Have you ever stopped for a moment to study a piece of gemstone jewellery and looked closely at how the gem is held in place? The craftsmanship and ingenuity that goes into each and every setting is astonishing. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at some of the more popular styles and the work that goes into each.
Also known as a claw setting, this is the most easily recognised setting, as well as being the most popular for solitaire engagement rings. With three, four, or six prongs, this is always an eye-catching and classic look. However, it isn’t the most practical setting, as the gem and prongs are prominent and might catch on clothes and are more prone to damage. The advantage of this setting is that plenty of light gets to the back of the gem, increasing the stone’s brilliance.
The prongs might be rounded or flat, and different thicknesses of prongs are available. Obviously a thicker prong is the most secure. The head is often made separately to the shank and then soldered together, making it easier to produce one-of-a-kind pieces. The prongs are closed firmly over the gem and smoothed off with a tool called a cup bur. It is important to check the setting every once in a while since gems can eventually wear through a prong if they become loose.
This is the most protective setting for a gemstone. The bezel surrounds the gem, protecting its sides. This is definitely worth thinking about if you are buying a softer stone you intend to wear often. It is also a very contemporary look and can sometimes make a gem appear a little bigger if the stone matches the colour of the metalwork. One disadvantage is that less light reaches the back of the gem.
Bezel settings can be made in two ways – if a piece of jewellery is cast, the bezel might be integrated into the piece, but if the whole design is made by hand then the bezel is carefully wrapped around the gem and soldered onto the shank. A groove is made inside the metal and the girdle of the gem slots inside the groove. The bezel is folded over to keep the gem in place, providing a very secure setting. Historically, bezel settings have been very popular for cabochon cut gemstones, but cut gems set in this way can give a very contemporary look.
The Pavé (pronounced pa-vay) setting is named after the French word for paved or cobblestoned. Just like a pavement of sparkle, gemstones are set closely together in rows or blocks, creating more lustre. This setting can emphasise the look of a larger stone by surrounding it with a seamless halo of gems. One of the most glamorous looks, pavé settings hark back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, with a display of sparkle reminiscent of paparazzi flashbulbs on the most dazzling of red carpets.
Pavé setting is painstaking work – each piece is carefully marked out and then drilled by hand. The gems are held in place by little beads in the metal setting, usually lifted by a tool known as a graver. These beads are then pushed over the gemstone’s edges and rounded off with a beading tool. You are most likely to see pavé settings in cluster designs, eternity rings, or halo designs.
Also known as a burnish setting, a flush setting is when a gem is set into the metalwork, leaving its table on a level with the surrounding metal. A flush setting protects the gem, whilst giving a sleek, contemporary look.
Flush settings are made in a similar way to pavé settings. A hole is drilled through the metalwork, then widened to fit the gem. Instead of being held in place by beads, the jeweller uses a burnishing tool on the metal around the edge of the gem, raising the metalwork up slightly to form a lip which keeps the gem firmly in place. In both flush settings and pavé settings, the setting is often left slightly open at the back to allow the gem to be cleaned.
Channel settings are some of the most elegant rings. Often found in eternity and half eternity bands, as well as being used for accent gems on classically styled engagement rings, channel settings are more popular than ever. Round cuts, princess cuts and baguette cuts all look stunning in channel settings. Another popular look involves alternating Diamonds and coloured gemstones for a contemporary look. Channel settings protect gems very well, so are ideal for day-to-day wear.
A tricky setting to master, precision is needed at every step to ensure the gems are aligned and evenly spaced. Once each gem is slid along the rail into the right place, the setter pushes the metalwork over the stone’s edge to secure it. A drawback with this setting is that it is difficult to resize rings set this way since the channels holding the gems can lose their shape. One or two sizes of adjustment is usually possible as long as the ring is not a full eternity band.
One of the most complex settings is the invisible setting – a seamless array of gems set in a grid side by side, with no indication as to how they are held in place. The advantage of this setting is that it gives the look of one huge gem, but since a larger gem is more expensive than the combined value of many smaller gems, an invisible set ring will be significantly more affordable than a solitaire of the same size.
Invisible settings are created by a complex grid system of rails hidden below the gems. A groove is carefully cut into each gem, just under the girdle. This then snaps into place on the rails below. This sounds simple enough, but the precision and care needed in an invisible setting are astonishing. As with channel settings, it is important to check your jewellery every now and again for loose gems. A heavy knock to an invisible set ring with loose gems could cause a stone to fall out.
If you’re after the look of a big gem, but you’re on a tight budget, an illusion setting might be something to consider. If you haven’t seen one before, usually a colourless gem (often a Diamond) is put in a silver or white gold setting which enhances its apparent size.
Illusion setting was invented in the late 1860s. The gem is held in a pavé setting, and the metal surrounding the gem is bright cut with a graver, using sharp angled cuts which shine and twinkle in the light. This tricks the eye into seeing the outline of the gem as larger than it is. This is why we recommend an illusion set gem if you’re on a tight budget, but would prefer a larger look.