Malachite the Peacock stone' one-of-a-kind banded light and dark green designs give it a unique ornamental quality unlike that of any other stone. The semi-precious stone bands are so distinctive that malachite is one of the most easily recognized minerals by the general public. The first culture to make extensive use of malachite was that of Egypt, a country whose history with malachite goes back at least as far as 4,000BC when it was heavily mined in the Sinai, near what is now the Suez Canal, and in the famous King Solomon’s mines on the Red Sea. But it was Russia’s Romanov dynasty that made Malachite synonymous with grandiose opulence. It was discovered in the foothills of the Urals near Ekaterinburg in 1635. The 19th century proved to be the golden age of Russian Malachite.
The sumptuous stone became a sign of prestige and token wealth. The Russian papers of the time wrote: “To afford having a big piece wrought in Malachite is synonymous to owning diamonds.” Due to Malachite’s relatively close proximity, Russian Tsars could easily obtain the Malachite they needed to decorate their lavish palaces, paneling walls and commissioning beautiful inlaid works of art. Much of the Malachite went into Romanov Palaces and extravagant objects d’art (The Hermitage Museum possesses a collection of over two hundred examples of ‘Palatial’ Malachite). When large-sizes articles were made of this gem in Russia, this was the very time when a special technique of composing a design of small Malachite pieces commonly called worldwide “The Russian Mosaic.
The gist of it is that a piece of the gem was sawed into thin slats, which were arranged in different patterns, and were pasted on the metal or marble base so that seams become almost invisible, then it was polished until it looked like a continuous surface. The design was formed so artistically that there was an impression as if the article was cut out of a single piece of stone. This technique was applied to coat various items of the palace interior decoration, namely columns pilasters, fire places, floor vases table tops etc. The Malachite market then spread to Europe by Russian Tsars that presented gifts to the European sovereigns. This stirred up interest in Malachite in the European luxury market. Not only the imperial court, but noblemen as well started to crave them, competing with each other for collecting Malachite items. The same is true today.
Lapis Lazuli is named from the Persian "lazhward", and literally means “blue stone”. Persian legend says that the heavens owed their blue color to a massive slab of Lapis upon which the earth rested. The Egyptians long valued this stone, not only as a source of carving and inlay material, but also in ground form as a cosmetic. The very earliest cultures valued Lapis Lazuli more highly than gold. Countless signet rings, scarabs and figures were wrought from the blue stone which Alexander the Great brought to Europe. It was used as a mineral pigment in paints from antiquity until about 1800. Unlike other pigments, it does not fade in light. In many museums, it is the one paint color which still shines through. It became very fashionable as a stone for decorative work in the 17-18th centuries.
Lapis Lazuli is a semiprecious stone valued for its deep blue color. It is not a mineral but a rock colored by lazurite. For over 6000 years the only known deposits were those at Sar-i-Sang, in a remote mountain valley in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. From here it was exported to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Sumer, and later traded throughout the East and into Europe. These mines are still producing the finest quality Lapis Lazuli today.