Apart from carved ornaments and statuettes, lapis lazuli is commonly used in the decoration of table surfaces, boxes, vases, and other flat surfaces – even houses! The gemstone’s relative “softness” makes it easy to cut thin layers that can be used to adorn different pieces of furniture or walls. These layers can also be glued together to create three dimensional objects like boxes.
Boxes made with lapis lazuli are intricately crafted and highly coveted ornaments. They are made with thin strips of the stone, the thinnest being two millimeters thick, that are attached together. The artisan will begin the process by selecting a stone that has a larger surface area and slicing it into layers of the appropriate thickness depending on the final size of the box. The slabs are checked for cracks or fissures, commonly referred to as lapis lazuli’s hair that can appear when the gemstone is mined. A truly expert artisan will ensure that the selected stone will not have any apparent defects.
These flagstones are measured out and then follow the typical procedure of cutting with diamond disks, sawing, grinding, sanding and polishing. The layers are then glued together to form the box. Once you have a rough final product, a diamond plate is used to smooth out all of the sides so that they fit perfectly together. After this the box is re-polished. Finally, boxes are commonly adorned with silver or nickel edges. These metallic additions often spruce up the hinges and are the finishing touch on a truly ornate piece.
When it comes to bigger surfaces like walls, the process is much more complex. Lapis lazuli is not found in pieces big enough to cover these larger surface areas. This means that artisans must carefully select and combine many smaller pieces. In order to create a uniform and aesthetically pleasing final product, the pieces of lapis selected must all be of the same tone and coloring. This is particularly difficult since lapis lazuli comes in so many variations.
Once the perfect pieces are found, the layers are cut and then united together like puzzle pieces on the surface to be covered. Artisans can also create beautiful mosaics with other gemstones, marble, onyx, or glass.
If the surface is curved, like that of a vase, there are several other considerations. The thickness of the stone layers corresponds to the curve in the surface – the bigger the curve, the thicker the piece of lapis required. Steeper curves also require smaller pieces of the gemstone so that they can fit more easily. Once all of the pieces are fitted together on the surface, emery, a tough rock, is used to remove rough edges and make out the final shape. Sanding and polishing follow.
Catherine the Great, known for her lavish tendencies, created an entire room of lapis lazuli in her palace at Tsarskoe-Selo. The extremely expensive drawing room has walls, fireplaces, and sconces, all covered in the azure gemstone. People still visit this sight today and take in its breathtaking magnificence. While this particular project set the empress back by several thousand pounds, people still inlay smaller pieces of lapis lazuli into bedroom walls or pieces of furniture either for its relaxing properties or its stunning beauty.