Septembers modern birthstone Lapis Lazuli is a rich, opaque royal blue with speckles of gold. So it might surprise you to hear that technically, it isn’t a gemstone, but a mineral. Gemmologists consider a stone to be semi-precious or gem quality when it consists of a single type stone; but Lapis is made up of several, mainly lazurite, calcite and pyrite.That it is still considered a gemstone, says something about not only how rare it is, but how beautiful and coveted it is.
Many famous paintings use Lapis Lazuli as a pigment in the oil paint, where artists would crush lapis lazuli into a powder and mix with oil to produce the colour ultramarine. In the early 19th century a synthetic version became available, largely ending the use of Lapis as a pigment. One of the most recognisable paintings to use Lapis is ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer. The amazing blue colour on the turban comes from Lapis! You might have seen the 2003 film staring Scarlett Johansson as the ‘girl’ which tells a fictional tale about the creation of the painting.
The Sar-e-Sang mine in Badakhstan, Afghanistan has been producing Lapis for the past 6000 years, making it the longest working mine in the gem world. Just getting to the mine is dangerous. In 1862 an earthquake destroyed the road to the Sar-e-Sang mine and hasn’t been properly repaired. The mine itself is in the steep sided and often narrow Kotcha Valley, surrounded by high jagged peaks. The mine can only be worked between December and May because of the cold temperatures and lying snow.
I love opaque gemstones and have a thing for pyrite, so its no surprise I love lapis, and use in my own jewellery. In this bracelet, I’ve teamed 4mm lapis beads with haematite and carnelian.