Lapis Lazuli: Stone of Purity

In ancient times, pharaohs and kings wore a lapis lazuli stone as amulet. The eyes and eyebrows of these rulers’ funeral images were inlaid with lapis lazuli. Cleopatra herself was said to have worn powdered lapis lazuli for her eye shadow. What is lapis lazuli? How did lapis lazuli become the favorite gemstone of royal personalities?

Lapis Lazuli Necklace
Lapis Lazuli Necklace

Lapis Lazuli Properties

In fact, lapis lazuli is not a mineral, but a rock, produced from an aggregation of different minerals, the most important of which is lazurite. Lazurite forms the bulk of a lapis lazuli rock, and is responsible for the gemstone’s deep blue color. Another mineral component of a lapis lazuli stone is sodalite, which is another gemstone in and of itself. Pyrite, better known as fool’s gold, makes the speckles of yellow on a lapis lazuli stone, while the white intrusions are calcite.

The intense blue color is the most important quality of the lapis lazuli gemstone, having been the original blue gem in history before sapphire. The word azure is derived from the name lapis lazuli, and denotes a deep blue color as of the lapis lazuli gem.

An excellent rough rock of lapis lazuli
Source: Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons

Lapis Lazuli History

Lapis lazuli is one of the oldest gems in history, and was employed for a variety of uses. Not only was a lapis lazuli stone worn as jewelry and amulet, the gemstone was ground into powder and applied right over the skin as makeup. Cleopatra herself was said to use lapis lazuli for her eye shadow. Even sculptures of Egyptian pharaohs had lapis lazuli on them, coloring their eyebrows or irises. By the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli powder was manufactured into pigment, and used by the most important artists of the Renaissance. Lapis lazuli was likewise used as medium in sculpture.

The funeral mask of Pharaoh Tutankham whose eyebrows are lapis lazuli
Source: Jon Bodsworth via Wikimedia Commons

Lapis Lazuli Meaning

Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli amulet around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them!

— Gilgamesh, Babylonian epic

Lapis lazuli was the gemstone worn by royalty in the olden days. The gemstone was prized by the pharaohs of Egypt, as well as the monarchs of Babylonia. To Gilgamesh in the Babylonian epic, a lapis lazuli amulet was something that the legendary king could never put out of his mind. Thus was the importance of the lapis lazuli gem. Blue is the color of royalty, blue-blooded means “of royal blood”, and lapis lazuli, the blue precious stone of the distant past, was the gemstone of rulers and most important personalities in society.

Lapis lazuli inlaid on the eyes of a funeral sculpture
Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia Commons

There is more to royalty in lapis lazuli than prestige. An even more important meaning to the lapis lazuli gemstone is excellence, purity, the same way that royals are considered of pure blood. This metaphysical quality was often associated with the eyes. In Egypt, gold amulets inlaid with lapis lazuli in the shape of an eye were considered highly powerful talismans. Egyptian women wore lapis lazuli as eye shadow. Images of rulers from Egypt and Babylonia have lapis lazuli for their eye or eyebrows. The eye sees the truth, which is what lapis lazuli was believed to represent and preserve. Lapis lazuli keeps the truth, the purity in a human being, so much so that when placed on a person suffering from demonic possession, the stone exorcizes the demon.

Libra Charm Necklace: Lapis Lazuli Pendant

Lapis Lazuli As Birthstone

Libra. Lapis lazuli is traditional birthstone for Libra, the intellectual sign of the zodiac who values beauty and justice. Being a stone of purity, a lapis lazuli stone is believed to chase out negative emotions, including fear and jealousy. The gemstone is indeed helpful to Libra people, who are always capable of seeing the other side of the scale. For other birthstones for Libra, see also Libra Birthstones.

Capricorn. Lapis lazuli is also the planetary stone for Capricorn. Lapis lazuli is the gemstone associated with Saturn, the ruling planet of Capricorn. This makes lapis lazuli another birthstone for the zodiac sign. For other birthstones for Capricorn, see also Capricorn Birthstones.

Months. As a month stone, lapis lazuli is a traditional birthstone for the month of December. The December birthstone color is blue, and lapis lazuli exemplifies this color long before sapphire did. In fact on the latter account, Britain designated lapis lazuli as alternate September birthstone alongside sapphire.

Lapis Lazuli Jewelry

Lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets in ancient times, and remains a popular choice of gemstone for jewelry to this day. In fact, lapis lazuli has been made the modern birthstone for September in Britain: a good indication that, while the gemstone is no longer among the priciest of gems, people still appreciate the beauty and value of a lapis lazuli stone. Indeed, lapis lazuli is still often seen set as pendant for rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets, as well as strung together in beads for fashion jewelry.

Lapis Lazuli Bracelet

Lapis Lazuli Value

Though no longer as valuable as it used to be, a lapis lazuli stone can still command a high price, since the gemstone is relatively rare compared to other semi-precious stones. This applies, however, to lapis lazuli stones of high quality, the finest color being an intense blue. A rock produced from different minerals, lapis lazuli varies significantly in physical composition, and the price of the gemstone changes accordingly. Veins of golden pyrite can raise the value of the lapis lazuli gemstone, while white patches of calcite diminish the price.

Do you like lapis lazuli?

Before sapphire came to represent the color blue, lapis lazuli was the blue gem of the olden times. A lapis lazuli stone was the gemstone of royalty, and believed to keep the purity and truth of a human person. Do you like lapis lazuli? Do you like to wear blue gemstones in general? See also 38 Types of Blue Gemstones for Jewelry.

Published May 3, 2014

About the Author

Deomar Pandan is the author of Power Birthstone. He's on the third draft of a high-fantasy novel, Cybelym, and the first of a historical fiction, Gem Faerie. He hopes to release a nonfiction book about diamond soon. Follow him for updates. Or see his jewelry and designs.