Despite being commonly used in the handicraft of ornate and beautiful pieces of jewelry around the world, lapis lazuli is incredibly difficult to work with. After purchasing a stunning necklace, ring, or bracelet made with the sparkling azure stone, it is easy to overlook the intense labor and finely-tuned craftsmanship that was put into the final product.
For starters, acquiring a piece of lapis lazuli is no easy feat. Due to the complex geological preconditions required for its existence, the valuable stone is incredibly rare. In order to get your hands on a high quality piece of lapis, you would have to travel to Afghanistan or Chile. Let’s consider the mine in Chile, which is a well-known source of lapis lazuli across the world. Due to its altitude at 3,600 meters, miners face some precarious weather conditions. The company that conducts the mining operations has to go on a hiatus during the Winter months so as to avoid the heavy snowfall.
Once lapis lazuli has been extracted, it can be sent for handicrafting. The hunks of rock are transferred down the mountain. There are several steps when it comes to preparing the stone for its use in a piece of jewelry:
- Selection. The craftsman is essential in the selection of the particular lapis lazuli stone to be used. Lapis lazuli is composed of many different substances that affect its coloring and appearance. Aesthetically, the craftsman seeks to find a perfect balance of lazurite (blue), calcite (streaks of white), and pyrite (flecks of gold) in order to create a beautiful and high quality piece.
- Sawing. The process of cutting lapis lazuli is extremely intricate; even the smallest mistake might ruin the stone and postpone production. Artisans must be confident in their use of different blades, typically made with steel and copper and lined with diamond grit. The saws are used to cut the stone down to size. Lapis lazuli has a very distinct odor that is given off when it comes into contact with the sawing disc. An expert lapis artisan may even be able to tell by the odor how intense the blue coloring of the stone is.
- Grinding. The grinding wheels are also studded with diamonds, enabling them to cut away at the stone. Through this technique, the stone is molded into a rough shape.
- Sanding. The sanding wheel gives the artisan more flexibility to control the shape of the stone and remove any scratches left by the coarser materials during grinding and sawing. Artisans take the time and care to sand the stone to perfection, giving it a reflective and sparkling surface.
- Polishing. Polishing can be used to give the stone a mirror-like finish. After inlaying the stone into a particular piece of jewelry, the protruding stone can be re-ground and re-polished until it fits in perfectly. During polishing the stone must be handled very carefully on account of its relative softness. The stone is then typically sealed with a colorless wax or synthetic resin that simply protects it from potential wear and tear due to its delicate nature.
Because of how lapis lazuli is, it is essential for it to be handled and crafted by the most expert hands in order for the piece to last. However, any weather-worn piece can easily be re-polished at any time! Lapis lazuli jewelry has been coveted across the world for generations because of its stunning color and regal quality. While the jewelry is highly valued for its intense beauty, it should be equally praised for the high level of grueling and specialized craftsmanship needed in order to create these delicate pieces.