The Tales of Turquoise and Lapis Lazuli
Both of these ancient and historical stones have many stories to tell.
Both Turquoise and Lapis Lazuli are opaque gems which have been used in jewels and ornaments for millennia. Perhaps less known than their traditional crystalline gem counterparts, both are actually rock aggregates which contain several minerals. Both stones are treasured for their vivid blue colour, comparable to the most beautiful scenes of sky and sea on Earth. So much so, they’ve both been cherished throughout history just as much as Blue Sapphire.
The history of Lapis Lazuli, which literally means “blue stone” in Latin, goes back over 6500 years. It was used by the ancient Egyptians in fine powder form as a cosmetic, by medieval civilizations in mosaics, written about by Marco Polo and as a coveted material by the renaissance painters to create highly sought-after vivid cobalt-coloured paint. Similarly, Turquoise was sourced out by the Egyptians as well as the ancient Chinese (only by special order of the Emperor) and was commonly used in North and South America in personal jewellery and ornaments, long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
Where is Lapis Lazuli found?
Today, the finest Lapis Lazuli comes from Afghanistan, from some of the same mines that have been producing it since 700 BC! The mines are located in the province of Badakhstan, where the terrain is extremely unforgiving, with mountains that reach five kilometres in height, the weather is punishing, and social and security issues run rampant. Other Lapis Lazuli sources include Chile, Russia, the United States, Angola and Pakistan.
What is the best quality of Lapis Lazuli?
Lapis is a 5 to 6 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, and its best qualities are a bright, saturated and uniform royal blue colour, which it gets from the mineral lazurite. Little to no patches of white calcite are preferred, while glittering gold pyrite inclusions are often valued based on personal preference. If pyrite is present (which is usually is) it’s generally preferred that it’s scattered evenly and attractively throughout the stone, instead of appearing in large, solid patches. Lapis can also take on a Green hue, but this definitely considered less desirable.
What is the best quality of Turquoise?
Turquoise is also found in only a few places on Earth, as it requires arid conditions and acidic, copper-rich groundwater for it to eventually form. The more copper is present in the stone, the more blue it will be, while the presence of Iron can create a greenish colour, which is also considered less valuable, in general. The most valued Turquoise is an intense, uniform robin’s egg blue with a smooth, waxy texture. This beautiful colour and texture is sometimes referred to as “Persian blue” (thanks to its original source of Iran) or “sleeping beauty” (which also refers to another original mine in Arizona) in the trade. These high-grade specimens generally have a very smooth, fine texture and a low porosity. Stones of lesser quality, with less uniform colour and rougher texture, are often higher in porosity. This means they can potentially absorb environmental elements over time, which can also cause them to change colour (generally lighten or darken) over the years.
Another characteristic that’s well-known in Turquoise is its common “matrix” effect, which is a dark web-or vein-like pattern. The pattern is made up of sandstone or limonite, which is the host-material Turquoise is often formed in. While the best qualities of Turquoise are often without matrix, when it is present, it’s preferred to have a very even, balanced and uniform presence. The latter is sometimes called “spiderweb Turquoise.”
While both Lapis Lazuli and Turquoise are ancient gems, they both gained popularity during the Art Deco period, when the rapid increase of travel, as well as the discovery of King Tut’s tomb created an obsession with revival-style jewels, and all things exotic and richly saturated with bold colour. Turquoise, which is also a 5 to 6 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, was also widely used during the Victorian period in England, and enjoyed another revival in the 70s, commonly set in Native American-style jewellery, which in its authentic form, is still widely appreciated and highly valued today.
Where it natural Turquoise found?
While traditional mines in Iran and New Mexico are no longer major producers, today Turquoise is mainly sourced from China, Egypt, Chile and new mines in Iran and the US.