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Lapis Lazuli: Prized Since Antiquity

closeup of sample of natural mineral from geological collection. Polished Lapis lazuli (Lazurite) gem isolated on white background

Birthstone for December (along with turquoise)

As early as 5000 years B.C., lapis lazuli (pronounced LA piss LA zoo lee) was mined in what is now Afghanistan. Rough lapis is shown above, and a piece of polished lapis to the left.

Lapis is Latin for “stone” and lazuli means blue. (The words azul and azure come from the same root.)

Lapis lazuli has all the qualities of a good gemstone: it takes a polish, is tough enough to wear, and has a beautiful color. You will also find lapis carved into animals, daggers, bookends, tiny bowls and boxes, among other shapes. It is lovely in inlays and mosaics.

The funeral mask of Tutankhamun (King Tut) was embellished with lapis. To the ancient Egyptians, lapis was as valuable as gold.

Lapis lazuli is mentioned in the Bible as one of the stones in the breastplate of judgment worn by Aaron.

Ground lapis lazuli is called ultramarine, the most expensive of blue pigments. Used by Renaissance artists, it was used to confer special status on the central figures of a painting. That’s why you so often see the virgin Mary dressed in blue. Notably, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel were painted with natural ultramarine blue. Since the 19th century, ultramarine paint is made with a synthetic blue pigment.

Lapis lazuli is a metamorphic rock containing deep blue lazurite, gold accents of pyrite, white calcite, and a few other minerals.

Afghanistan is still a major source of lapis lazuli, in addition to mines in Russia, Chile, Italy, Mongolia, the U.S., and Canada.

Lapis lazuli is associated with wisdom, strength, and power. Some believe it enhances truthfulness, mental clarity, and creativity.


Shop All Lapis Lazuli


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The only metal I work with in my jewelry is silver—from sterling (92.5%) to fine (100%).

Chemical Properties

Silver is an element with atomic number 47. Its chemical symbol is Ag from the Latin argentum. Along with gold and platinum, silver is a precious metal. It is malleable enough to shape easily and takes a high polish, which is why it is used extensively in jewelry making.

Tarnish is formed when silver reacts with sulfur to form the black compound silver sulfide (Ag2S). A little bit of sulfur is present in the air in the form of hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. Keeping your silver jewelry clean and dry and stored in a zippered plastic bag will drastically slow down the rate of tarnishing. If your jewelry becomes tarnished, use a polishing cloth to gently remove the tarnish. Some gemstones are soft and can be scratched by abrasives. Liquid tarnish remover is too harsh for jewelry.

Some jewelry is intentionally darkened to bring out the detail. Calling it “oxidized” is a misnomer. Silver does not react with oxygen, only sulfur.


Human beings discovered silver before recorded history. It was used both ornamentally and as money. Used as tableware, serving dishes, boxes, vases, frames, and all manner of decorative items, you have certainly seen much silver in museums. Not all of what you see is solid silver however—a lot is silver plated.

Silver is also used in the black-and-white photography process, in medical devices because of its antibacterial properties, and as a backing on glass for mirrors. You’ll also find silver in semiconductors and solar panels.


Silver is associated with the moon, femininity and the goddess Artemis who used silver-tipped arrows.

A “silver bullet” in folklore was the only weapon that could kill a werewolf.

“Thirty pieces of silver” is the bribe paid to Judas Iscariot for the betrayal of Jesus, and has come to symbolize the price of any sort of betrayal.

Sterling Silver, Bali Silver, Thai Silver

Because pure silver is soft, it is usually alloyed with copper. When the silver content is 92.5% (and the copper 7.5%) the resulting alloy is called “sterling.” Sterling silver will usually be stamped .925.

Bali silver is sterling. The designs are usually ornate and made by hand. I use Bali silver beads in my jewelry.

Thai silver beadsThai silver is 97%–99% silver. (Photo at right.) Thai silver is made by the hill tribes of northern Thailand using ancient traditions. I use Thai silver beads in my jewelry.

Most of the low-priced jewelry you see is made from base metals—common and inexpensive metals such as copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, etc. and their alloys. Base metals and alloys such as brass and bronze tend to oxidize and discolor easily. They can also cause allergic reactions.

Tibetan silver is mostly base metals, and might contain no silver at all.

Silver Metal Clay

silver metal clay beadsInvented in 1990 by a Japanese metallurgist, silver metal clay contains tiny particles of silver in a binder of organic material and water. It can be shaped like any other clay. When fired in a kiln, the organic material burns away and what is left is fine silver. (Two of my handmade beads, right.)


The price of silver is quoted per Troy ounce, equal to about 31 grams. Throughout recorded history, silver has always had value along with widespread use as a currency. Before the fifteenth century B.C., silver was more valuable than gold. Today (March 2018) silver is priced at about $17 per ounce, and gold at about $1320 per ounce.


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Why We Wear Jewelry

Jewelry has always been a part of my life. Before my first memories I was wearing a tiny sapphire ring—my birthstone. In high school I worked in my dad’s jewelry store and a good chunk of my earnings went toward buying jewelry.

Your choice of adornment can also signify social status or belonging to a group. I believe, more than anything, that jewelry is a form of self-expression. It tells people something about you. I only make jewelry that I will wear myself. It is classically elegant, not trendy, so it will never go out of style.

I asked around, and here are some reasons that women wear jewelry:

  1. Because it’s pretty.
  2. Jewelry is the finishing touch that makes you look well put-together.
  3. If your clothes are a canvas, jewelry is the art.
  4. To dress up a casual outfit.
  5. In remembrance of a special person or place or event.

New responses:

  1. When you receive jewelry as a gift, you feel loved.
  2. I wear jewelry because it is pretty and I enjoy it. It adorns my outfits and makes me feel beautiful. I bought a pair of your earrings at the Commonwheel Art Festival today. Hands down, your jewelry was the best choice at the entire show. [Thanks, Dede! You made my day. ~Gretchen]

Why do you wear jewelry? I’d like to know.