Perhaps the most ancient and one of the greatest of all precious stones, there are numerous references to the use of Lapis Lazuli throughout every ancient civilisation from the Babylonian, Sumerian, Hittite, Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman worlds. The gold treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb featured numerous inlays and carved objects of Lapis Lazuli.
This stunning rich blue stone, often flecked with the gold of iron pyrites, has for 6,000 years been mined in primitive conditions high in the mountains of Northern Afghanistan.
The Lindisfarne Gospels, written in the 7th century AD in the island monastery in the North of England, were illustrated with brilliant coloured pigments, the blue being obtained by grinding down Lapis Lazuli. The stone had been traded from mountains of Afghanistan to Britain, which was then on the very edge of the known world. The early use of Lapis Lazuli as a pigment resulted in its descriptive name "ultra marine blue", the "blue stone from over the sea".
Lapis Lazuli derives its name from the Latin (Lapis) "stone" and the Arabic "al azward" (the blue of the sky). Unlike virtually any other gem, Lapis is not a mineral in its own right, but a rock comprised of a mixture of minerals, lazurite, augite, calcite, diopside, enstatite, mica, hauynite, hornblend, nosean, sodalite, and pyrite. The colour is determined by the balance of the various minerals, and although there are deposits near Lake Baikal in Russia, as well as a major source north of Santiago in Chile, the finest quality "the perfect mix" still comes from Afghanistan.
Cellini uses grade AAA, the finest quality from Afghanistan, a brilliant bright deep blue with a very fine dispersal of gold flecks of pyrite.