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Lapis lazuli is one of the oldest gemstones known. That’s why there are dozens of fakes evolved since antiquity. In ancient Egypt, lapis lazuli was a favorite stone for amulets and ornaments such as scarabs. Ground into powder, lapis lazuli produces ultramarine, the finest and most expensive of all blue pigments, which was used by some of the most important artists of the Renaissance and Baroque (Titian, Vermeer).
Real lapis lazuli is a rock but not a mineral. Real lapis lazuli consists of the main three minerals: lazurite, calcite, and pyrite, while fake lapis lazuli is usually represented by one blue even phase. Fake lapis lazuli is usually too smooth and too uniform, which indicates its unnatural genesis.
There are dozens of types of lapis lazuli fakes. They are dyed, reconstructed, and synthetic. Another type of lapis lazuli fakes is the imitation by other natural and human-made materials. Keep reading, and we will help you to differentiate them all!
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How to Tell if Lapis Lazuli is Real
Real lapis lazuli is a rock, so it is composed of different minerals. You will see swirls of white calcite and gold-color flakes of pyrite inside a real lapis lazuli. Minerals are located according to irregular natural patterns. Pyrite crystals usually concentrate into veins.
Real lapis lazuli has its natural imperfections, which make it truly beautiful. Lapis lazuli or lapis is a deep-blue (ultramarine) metamorphic rock composed of
- Lazurite – Na[(AlSiO4)SO4] – a deep‐blue to greenish‐blue mineral, which comprises 25 – 40% of lapis lazuli;
- Calcite – CaCO₃ – a white and soft mineral, which occurs as gentle swirls or veins in lapis lazuli;
- Pyrite – FeS₂ – or fool’s gold – metallic yellow mineral, which perfectly contrasts the ultramarine color of lazurite.
Lazurite is typically associated with some other minerals like diopside, humite, forsterite, hauyne, and muscovite.
How does Real Lapis Lazuli Look Like?
Here is a checklist for real lapis lazuli:
- Real lapis lazuli is composed of different minerals. White veins and yellow flakes are usually present.
- Real lapis lazuli has a unique ultramarine color.
- Real lapis lazuli is opaque.
- Real lapis lazuli, as any other natural rock, is quite hard and tough. It also remains cold to the touch for a long time in comparison to glass or plastic analogs.
- Real lapis lazuli texture is not uniform. No regular patterns can be spotted in natural material.
How to Tell if Lapis Lazuli is Fake
Because of a few thousands of years’ demand on lapis lazuli, there are a lot of high-quality fakes that appeared during that time. The first fakes are deeply rooted in Ancient Egypt (yes, fake problems are not new), other fakes are made in modern laboratories with the help of state-of-the-art appliances.
Fake lapis lazuli made of glass or plastic is uniform blue and warm to the touch. Some synthetic lapis lazuli will have yellow flakes, but they will be arranged in a regular pattern. Fake lapis lazuli represented by natural sodalite has a dull blue color and also lacks yellow pyrite.
All of them can be categorized into three groups:
- Enhanced natural material, where natural lapis lazuli can be covered by resins or dyed to enhance the natural color. Here is also reconstructed lapis lazuli, where natural lapis pieces are glued or fused together.
- Synthetic lapis lazuli, the physical and chemical properties of which fully correspond to the natural one; however it is made in laboratories.
- Imitations, where another natural or manmade material looks like lapis lazuli. Natural imitations are represented by sodalite, or dyed howlite, or magnesite. Manmade imitations are simple glass or plastic.
Genuine pyrite or ‘fool’s gold’ is surprisingly difficult to imitate. Any imitation attempts end up looking far too uniform and perfect for it to be real.
Like a lot of other gemstones, lapis lazuli can be very cold to the touch. Although glass imitations are cold as well, they will quickly warm up when held. Real gemstones often remain cool even after fairly prolonged holding.
TIP: You can often found a tumbled lapis lazuli for sale. Tumbled lapis lazuli is really beautiful. But do you know how long to tumble this gemstone? Find out the exact values for different rocks (lapis lazuli included) in the article below:
How does Fake Lapis Lazuli Look Like?
Fake lapis lazuli usually lacks yellow crystals of pyrite. Fake lapis lazuli texture is too uniform and regular patterned. The color of synthetic or dyed fake lapis lazuli can be too bright, or vice versa, in the case of sodalite imitations, the color will be dull blue with numerous white veins.
