The gem settings on an engagement ring influence its overall beauty. They also play an important part in how the ring wears over time and the security of its gemstones.
This article explains the different types of gem settings that are used for centre gemstones and those that are used for accent gems. It will also give you a brief overview of the anatomy of a ring.
The Anatomy of an Engagement Ring
Engagement rings have many different parts that work together to make the ring functional and attractive. Having a general understanding of these parts will make it easier for you to notice differences between rings and help you communicate more efficiently with jewellers.
Shank - Provides a firm foundation for the gem settings and influences the ring’s style.
Bridge – Helps the ring fit comfortably. It also holds the head of the engagement ring and sometimes smaller gem settings.
Head - Stands above the bridge and showcases the centre diamond or other primary gemstones.
Gallery – An empty space that allows additional light to reach the centre gemstone. This increases the gem’s sparkle and brilliance.
Gallery rail – Adds strength to the head and helps protect the centre gemstone.
Shoulders – Function as transition areas and are often set with accent gems.
Centre stone – The gemstone that is the highlight and focal point of the ring.
Side stones – Gemstones placed beside the centre gemstone to add extra brilliance and sometimes even colour.
Accent stones – Small gemstones used to enhance beauty and sparkle.
Settings and prongs – Hold the gemstones in place and protect them.
Sizing area – Makes it possible to adjust the ring’s size when necessary.
- Hallmark - Guarantees the quality of the precious metal in an engagement ring.
The Different Settings Used for Centre Gemstones
The settings that are used to hold gemstones in an engagement ring can be categorized as the settings used for centre gemstones and those used for accent gems.
There are 4 main settings that are used for centre gemstones. Each of these settings has its own beauty, advantages and disadvantages.
1. The prong setting
The prong setting has been used for engagement rings for hundreds of years but has never gone out of style due to its beauty and practicality.
The prong setting has a basket at its base. This basket is made so that the pavilion, or bottom section, of a diamond or other gemstone will fit firmly inside of it.
At various intervals around the top of the basket, there are tiny metal prongs that reach up to the crown of the gem. Jewellers bend these tiny prongs over the girdle of the gemstone so that they grip the crown of the gem securely.
The prongs used in this setting can be made in different styles
The number of prongs that a prong setting has varies according to the style of the ring and the shape of the gem being used. Most prong settings have 4 or 6 prongs.
Jewellers have to find a balance between beauty and security as they decide how many prongs to put on a setting. A setting with only 4 prongs is often more beautiful because it allows more light to reach the gem and consequently increases brilliance.
However, depending on the shape and size of the gem, 4 prongs may not hold the gem securely enough. In this case, the jeweller can opt to use 6 prongs on the setting.
Prongs can be set in different orientations
The prongs in a prong setting can be set in a variety of ways. The most attractive are the standard orientation of 4 prongs forming a square, 4 prongs set diagonally and 6 prongs forming a hexagon.
Advantages of the prong setting:
- Raises the centre diamond or other primary gemstone and gives it emphasis.
- Minimal presence of gold and other precious metals. This increases light play, brilliance and fire.
- Can be used with gems of any size or shape.
- It is a universal setting that overflows with classical beauty.
- Requires minimal maintenance and is easy to clean.
- The height of the setting and style of the prongs can be personalized.
- Keeps the centre gemstone safe and secure.
Disadvantages of the prong setting:
- The prongs can become loose over time, but most jewellers check and tighten the prongs during routine cleanings to prevent this from happening.
- If the prong setting is set too high, it can catch on clothing. It is important to buy engagement rings with prong settings from experienced jewellers who will design the setting with an ideal height.
Interesting trivia: Most famous engagement rings use prong settings for the centre gemstone. For example: In 1968, Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor one of the largest engagement rings of all time. Its centre stone was a 33 carat, Asscher cut diamond that was held in place by a prong setting.
2. The bezel setting
The bezel setting is well-liked for engagement rings because it has a smooth, glossy beauty and exceptional security.
The bezel setting resembles a small metal cup with a thin rim. The engagement ring’s centre gemstone is placed inside the cup and then the rim is carefully folded over the top of the gem and polished.
