signs of calcite and pyrite. It is rare to come upon a purely blue sample without internal inclusions, or what gemologists term “internal characteristics.” You will likely observe granular gold formations (pyrite) or spots or webbing patterns of white calcite. If you see these, well and good, you are holding the genuine article indeed. Imperfections are part of mineralization, especially for contact metamorphic specimens like lapis lazuli.
- Check for the quantity of the minerals in the lapis lazuli. If there is too much white patterning, then you are holding calcite and not lapis lazuli. If there is too much gold and barely any blue, you’re being offered pyrite instead of lapis lazuli. And finally, if there is too much grey in the specimen, you are likely being sold soladite, which may have some blue patches but not enough of it to qualify the example as lapis lazuli. The blue must always beat the other minerals present in the rock.