Azurite is a magnificent crystal characterized by a striking deep blue colouring, a vitreous lustre and a diaphaneity ranging from semitransparent to opaque depending on the cut. What renders this precious stone so unique is its dazzling colour which has, across centuries, been utilised to create exquisite pigments. Ground into a powder, this gem has been used in art, to paint frescos for instance, and also to dye luxurious fabrics.
What is Azurite?
Azurite is a rare gem which belongs to the carbonates group. It’s considered a secondary mineral, as it’s a basic copper carbonate deriving from the weathering of copper deposits. Depending on the oxidation zone of these deposits, the gem formed will be bright green (Malachite) or a mesmerizing indigo colour (Azurite).
It is thus akin to Malachite, though Azurite is much rarer and therefore more sought after. Furthermore, Apatite has a smaller water content and the copper it derives from is far less oxidised compared to Malachite.
Characteristics of Azurite
This marvellously bright and luminous gem crystallises in a variety of shapes: from elongated or flat thin shapes, to streaked and multifaceted. It is commonly found in irregular shapes with ruffled and corrugated edges resembling the waves of a rippling sea.
Azurite mesmerises us with its intense azure-blue colour, its vitreous or dull lustre and its translucent diaphaneity. It’s a heavy but very brittle stone, it is in fact considered a semi-hard mineral which flakes with relative ease (it is easily scratched with a penknife). For this reason, though apt for being chiselled and engraved, it is rarely utilised in jewellery.
Thanks to this set of rather distinctive characteristics, this precious stone is easily recognisable. However, with the passing of time it undergoes a metamorphosis: Azurite may change into Malachite as it absorbs humidity or dampness from the surrounding environment. It becomes a pseudomorph, which means the stone retains the original shape but changes its chemical composition which transforms the brilliant blue tint into deep green.
Types of Azurite
There are a number of varieties of this seductive gem: the most common is certainly the pure cobalt blue variety. Hybrid specimen are rarer; these involve the mixing or even a slight contamination of Azurite with other minerals such as Malachite and Cuprite (the hybrid arising from mixing with the latter is poetically known as ‘Bluebird’). Such contaminations not only create amazing blue and green patterns, but also render these gems rare and extremely sought after.
Other gems may look similar to Azurite both in colour and in structure. Among these are Sodalite, Charoite, Lapis lazuli, Dumortierite Quartz and Haüyne, these are also known as Azurite’s more uncommon and lesser known ‘sisters’.
This gem has unique and extraordinary characteristics which enable us to distinguish natural stones from synthetic ones:
Colour: The first distinctive trait to bear in mind, as mentioned above, is the gem’s fascinating vivid blue colour with its opaque and vitreous lustre. This pigment tends to change with the passing of time and when exposed to humidity, fading into tones of green. At times we can admire hybrid gems, known as Azurite-Malachite, in which blue and green hues intertwine creating hypnotic patterns akin to a peacock’s feather.
Hardness: A further peculiarity of this precious stone is its hardness. Azurite is actually classified a soft gem, which means it is easily chipped and scratched. It is in fact advised to treat objects made of Azurite with care as they can easily damage or break.
The temperature test: And finally, a useful test, utilised since ancient times, involves heating a fragment of the mineral. The heated sample will turn black once cooled down, due to its distinctive chemical composition and low water content.
Where can Azurite be found?
Extraction of this mesmerizing mineral takes place at several places across the globe. It is usually found together with Malachite in copper ores. However, more precious and sought after specimens are typically found in Chessy (Lyon, eastern France), in Tsumeb (northern Namibia), in Laurion (Greece) and in mines located in Arizona (United States, here there are also other minor veins in Utah and in New Mexico). A number of deposits exist in central Europe too, specifically in Moldovia and Romania, as well as in Italy. In the latter, valuable gems have been unearthed in Sardinia (in the areas of Calabona and Rosas).
A few outstanding specimens, most of them completely pseudomorphically replaced by Malachite, have been found around Broken Hill, Australia.
Properties of Azurite
In crystal healing, Azurite is considered a powerful reinvigorating gem and it is commonly used to detoxify the body by cleansing and rebalancing the thyroid gland. As it is a very absorbent stone, it can be used to purify and cleanse the body by eliminating negativity, toxins and excess energy.
On a physical level, it is generally used to alleviate pain within the joints and cervical arthritis. It is in fact considered a powerful healer for rheumatisms, arthritis, osteoporosis, scoliosis and in general any issues to do with the skeletal system, as it activates the therapeutic properties of copper. To benefit from these healing properties, merely rest the gem onto the area to be treated.
Regarding the psychic sphere, Azurite encourages an awareness of the self through introspection and contact with the subconscious. It does so by influencing the perception of oneself and activates the desire to experiment and test one’s abilities and aptitudes through new experiences. Furthermore, it positively impacts on thought, stimulating mental clarity thus improving communication and personal expression. For this reason this gem is said to favour social relations when worn in contact with the skin.
It is a gorgeous precious stone often associated with artists and students as it is known for awakening instinct, concentration and creativity.
This is a mysterious and magical stone, its captivating colour evoking the enchanting tints of dusk and of the deepest seas. It is said that if kept under one’s pillow when asleep it can trigger prophetic dreams, while if worn in contact with the skin or held in one’s fist it can reveal future events.
This mineral is linked to the element of Water, which influences the realm of emotions and femininity. More specifically, it is associated to love, healing, reconciliation, dreams and sensitivity.
Azurite is associated to the fifth chakra (Vishudda), that of the throat (hence its influence on the thyroid). It is also associated, though less frequently, to the sixth chakra (Ajna), that of the third eye (which has an impact on the aura).
Azurite and art
Across the centuries this magnificent blue mineral has been used as a natural dye for clothes and other fabrics. Finely ground, it used to be mixed in paints, creating gorgeous pigments typically utilised in the painting of frescos.
In Medieval times, when luminous and intense pigments were particularly sought after, this mineral was finely ground and mixed with natural glues to produce paints, used particularly in frescos. In the course of the thirteenth century, blue was a significant colour, representing nobility and spirituality, and was often used in backgrounds as it was thought to convey a painting with splendour and regality.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that the first synthetic blue colours and dyes were created. Prior to that, blue essentially came in two shades: ultramarine (the more precious and costly of the two, which derived from Lapis lazuli) and azurite. These two colours were similar but their costs differed hugely one from the other. In order to distinguish them and avoid fraud, colours were often tested: fragments were exposed to a source of heat and, once cooled down, those deriving from Azurite would blacken while those made from Lapis lazuli remained unchanged.
Unfortunately, with the passing of time, Azurite utilised in frescos typically underwent a metamorphosis. Once exposed to dampness and humidity, its vibrant blue colour would gradually change into deep green or, though more rarely, black. At times the powdered colour would detach from the base, revealing the underlying preparation layer of Morellone red.
Azurire through history
In ancient Egyptian and Roman times, Azurite was offered to divinities in the course of religious ceremonials as it was considered a sacred stone which could favour communication and contact with the gods.
For the Maya, this gem was used for similar purposes, revered as a sacred stone which channelled mystic communication.
In ancient Greece, once finely ground, Azurite was employed in medicine and as a dye for textiles.