Lapis lazuli is a beautiful deep blue gemstone prized for thousands of years. Its history is as rich as its color. Its beautiful color and golden pyrite flecks that mirror a starry night have made it a favorite among artists, jewelers, and even royalty.
With its unique mix of minerals, this metamorphic rock has been used to make jewelry, sculptures, and even ultramarine, a bright blue color used in many Renaissance paintings.
As we go deeper into this article, we will guide you through the complicated world of gemstones, with a focus on lapis lazuli in the United States. It will also explain the best places and ways to find it.
Let’s go on this beautiful journey together to find out what lapis lazuli’s secrets are!
What Lapis Lazuli is
Lapis lazuli comes from the Latin word “lapis,” which means “stone,” and the Arabic word “azula,” which means “blue.” It has been a symbol of beauty and prestige in many different cultures.
In ancient Egypt, it was a sign of royalty and godhood. Pharaohs and their tombs were decorated with it. The bright color of lapis lazuli was also used to make ultramarine, the first blue pigment ever used. It was used to paint frescoes in Renaissance Europe.
It’s made up of several different minerals, mostly lazurite, but also calcite, sodalite, and pyrite. Lapis lazuli has been mined for more than 6,000 years. It has been used for jewelry, carvings, and the color ultramarine.
The Sar-e Sang mines in Afghanistan are its most important and historically significant source, but they can also be found in Chile, Russia, and parts of the United States, mostly in California.
The different types of Lapis Lazuli
Lapis lazuli is an ancient and highly valued gemstone that comes in many forms that both gem collectors and artists find fascinating. Each type of lapis has its beauty and meaning.
Some are very dark blue with golden pyrite spots, while others are lighter blue with white calcite spots. Understanding these differences helps you not only appreciate the stone more, but also find it and use it in different kinds of art.
Afghan Lapis Lazuli
Afghan Lapis Lazuli is often called the best in the world because of its deep blue color and small amount of calcite. Golden pyrite flecks add to its brilliance, making it look like a starry night sky.
This unique lapis has been prized for a long time. Most of it comes from the Sar-e Sang mines in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province, which makes it different from other sources. Lapis lazuli can be found in many places around the world, but the kind from Afghanistan is especially prized for its quality and color depth.
Chilean Lapis Lazuli
Chilean lapis lazuli has a unique mix of blues that look like the sky, often with white streaks of calcite. Even though it doesn’t have the same dense, deep blue as Afghanistan, it has its own charm with its sometimes cloudy, dreamy look.
This South American variety is mostly mined in the Andes Mountains in Chile, especially near Ovalle. It is different from the more well-known Afghan lapis, but many gem collectors and artists still love it.
Siberian Lapis Lazuli
Siberian Lapis Lazuli, hailing from the rugged terrains of Russia, exhibits a vibrant blue hue often comparable to the esteemed Afghan variety. What differentiates it is its specific locality and occasionally distinct shades of blue.
Extracted primarily from the region around Lake Baikal in Siberia, this variety provides an alternative to the more dominant Afghan and Chilean sources. Its unique geographic origin and subtle tonal variations make it a valued gem in the world of lapis lazuli.
Where to find Lapis Lazuli
Even though these gems are all over the world, some places have more of them than others. If you want to find Lapis Lazuli in the US, there are some places where you are more likely to succeed than others.
The Bighorn Mountains in California are a treasure trove of minerals, including the highly valued lapis lazuli. Because of the region’s unique geological history, it has rich deposits of lapis, making it one of the few places in the U.S. to have this gem.
The lapis lazuli found here has a deep blue color and often has golden pyrite flecks that make it stand out. Even though they aren’t as well-known around the world as Afghanistan or Chile, the Bighorn Mountains are a good place to look for this celestial stone in the United States.
Gem collectors know that Cascade Canyon in California is a good place to look for lapis lazuli. The geology and mineral content of the canyon have made it a good place for lapis deposits to form.
The lapis lazuli found in Cascade Canyon is usually a deep blue color and sometimes has pyrite crystals in it that make it shine.
Even though it may not be as well-known around the world as some other lapis lazuli deposits, Cascade Canyon is still a great place to find authentic, high-quality lapis lazuli in the United States.
Lapis lazuli has been found in the United States in places like Lake County, Colorado, which has a lot of minerals. The unique geology of the area makes it a good place for the formation of this sought-after blue gemstone.
Most of the lapis lazuli found in Lake County have a deep blue matrix that is sometimes highlighted by golden flecks of pyrite that make it look like stars.
Even though there isn’t as much of it in Lake County as there is in some other places around the world, this ancient stone can be found there.
Lemhi County in Idaho, known for its diverse geological landscape, has reported occurrences of lapis lazuli or lapis-like minerals. While it might not be a primary source for the gem, the presence of such minerals indicates the county’s rich mineralogical potential.
The lapis specimens from Lemhi often have a deep blue hue, occasionally interspersed with pyrite’s golden inclusions. However, distinguishing genuine lapis lazuli from similar-looking minerals like sodalite is crucial in this region.
For gem hunters and enthusiasts, Lemhi County offers an intriguing site for exploration within the U.S.
Manhattan, Nevada, is known for its wide range of minerals, which makes it a popular place for people who like to look for rocks and gems. Lapis lazuli is one of the treasures that are sometimes found there.
Even though it’s not a main source, the presence of lapis or stones that look like lapis shows that the geology of the area is very rich. Most of the lapis found here has the typical deep blue color, with bits of golden pyrite.
Those who want to look for this valuable gem in the U.S. can do so in Manhattan, but it’s important to know the difference between real lapis and other blue minerals in the area that look similar.
How to find Lapis Lazuli
Lapis Lazuli can be found in a lot of different ways. Each way is an adventure, and there is a chance that you will find one of these beautiful stones.
Lapis lazuli is known for its rich, deep blue color, which is often compared to the night sky with stars or the depths of the ocean. This color comes mostly from the mineral lazurite, which makes up most of the stone.
If you are looking for lapis lazuli, this bright blue should be your first clue. Along with the main blue pattern, real lapis often has golden flecks of pyrite that make it even more real.
Recognizing this color combination is very important because it can lead people looking for lapis to possible deposits. Gem hunters can speed up their search for lapis lazuli and find more of this valuable stone if they know how to recognize and describe the stone’s unique color patterns.
Feel the texture
The way lapis lazuli feels lets you know what it is. As a result of its metamorphic origins and mix of minerals, lapis is not crystalline like some other gemstones. Instead, it has a granular, sometimes rough texture when it’s not polished.
It feels dense and heavy when you hold it. When polished, it gets a smooth surface with a shine that ranges from oily to glassy. By getting used to the way lapis feels when you touch it, you can tell it apart from fakes or stones that look similar.
Gem lovers can find lapis lazuli deposits or tell real specimens from a mix of other rocks if they know how to find and identify this texture in the field.
Measure the density
The density of lapis lazuli, which is usually between 2.7 and 2.9 g/cm3, can be used to tell it apart. This makes the stone feel solid and heavy, especially compared to other rocks or minerals that are the same size.
Using a water displacement test or putting it next to stones with known densities is a simple way to figure this out. If a potential gem hunter knows about this specific weightiness, they are more likely to find lapis in a mixed rock deposit.
By knowing how dense the stone is, people looking for it can streamline their searches and increase their chances of finding real lapis lazuli.
How to identify Lapis Lazuli once you find it
Lapis Lazuli stands out because it’s different from other gems in many ways. Let’s talk about how to tell a lapis from another one when you have it in your hands.
What Lapis Lazuli looks like on the outside
The outside of lapis lazuli can look very different depending on what kind it is, but there are some general things to look for:
The rough exterior of lapis lazuli is characterized by a deep, resonant blue reminiscent of a twilight sky or the profound depths of the sea.
Its blue, while intense, can manifest in varying shades, from azure to a deeper indigo, reflecting the diverse mineral compositions within the stone.
Often embedded within this rich blue matrix are glimmers of golden pyrite, which appear as sparkling flecks, contrasting beautifully with the dominant blue.
Additionally, streaks or patches of white calcite might surface, introducing a cloudy or marbled aspect. This medley of colors and inclusions imbues rough lapis lazuli with a raw, natural elegance.
One of the most interesting things about rough lapis lazuli is that it has little bits of gold all over it. Pyrite makes up these sparkling spots that look like stars scattered across the stone’s deep blue background.
They give the rock an ethereal, starry look, like a small night sky you could hold in your hand. These flecks range from tiny bits that look almost like dust to bigger, more noticeable pieces.
Their random placement and the way light plays on them give the stone a lively texture that looks like a dance of gold on its surface. Genuine lapis lazuli often has these little bits of gold in it, which makes it different from fakes.
Lapis lazuli which is rough to the touch is like a trip through nature’s intricate art. Raw lapis feels a bit grainy when you touch it, which shows that it was formed by metamorphism and is made up of small pieces.
Even though the surface is mostly smooth, it can have small bumps, ridges, and protrusions. It’s not unusual to find patches that are a little bit rough. This is because the stone is made up of many different minerals.
Touching raw lapis is like going back in time because each grain and crack is a record of how long ago it was. This texture is not only interesting to feel, but it also helps tell the difference between real lapis lazuli and possible fakes in the wild.
What Lapis Lazuli looks like on the inside
The features on the inside of lapis lazuli can look a lot like the ones on the outside, but they are often stronger or brighter. Here are some things you might see:
The calcite veins in rough lapis lazuli are a beautiful contrast to the deep blue color of the stone. Most of the time, these inclusions look like white or pale streaks that run through the stone like milky rivers or paths.
The calcite gives the stone a marbled look, making the blue areas and bright veins work together in a lively way. The width and pattern of these calcite trails can range from thin lines that look like hairs to thicker, wider bands.
Some gem lovers may prefer lapis with less calcite, but others love the stone for its marbling, which they see as a sign of how unpredictable nature’s art is.
Deep blue matrix
The rough matrix of deep blue lapis lazuli is its most recognizable feature. This color is so deep that it seems to capture the essence of both oceans and evening skies.
This cyan core has a depth that is mesmerizing and draws people into its velvety space. There are shades of blue that are very dark, almost black, and shades that are softer, almost azure.
The lazurite mineral in the stone is mostly to blame for this range of blue colors. Golden pyrite or white calcite can sometimes be seen in this blue matrix, but it’s the consistent, beautiful blue that defines and rules the inner world of lapis lazuli.
The rough matrix of deep blue lapis lazuli is its most distinctive feature. The color is so deep that it seems to capture the essence of oceans and evening skies. This blue core has a depth that is mesmerizing and pulls the observer into its smooth space.
The intensity of the blue varies from shades that are almost black, like ink, to shades that are softer, like azure. The lazurite mineral in the stone is mainly to blame for this range of blue colors.
Golden pyrite or white calcite can sometimes be seen in this blue matrix, but it’s the constant, captivating blue that defines and rules the inner world of lapis lazuli.