Lapis Lazuli has been loved since antiquity for its intense, vibrant cobalt blue colour. It can be flecked with either white or gold (calcite or pyrite).
A metamorphic rock, mainly composed of the mineral Lazurite, it usually originates from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia or Chile. It is also mined, to a lesser extent, in Italy, Mongolia, the United States and Canada.
Below you will find some of the many applications for Lapis Lazuli in antique and vintage jewellery:
Lapis Lazuli is also one of the principal stones used on Italian Pietre Dure (micro-mosaics).
Necklace, 1808, Pietra dure, lapis lazuli, chalcedony, gold. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Georgians and the Victorians, with their passion for acrostic jewellery (‘The Language of Stones’) used Lapis Lazuli to represent the letter ‘L’ for ‘Love’.
Acrostic Pendant. 1830. V&A Museum.
Cameo and Intaglio
Many beautiful examples can be found of Lapis Lazuli used in cameo and intaglio.
Lapis Lazuli Cameo. 1580-1600. Italy. V&A Museum.
Arts & Crafts
The Arts & Crafts movement designers favoured Lapis Lazuli as the stone fitted in with their ‘beauty before perceived value’ philosophy.
Arts and Crafts Pendant 1903. May Morris. Set with variety of stones, including lapis lazuli. V&A Museum.
Art Deco Jewellery designers prized Lapis Lazuli as it suited their vibrant, bold styles.
Art Deco Lapis Lazuli Diamond Gold Earrings. Elder and Bloom.
Cartier stands out as a design company who loved to use Lapis Lazuli during the Art Deco era.
Lapis Lazuli Brooch. Cartier 1920-1930. V&A Museum.
There are four other stones that can be mistaken for Lapis Lazuli. These are:
- Dyed Jasper or Howlite. It will have the cobalt blue colour but will not show the white or golden patches. (Known as ‘Swiss Lapis’).
- Sodalite, which is one of the components of Lapis Lazuli, looks similar but the color is much paler.
- There is a synthetic spinel which also imitates Lapis Lazuli. (Known as ‘Gilson Lapis’). This looks very similar but does not have the same random patterns shown in natural Lapis Lazuli.
- Azurite is not as hard and has a darker tint.
Tip: To see if a stone has been dyed, try removing the colour with acetone.
Lapis Lazuli has, of course, been used as a paint pigment since the late Middle Ages and has been a favourite of many of the great artists. This beautiful painting by Vermeer showcases not only Lapis Lazuli as a paint pigment but also a style of pearl earring from the era.
‘The Girl With a Pearl Earring’. Vermeer.
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