Lapis and Sodalite are easy to mix up because of their beautiful shades of intense blue, and their similarities in color and pattern can be misleading. It's taken us decades to tell the difference, but even then it's hard to distinguish over the internet, in a photo, and sometimes even up close! However, differences in hardness, chemical composition, and appearance help in distinguishing these stones, and so we wrote this up, first as a reminder and teaching tool for us, and hopefully something that will assist you!
First, here are 10 things about Lapis!
- Introduction to Lapis: Lapis Lazuli, often referred to as 'Lapis,' is a deep blue metamorphic rock prized since antiquity for its intense color. Used in jewelry and decorations, it was highly valued by ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations.
The most valued lapis contains little or no pyrite and no calcite, and is an intense, uniform, medium-dark, slightly violetish blue. This quality is known in the trade as Afghan. – Bart Current
- Color Variations: Lapis Lazuli is recognized for its unique color spectrum, ranging from indigo, royal, midnight, or marine blue. These hues can lean towards slightly greenish blue to violetish blue, adding to the gem's unique appeal
- Mineral Composition: Lapis is an aggregate of several minerals. It primarily consists of lazurite, but also contains calcite, pyrite, and other minerals. Each mineral contributes differently to the stone's overall appearance and value.
- Importance of Lazurite: Lazurite is a key component in Lapis, responsible for the prized royal blue color. The name 'Lazurite' is derived from the term "Lazaward", which means heaven in Arabic, a nod to its blue color.
- Role of Afghanite: Afghanite, a mineral identified in 1968, is another constituent of Lapis Lazuli. It contributes to the creation of the pale blue shade in some lapis stones.
The combination of different minerals in the aggregate determines the color. For example, the presence of lazurite produces lapis lazuli’s prized royal blue color, while a mineral called afghanite creates a pale blue shade.
- Lapis Trade Grades: Trade grades for lapis depend on color and the presence or absence of calcite or pyrite. The top-valued is the Persian or Afghan grade, followed by the Russian or Siberian, and then the Chilean.
- Persian or Afghan—Intense, uniform, medium dark, slightly violetish blue. Contains little or no pyrite, and no calcite
- Russian or Siberian—Various tones and intensities of blue. Contains pyrite and might contain some calcite
- Chilean—Often tinged or spotted with green, with obvious calcite matrix and please note:
A gemstone’s appearance might be described using an adjective that refers to a country or region, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the gem is actually from that area. Thus, lapis with a lot of white calcite spots and many green patches might be sold as “Chilean,” but this doesn’t mean it’s really from Chile.
- Lapis vs. Sodalite: While Lapis Lazuli consists of pyrite, calcite, and lazurite, Sodalite is a feldspathoid made of potassium, sodium, and calcium. The golden flecks in Lapis are due to pyrite, while the white veining in Sodalite comes from calcite.
- Lazurite vs. Lazulite: Lazurite, found in Lapis Lazuli, is a deep blue silicate, while Lazulite, a phosphate mineral, is often found intergrown with quartz. The two can be differentiated by observing their associations.
- True Lapis is an intergrowth of lazurite with other minerals, primarily pyrite, calcite, diopside and hauynite. It usually occurs in marbles. The combination is colors and patterns is what gives lapis lazuli its appeal. Lapis lazuli was been known and used by the ancient Egyptians. Not surprisingly it was considered a gem representing the skies or heaven, thus was thought to denote light, truth and wisdom. It was thus often shaped into eye-shaped gems. It was often worn by Egyptian judges
Lapis Role in Art History
Lapis Lazuli has played an essential role in the history of art, particularly due to its use in producing the pigment ultramarine - a brilliant blue color that was highly sought after by artists. The use of this gemstone in the art world dates back to antiquity, with its presence in cave paintings and ancient artifacts, signaling its importance as one of the first colors used in art.
The process of extracting ultramarine from Lapis Lazuli was labor-intensive. The stone had to be ground into a powder, mixed with wax, resin, and oils, and then kneaded to draw out the intense blue color. The leftover stone was then filtered out, leaving behind the precious pigment. The brightness and vibrancy of the color it produced made all the effort worthwhile.
