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Lapis Lazuli: Crystal Properties, Origins and Uses

This blue lapis lazuli crystal embedded in marble rock is one from Afghanistan. Walter Geiersperger/Getty Images

Medieval artists used lapis lazuli for precious ultramarine paint, but it has had many additional purposes. For example, the Greeks used it on caskets, shrines and sculptures, and the Chinese carved it into objects like game boards, dagger handles, hair combs and amulets, says Santimer. Church wall panels, massive inlays, sculptures and mosaics were also made of lapis lazuli.

These are historical examples, but they are still ways that the stone is used today — as sculpture, jewelry, objets d’art and mosaics. You can still buy lapis lazuli pigments too. It’s never gone out of style.

“There aren’t that many blue gemstones, so this is definitely a prized one,” says Santimer. More saturated blue with less veining and less pyrite carries a higher value. “The highly prized material out of Afghanistan can be very expensive.”

If you would like to invest in this prized rock, you need to take care of it like any gem. Although lapis is found in rings, beads and many styles of jewelry, keep in mind that it can be easily damaged due to its softness.

Don’t wear lapis lazuli jewelry while doing housework or participating in heavy activity, Santimer advises. And keep it protected from solvents. If you need to cleanse lapis lazuli, warm water and dish soap will work just fine.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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