Lapis lazuli

01 Jul

Lapis lazuli from Badakhshan is still regarded as the world’s premier source in terms of quantity and quality. Its name is derived from the Latin ‘lapis’, meaning ‘stone’ and the Persian ‘lazhward’ meaning ‘blue’. It is used to make beds, boxes and other decorative articles, is often carved into figurines and is popular for men’s jewelry. Lapis is mined in an area known as the Blue Mountain on the right bank of the Kokcha River in Badakhshan where it occurs as skarn lenses 1-4 m thick in marble. There were formerly seven mines extracting lapis lazuli but today there is only one, the Sary-Sang deposit. The mine lies at an elevation of around 3,500 meters where, on account of low winter temperatures, it is worked only between June and September. A speculative estimate of the reserves is 1,300 tons.

The original locality for lapis lazuli is the Sary-Sang deposit in Afghanistan’s remote Badakhshan district. This mine is one of the oldest in the world, produced continuously for over 7000 years. While other deposits of lapis are known, none are of importance when compared with Afghanistan. Lapis lazuli is not an expensive stone, but truly fine material is still rare. Lower grades may sell for less than US$1 per carat, while the superfine material may reach US$100–150/ct. Lapis lazuli may occur in multi-kilogram sized pieces, but top-grade lapis of even 10–20 carats cut is rare. Its value is determined almost exclusively by color. A deep, intense, blue with violet tones would be at the apex. Fine grained, uniform specimens can attain a smooth, highly polished surface not seen in lower grades.

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