Know Your Gemstones: Chrysoprase & Lapis

From amethyst to zircon, there’s a colorful world of gemstones out there waiting to be explored.  We’re looking at the stories behind these beautiful rocks and minerals in this new blog series.

Want to catch up on this series? Click here for Part I: Carnelian and Tiger’s Eye.

The Ethereal Chrysoprase

Filigree cross pendant

Greek Filigree Cross set with chrysoprase.

With its luminescent color and ethereal name, chrysoprase is a gemstone not easily forgotten.  It was once mistaken for emeralds by ancient jewelers and continues to be confused with jade today, but chrysoprase has a long history of its own.

The name “chrysoprase” derives from the Greek words “chrusos” (meaning “gold”) and “prase” or “prason” (referring to the green color of leeks).  It is easily identifiable through its light/apple green color with faint gold inclusions. This color can range from light to intense bluish-green.  The deeper, more “apple green” stones are more desirable.

In regards to color, this gemstone sensitive to light; the gem will fade when exposed to prolonged heat or direct light (“the color may be restored after absorption of moisture.”).

Chrysoprase is the most valuable stone of the chaledony quartz family.  It is unique in that its distinct green color comes from neither iron, chromium, nor vanadium, but rather from nickel impurities.  As a type of quartz, chrysoprase durable, rating 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale (making it much harder than jade).

This gemstone, despite its hardness, is also rather porous and is easily “… stained by the absorption of other chemicals and colors. Therefore, avoid the use of any harsh household chemicals, especially bleach, perfume and sulfuric acid.”

Approximately 85% of the world’s supply of chrysoprase comes from Australia.  The stones mined in central Queensland are considered to be of the highest quality.

Chrysoprase was known as the “stone of Venus” in ancient times (today, the stone is still associated with love).  Its color was favored by the Greeks and Romans who used the gemstone to make signets, cameos, and jewelry.  According to some sources, chrysoprase was the favorite gemstone of Alexander the Great.

History’s “Blue Stone”

Lapis lazuli, often simply called “lapis,” is one of the oldest gemstones with a long history behind it.  It has been used for thousands of years and continues to be coveted for its deep blue opaque color with shimmering flecks of gold.

Lapis is a unique gemstone in that it is not a mineral; it is a rock.  Its name, “lapis lazuli,” quite literally translates to “blue stone” (“Lapis” deriving from the Latin word for “stone” and “lazuli” from the Arabic “lazward,” meaning blue).

Despite its name, however, the lapis is not a wholly-blue stone.  Calcite in the stone emerges as white streaks and patches within the blue (an abundance of which will lighten the blue hue of lapis) and pyrite inclusions add flecks of gold.  The finest examples of lapis have very little calcite and minimal pyrite (just enough to give the stone a little shimmer).

For over 6,000 years, lapis has been mined in Afghanistan, the finest gemstones coming from the Badakhshan Province.  “Afghan” lapis is revered for its deep violet-blue color with little remnants of calcite and pyrite.  It’s interesting to note that these geographic descriptions of the stones have little to do with where they are found – “Afghan lapis” refers only to the color of the stone (it can be found anywhere); “Chilean lapis” isn’t native to Chile but rather refers to the stone having a green tint.

Birka Cross set with lapis.

Historically, lapis is one of the oldest gemstones to be used.  The “Egyptians regarded lapis lazuli as a heavenly stone and often used it on the statues of their gods and in burial masks, as protection for the next life.” Most famously, the blue stone was used liberally to decorate the funeral mask of King Tut.  Believed to protect the wearer against evil, the ancient Greeks and Romans bestowed lapis as a gift for bravery.

In addition to the wearable arts, lapis was coveted by painters for its color.  Powdered lapis was used to create a rich blue paint pigment, used by Renaissance painters.  This trend can be traced back to Cleopatra who is said to have used powdered lapis in her cosmetics.

“Throughout its history, lapis has been fashioned into practical objects, including game boards, bowls, dagger handles, hair combs, and amulets.”  Today, it is typically cabochon cut and used for beads and other jewelry pieces.

Lapis is perfect for carving into ornamental pieces as it is fairly soft, rating a 5-6 on the Mohs scale.  Lapis jewelry should thus be worn with care and should not come in contact with harsh chemicals or household cleaners.

Main image: Hepy, 1950–1885 B.C.From Egypt, Memphite Region, Lisht South, mastaba west of Senwosretankh, Pit 3, Burial of Hepy, MMA excavations, 1933–34.Gold, lapis-lazuli. Via
The Gemstone Chrysoprase –
Chrysoprase Meanings, Powers, and History –
Chrysoprase Gemstone Information –
Lapis Lazuli Gemstone Information –
Lapis Lazuli History and Lore –
Lapis Meanings, Powers, and History –
The Wonders of Lapis Lazuli –
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