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The Star of India Sapphire

September has two blue birthday gems, each of them is beautiful: lapis lazuli and sapphire. Sapphire is one of the four precious stones and one of the gem varieties of the species corundum. Blue is considered the normal color for sapphire, but it is found in the full range of spectral colors as well as brown, colorless, gray and black (fancy color sapphire).

We have noticed the sapphire on royalty throughout history. In olden times, King Solomon wore a sapphire ring, and in modern times, Prince Charles gave a sapphire engagement ring to Lady Diana. The British Crown Jewels are full of large blue sapphires, the mark of prudent and wise rulers.

Carved lapis lazuli
click to enlarge

Lapis lazuli is a semi-precious stone prized since antiquity for its intense blue color. Lapis is a rock and not a mineral because it is made up from various other minerals. The main component of lapis lazuli is lazurite; it also contains calcite (white), sodalite (blue) and pyrite (metallic yellow), and some other constituents. The finest color is intense blue, lightly dusted with small flecks of golden pyrite.

Lapis lazuli is called the ancient alchemists' "Stone of Heaven", the special mystical quality associated with lapis made it sacred to the Egyptians. For a time only the pharaohs, the royal family members, and the priests were permitted to wear it. Accordingly, Egyptian tombs were replete with carvings of Lapis, for it was believed that this stone would protect, guide and cheer the dead as they journeyed into the afterlife.

A lazurite specimen
click to enlarge

The main component of lapis lazuli rock, lazurite mineral is deep blue to greenish blue. Don't confuse lazurite with other blue minerals such as the carbonate azurite and the phosphate lazulite! They even have almost the same names, but differ from lazurite.

Lazurite has been mined for over 6,000 years in the lapis lazuli district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan. It has been used as a pigment in painting and cloth dyeing since at least the sixth or seventh century AD. It is also mined at Lake Baikal in Siberia, Mount Vesuvius, Burma, Canada, and the United States. The name "lazurite" is from the Persian LAZWARD for blue.

Two pieces of jewelry in lapis lazuli by Zoya Gutina

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