Lapis lazuli is a natural mixture of the minerals lazurite (which lends it the striking blue colour), calcite (sometimes enough to create small white clouds) and pyrite (creating tiny gold-coloured specks). For over 6000 years the mines of Badakhstan in Afghanistan have produced the best quality lapis lazuli. It was used to make the precious pigment ultramarine, often found in miniature painting, and once rivalled gold in value. It can be carved into beads, cabochons (stones with round tops) or small objects or used in inlays or mosaics.
This ring forms part of a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet. Sir A. H. Church gave additional specimens in 1913. He also compiled the first catalogue Precious Stones: A Guide to the Townshend Collection. The first edition appeared in 1883. The stones are mounted as rings, although they may not have been intended to be worn.