Lapis Lazuli

I’m having a lapis lazuli period at the moment. Months can go by without sight of a lapis pen, then they come flocking in. I’ve had four in the last three weeks, which is a record for me. I’m especially fond of lapis lazuli, in all its surprisingly varied forms.

In the 1920s, as the potential of celluloid began to be understood and more adventurously developed, a vogue for gemstone-themed patterns began. Jade and lapis lazuli, the earliest examples of this trend, were never very true to the appearance of the gemstone, but were more patterns in their own right. A little later, Waterman’s patterns such as Red Quartz or Onyx were very close to the original. Not just pretty patterns, these gemstone colours were at the heart of the spirit of the time. The use of gemstone in statuette bases, desk sets, clock cases, bookends and the like is very much an Art Deco expression, and these pens formed part of the same taste. By the late thirties the fashion was largely over, but in the intervening years some of the most beautiful and striking celluloid pens were produced. Lapis lazuli, along with the rest, disappeared from the pen catalogues until recently, when it was brought back as a revival by several modern pen companies, most notably by Kaweco and Cross.

Parker, I believe, began the fashion. They had two main patterns, one dark blue with light blue inclusions, the other dark blue with off white inclusions. A third one is sometimes seen, a more marbled dark blue/light blue pattern, as in this Lucky Curve Parker Lady:

It was the one with the light blue inclusions that was copied most, and many manufacturers like Conway Stewart and Swan had versions. Here’s a classic example in an English Jewel pen:

Some, such as Swan, went for a blue and black streaked version, which seems to me pretty far from the gemstone original, but is nonetheless accepted as lapis lazuli:

As I’d never seen an example, either illustrated or in reality, I long believed that Swan didn’t make lapis lazuli pens. They do, of course, both in Leverless form and in their self-fillers. A Swan 230 in a good lapis pattern would be pretty much my ideal pen.

The most authentic-looking pattern I have seen so far is in an English no-name lever-filler flat-top:

That really does evoke the gemstone.

Though it doesn’t discolour as readily or as badly as some other celluloid patterns, like jade, black and cream or onyx, lapis lazuli can be spoiled by an out-gassing rubber sac, and should always be repaired using a silicon sac.


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