1. Fake lapis lazuli represented by enhanced natural material looks too bright. The dye can be spread not evenly and that’s why spots of dye concentration can be present.
2. Fake lapis lazuli represented by reconstructed material, where pieces of low-quality lapis lazuli are glued or fused together, may look like a conglomerate.
3. Fake lapis lazuli represented by top-quality synthetic material (e.g. Gilson Glass Lazuli) completely corresponds to the physical and chemical properties of the natural one. However, the texture will have some differences. In fake synthetic lapis lazuli, the specks of pyrite are too smooth and also too uniformly patterned to be real, and the blue color is too even.
4. Fake lapis lazuli imitated by sodalite also lacked pyrite and looked a bit dull. Sodalite may be semi-opaque, while natural lapis lazuli is always opaque. Another way to tell the difference is a streak test. Lapis has a light-blue streak, while sodalite has a white streak.
5. Recommendations on how to spot glass or plastic as imitations are the same as usual. Fake lapis lazuli represented by glass has a glassy luster, while real lapis lazuli looks waxy. Fake lapis lazuli made of glass is also too perfect. Even some gas bubbles can be present in low-quality fakes.
6. Fake lapis lazuli made of plastic are much softer than real material. Plastic fakes also feel warmer to the touch than real stone.
TIP: Lapis lazuli is really cool rocks. What other rocks do you find cool? Find a list of common cool rocks in the article below:
Real vs. Fake Lapis Lazuli: The Main Differences
Here you are welcome to check a table with the main differences between natural and fake lapis lazuli. However, we kindly recommend you seek the help of a professional gemologist in case of an expensive purchase.
|Characteristic feature||Real lapis lazuli||Fake lapis lazuli|
|Color||Deep-blue, ultramarine color.||Too bright colors. Vibrant, electric-blue colors in case of plastic or glass fakes.Dull grayish-blue colors in case of sodalite imitations.|
|Transparency||Opaque. The light can go through.||Fake lapis lazuli made of glass or plastic or imitated by sodalite can be semi-opaque.|
|Dye enhancement||No dye presence. Dark-blue color is evenly spread on the whole sample. Blue color cannot be removed by acetone.||Spots of pure dye concentration can be observed. The dye can be removed or damaged by water, alcohol, and acetone.|
|Presence of pyrite yellow crystals||Present.||In most fake cases yellow specks are absent. In synthetics fakes yellow flakes can be present, however, they will be arranged in a regular pattern.|
|Touch test||Real lapis lazuli stays cold for a prolonged time.||Glass and plastics fakes will feel warm in a few seconds.|
|Acetone test||The color is stable and doesn’t fade away.||Dyed lapis lazuli tends to lose its color.|
TIP: Do you want to try to tumble your lapis lazuli rocks? You should know that not all rocks can be tumble together. Find out what to take into consideration when tumbling different rocks together in the article below:
Where to Buy Real Lapis Lazuli
Real lapis lazuli of the highest quality is rare enough. The finest material comes from Afghanistan, Chile, and Russia. So the first piece of advice to protect you from buying a fake is to ask the source of the lapis lazuli.
The best place to buy a real lapis lazuli is minerals and rocks shows. There are two world-known mineral shows: The Munich Show in Europe and The Tucson Show in the US. There are a lot of independent gems and mineral professionals who are ready to analyze whatever you want.
In the case of lapis lazuli, it’s better to avoid such popular platforms as Amason and Etsy. We are not telling you that everything is fake there, but it takes more time to find a responsible seller. Always ask a source of lapis lazuli.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
Lapis lazuli is one of the most beautiful gemstones, which was highly praised since antiquity. Its color is mysterious and gold specks are intriguing. Lapis lazuli is still in high demand from jewelry designers and mineral collectors. Being a material known for centuries, lapis lazuli has a lot of fakes.
The best approach to avoid fakes is to pay attention to pyrite yellow crystals and calcite white veins. Real lapis lazuli is praised for its imperfections. Perfectly even samples are a sign of any kind of fakes. Regularly arranged veins and pyrite flakes are also a sign of fakes. Too perfect texture indicates a man-made origin of lapis lazuli.
TIP: Do you want to start collecting rocks? Rockhounding is a great hobby but rock collecting can be a bit tricky even for experienced rockhounds. Check out the complete guide on rock collecting in the article below: