Lapis Lazuli Buying Guide


lapis lazuli buying guide - brooch
22K gold and 18K gold brooch featuring sixty-nine bezel-set lapis lazuli bricks. © Jonathan Lee Rutledge. Used with permission

Evoking the deep blue of the night sky, lapis lazuli has enchanted civilization since ancient times. This stone, mined in the most inaccessible reaches of Afghanistan, is used for jewelry, inlay, and carvings. Lapis lazuli is widely available. Its signature bold, blue color can make a striking accent as well as a feature stone in a jewelry piece. Best of all, lapis lazuli is quite affordable. Even on a budget, you can purchase high-quality stones.

Lapis Lazuli Buying and the Four Cs

The IGS lapis lazuli value listing has price guidelines for cabbed pieces.

Color

Lapis lazuli gets its color from the sulfur in the mineral lazurite. Crystalline lazurite is extremely rare. It generally forms as part of the lapis lazuli rock.

lapis lazuli buying guide - lazurite
A rare, beautifully formed lazurite dodecahedral crystal (1.5 cm). © Rob Lavinsky, www.iRocks.com. Used with permission.

The highest quality stones have a blue to purplish-blue hue and an even color, with a tone of 75-85%. Bluer lapis tend to be in the lighter range, and stones with purple hues tend toward the darker range. Prices drop rapidly for stones darker than 90%, which appear dark and drab (Wise, 2016).

lapis lazuli buying - rough
Rough lapis lazuli, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Ramin Habibi, Afghan Gemstones.

Clarity

Lapis lazuli stones are opaque, but most stones are included with pyrite, calcite, or both. Small, well-distributed pyrite inclusions can look like stars strewn across the night sky. American consumers greatly covet this look. However, gem graders would classify these inclusions as clarity flaws, strictly speaking. Larger inclusions mask the beautiful blue of the stone.

lapis lazuli buying- pyrite inclusions
Lapis lazuli with fine pyrite inclusions, by Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements. Licensed under CC By 3.0.

Calcite inclusions are undesirable and may occur either as streaks of white or grey through the stone or as small dust particles. Small calcite inclusions tend to grey the stone, as is typical for stones from Chile.

lapis lazuli buying - stamp seal
Stamp seal from Assyria or Mesopotamia, Neo-Assyrian (style), late 8th-7th century BCE. Lapis lazuli with calcite inclusions, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Public domain.

Cut

Due to lapis’ opacity, jewelry makers generally use the stone as cabochons or beads. However, gem cutters sometimes facet beads. While this doesn’t make the stone more brilliant, some consumers may prefer this cut for a jewelry piece.

lapis lazuli buying guide - earrings
18K gold earrings featuring fine lapis lazuli and diamonds. © Rosario Garcia Designs. Used with permission.

Carat

High-quality lapis lazuli can be found in large sizes. Per carat prices for large stones tend to decrease for lapis above twenty carats (Wise, 2016).

Lapis Lazuli Buying for Jewelry

Lapis lazuli is a tough rock and polishes beautifully, making it a good jewelry stone. However, with a hardness of 5-6, protective settings and occasional wear are recommended for rings, bracelets, and cuff links. Jewelers often use lapis in “rugged” men’s jewelry designs but can include them in delicate pieces, as well. As long as the stone has no surface fractures, you can wear it as jewelry.

lapis lazuli buying guide - cuff links
22K gold and 18K gold cuff links with rough lapis lazuli rectangles and 0.28 ctw diamonds. © Jonathan Lee Rutledge. Used with permission.

Due to lapis’ relative abundance and inexpensiveness, fake material isn’t common in the United States. In other parts of the world, various stones may be dyed to simulate lapis. Low-quality lapis may also be dyed to resemble higher quality specimens.

Carved Lapis Lazuli

Large lapis stones are common. Gem cutters can carve these pieces into decorative items. For carved stones, artistic and historical factors will add more value to the piece than the qualities of the stone itself. Consult with an art dealer or antiques expert if you wish to purchase a carved piece.

lapis lazuli buying guide - bowl
Dragon bowl by Gasparo Miseroni (ca 1518-1573), Milan, ca 1570. Lapis lazuli, gold, enamel, pearls and other gemstones. Now on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Photo by Vassil. Licensed under CC0 1.0.

References

Wise, R. W. (2016). Secrets of the Gem Trade: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Precious Gemstones (2nd ed.). Lenox, MA: Brunswick House Press.

About the author
Addison Rice
A geologist, environmental engineer and Caltech graduate, Addison's interest in the mesmerizing and beautiful results of earth's geological processes began in her elementary school's environmental club. When she isn't writing about gems and minerals, Addison spends winters studying ancient climates in Iceland and summers hiking the Colorado Rockies.
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