How Rare is Lazurite?

Lazurite is a striking blue mineral that has been prized by humans for thousands of years. It is best known for being a major component of lapis lazuli, a gemstone that has been mined and traded since antiquity. But just how rare is lazurite and the beautiful blue rock it forms?

Lazurite belongs to a group of minerals known as tectosilicates. Its chemical composition consists of sodium, aluminum, silicon, and sulfur. It crystallizes in the form of short prismatic crystals or granular masses, exhibiting a deep celestial blue color. This vivid blue is caused by the sulfur in lazurite.

Lazurite is formed through a process called contact metamorphism when limestone is metamorphosed under high heat by the intrusion of igneous rock. This usually occurs deep underground in environments under tectonic pressure. The major deposit sites for lazurite are found in remote mountainous areas of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Chile, Russia, Myanmar, and China.

For thousands of years, lazurite has been treasured as a sacred and royal pigment known as ultramarine blue. During the Renaissance, painters would grind lazurite crystals into a brilliant powder to create the vibrant blue pigment used to color the robes of Mary and Jesus in religious art. At the time, ultramarine blue derived from lazurite was even more valuable than gold.

Today, lazurite remains a relatively rare mineral. According to the International Mineralogical Association, there are less than a hundred known deposits worldwide. However, only about a dozen of these sites contain lazurite and other minerals in sufficient quantities and quality to support active mining operations. The rarity of lazurite is due to the very specific geological conditions required for it to form.

The largest known deposits of lazurite exist in northern Afghanistan. This is the original source of the finest lapis lazuli gemstones, which are composed of lazurite along with calcite and pyrite. The Sar-e-Sang mine in the Kokcha River Valley has produced the bulk of the world’s supply of lapis lazuli since antiquity. However, decades of war have disrupted production and made mining dangerous and difficult.

Smaller deposits are found in Siberia, Chile, Pakistan, Canada, and in the western United States. But much of this lazurite is low quality and unsuitable for gemstone purposes. Overall, gem-grade lazurite remains scarce. With global lazurite production estimated to be only around 50 tons per year, prices for lapis lazuli have steadily increased.

The brilliant blue of lazurite will likely continue to be a coveted rarity. While Afghanistan seeks to resume export of its famed lapis lazuli after years of conflict, lazurite itself will remain elusive. This is due to lazurite’s geological constraints and the few regions where this stunning mineral forms in quality deposits. For now, lazurite and the blue gems it creates will remain quite rare.