The melodic name of this gem is composed of 'Lapis', the Latin word for stone, and the Arabic word “Azula”, which means “blue”. Lapis lazuli has been popular through most of recorded human history. Historians believe the link between humans and lapis lazuli stretches back more than 6,500 years. Lapis lazuli appears in many Egyptian archaeological sites that date back to about 3000 BC. The gem was treasured by the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome. They valued it for its vivid, exquisite color, and prized it as much as they prized other blue gems like sapphire and turquoise.
Lapis was among the first gemstones to be worn as jewelry. For thousands of years, Lapis has been fashioned to show off its rich, dark color. Typically, Lapis used in jewelry has been cut into cabochons, beads, inlays, and tablets. But Lapis lazuli’s use has never been limited to jewelry alone. It’s also a popular sculpting material, pigment, and ornamental material for thousand of years. In some cultures, lapis lazuli was regarded as a "holy stone". Particularly in the Middle East, it was thought to have magical powers. Lapis will always be known as the blue stone which Alexander the Great brought to Europe. Some theories explain that this is why the color was referred to as 'ultramarine', which translated means something like “from beyond the sea”.
Unlike most other gem materials, lapis lazuli is not a mineral. Lapis lazuli is a rock, composed of multiple minerals. This ancient gem contains three minerals in varying amounts: lazurite, calcite, and pyrite. Sometimes, it also contains one or more of the following: diopside, amphibole, feldspar, and mica. The gem can also have a smoothly uniform bodycolor, free of visible pyrite and calcite. The combination of different minerals in the aggregate determines the color. Lazurite is the ingredient responsible for producing the gem’s most prized color— Bright Royal Blue, while a mineral called afghanite creates a pale blue shade. To be called "lapis lazuli," a rock must have a distinctly blue color and contain at least 25% blue lazurite.
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 or veins. If the flecks are small and sprinkled attractively throughout the gem, their presence doesn’t necessarily lower lapis lazuli’s value.
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. However Afghanistan is considered the source of the best-quality Lapis, treasured for its beautiful deep blue color.