The beauty of Lapis Lazuli was recognised in ancient times, most notably by the Egyptian pharaohs. The treasures discovered in ancient royal tombs included lapis lazuli carved into sacred objects and inlaid into gold masks and ornaments.
The stone was crushed to extract the blue pigment for making paint. The paint was an intense blue and was used up until recently under the name of ultramarine, now replaced by synthetics.
Lapis Lazuli is Latin, lapis means stone and lazuli is derived from the Arab placename of an ancient source location. The location was named after the blue colour of the stone and is associated with the word Azure (blue).
The stone is not a mineral but a rock, an aggregate of different minerals. The most prized stones are an intense violet-blue colour with a small amount of pyrite inclusions, the golden colour of pyrite adds to the beauty of the stone.
The Badakhshan province in Afghanistan is recognised as the source location for the highest quality stones, where mining has continued for thousands of years. Other source locations include Chile, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia and the USA.
Lighter coloured material is dyed to match the colour of natural high quality material.
Imitatons are made by dying porous materials, such as chalcedony.