In prehistoric times, Lapis Lazuli's intense color made it a popular choice for cave paintings. The deep blue color, being rare in nature, provided a striking contrast against the cave walls. Its use allowed our ancestors to create vivid and durable art that has withstood the test of time. Although direct evidence of Lapis Lazuli being used in cave paintings may be limited, the pigment created from it, ultramarine, has certainly been utilized extensively throughout art history.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Lapis Lazuli was so valuable due to its use in creating ultramarine that it was worth its weight in gold. Artists reserved ultramarine for special features, particularly for depictions of the Virgin Mary's robes, due to its vibrant hue and the high cost associated with the pigment. This selective use of Lapis Lazuli elevated it to a symbol of purity and divinity, further enhancing its prestige in art and culture.
Spiritual and Metaphysical Beliefs
In various cultures, Lapis has been considered a stone of wisdom and truth. Its deep blue color has been associated with the night sky, symbolizing the universe's vastness and the pursuit of enlightenment. Whether used in meditation or worn as jewelry, Lapis is believed to foster self-awareness and inner peace.
Here are 10 key points about Sodalite:
- Chemical Composition: Sodalite is a rich royal blue tectosilicate mineral widely used as an ornamental gemstone. Its chemical formula is Na8Al6Si6O24Cl2.
- Crystal System: It crystallizes in the cubic crystal system, often forming dodecahedra.
- Hardness: On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, sodalite rates a 5.5 to 6, making it a relatively hard mineral but still softer than quartz.
- Historical Discovery: Sodalite was first discovered in Greenland in 1811 and later found in Ontario, Canada, in 1891 during the construction of a railway line.
- Name Origin: The name 'sodalite' derives from the mineral's sodium content. In Latin, ‘soda’ means sodium, and ‘lithos’ means stone.
- Color Variations: While typically blue, sodalite also comes in hues of grey, green, purple, or pink. Its blue color can be so intense that it's sometimes mistaken for lapis lazuli.
- Fluorescence: Some sodalite will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, typically showing a bright orange or yellow color.
- Habitat and Occurrences: Sodalite is typically found in igneous rocks that crystallized from sodium-rich magmas. This is why it’s commonly associated with nepheline syenites.
- Metaphysical Properties: In metaphysical beliefs, sodalite is thought to promote peace and tranquility, enhance emotional balance, and calm panic attacks.
- Use in Art and Jewelry: Because of its attractive color and vitreous luster, sodalite is used in sculpture, jewelry, and lapidary arts. However, its use is somewhat limited by its softness and perfect cleavage.
Lapis Vs. Sodalite: How to Tell Them Apart
One of the easiest ways to tell the two stones apart is by color. Lapis lazuli is an intense blue stone with bright golden flecks. It’s also available in a variety of blue shades. Sodalite comes in a lighter blue shade with white veining. The golden flecks found on the lapis lazuli result from the pyrite content in the stone’s composition. In its raw form, the golden freckles may not be very visible. The calcite in the chemical composition of the stones is responsible for the white veins, especially on the sodalite.
Pattern and Clarity
Both stones lack transparency. Lapis lazuli is generally an opaque stone, while sodalite can be translucent. The stones also have a patterned surface. Lapis lazuli exhibits golden freckles on a blue surface, while sodalite displays white veining on a light blue surface. An authentic lapis lazuli will show uniformity in pattern and color throughout the stone. The white streaks found on a lapis lazuli due to the calcite content in the stone are imperfect. Any genuine sodalite will also contain white streaks as a result of calcite. The streaks appear in a granular structure on a lapis lazuli, but show uniformity on a sodalite stone.
Being a combination of several minerals, lapis lazuli lacks a uniform hardness. The stone will range from 3 to 6.5, while sodalite ranges from 5.5 to 6 on the Mohs hardness scale.
Lapis lazuli was found initially in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Today the stone is found in Myanmar, Chile, and Afghanistan. Sodalite was initially found in Greenland but is now in Namibia, Canada, and South America.
Lapis From Our Collection