The bezel setting can be made in various shapes
Bezel settings can be made to fit gemstones of any shape and size. After they have been made, the sides of the setting can be left with a smooth, sleek finish or decorated with tiny accent stones and engravings.
The bezel setting is one of the most secure settings available
Because the bezel setting is made from one piece of metal that folds over the top of the gem, it is extremely secure. There is practically no risk of the diamond or other gemstone falling out of the setting. The bezel setting also keeps the gemstone from being scratched or chipped as the ring is worn.
Jewellers frequently recommend the bezel setting for people who lead very active lives since it helps the ring to wear well and gives the centre gemstone extra protection.
Advantages of the bezel setting:
- Provides extra security.
- Keeps the centre gemstone from being chipped or scratched.
- Does not snag on clothing since the top of the setting is smooth.
- Wears exceptionally well even for people with an active lifestyle.
- Easy to clean and requires almost no professional maintenance.
Disadvantages of the bezel setting:
- Depending on how it is made, the bezel setting can make the gemstone look smaller than it actually is.
- Reduces sparkle and brilliance and must be well-made to compensate for this.
Interesting trivia: The bezel setting is one of the oldest gem settings around. Ancient Roman jewellers used it to set red garnets, purplish-blue amethyst and orange carnelian in all types of jewellery and weaponry during the 1st century A.D.
3. The tension setting and the tension-style setting
Engagement rings with a true tension setting capture the grace and elegance of Art Nouveau. They have a specially-designed shank that is left open at the top. This opening is carefully made so that it exerts a significant amount of pressure when it is widened.
When jewellers are ready to set a diamond or other gemstone in a tension setting like this, they carefully measure the gemstone and then cut small grooves in each side of the shank’s opening to hold the edges of the gem.
They then widen the opening in the shank and place the gem between the two ends. The ends of the shank close on the gem and apply enough pressure to hold it in place.
Engagement rings with tension settings are attractive and intriguing because their centre gemstone seems suspended in the air. They do have several serious disadvantages, though, for example:
- They are fragile and easily damaged.
- The gemstone can become loose and fall out.
- They are difficult to resize.
- Their shank tends to be heavier and thicker than other rings.
- They are difficult to make and end up being significantly more expensive than other rings.
Considering these disadvantages, here at Beldiamond we do not recommend that our clients purchase engagement rings with tension settings. We suggest that they consider rings with tension-style settings instead.
Tension-style settings combine beauty with practicality and security
Tension-style settings are made to mimic the tension settings. They are graceful and elegant, and look as if their diamond or other gemstone is floating in thin air.
The difference is that tension-style settings do not use pressure to hold the gemstone. Instead, they always have a discrete bezel setting or a few prongs located behind or to the side of the gem to hold it securely in place.
Engagement rings with tension-style settings are much more practical to make and use than those with true tension settings. Tension-style settings also provide much better security for the gemstone.
Tension-style settings are versatile and easy to personalize
Most tension-style settings are made for round brilliant diamonds or other round gemstones, but they can be modified to fit many other shapes.
The setting can also be modified to have accent gems around the centre stone or to allow for a side stone on each side of the centre stone.
Advantages of the tension-style setting:
- Holds the centre gemstone securely.
- Is not fragile and wears well.
- Can be personalized.
- Creates an optical illusion of the centre gemstone hanging in the air.
- Have a modern design that is full of grace and elegance.
- Easy to clean and maintain.
Disadvantages of the tension-style setting:
- If it has prongs, they can become loose with wear. This is easily remedied by having the ring regularly cleaned and checked by a jeweller.
- It is often impractical to use a tension-style setting for an especially large diamond or other gemstone.
Interesting trivia: The first ring with a true tension setting was made in Vreden, Germany in the 1970s. Ursula Exner and well-known sculptor Walter Wittek worked together to design and make this first ring. In the following years, other jewellers designed their own tension settings, as well as the more secure and practical tension-style settings.
4. The flush setting
The flush setting is one of the lesser-known settings for engagement rings, but it deserves some attention for its unique beauty.
Jewellers make the flush setting by carefully drilling holes into the shank of the ring and then placing the diamonds or other gemstones into the holes. Once the gems are in their places, the jewellers carefully hammer the metal around the rim of the hole so that it lays smoothly and holds the gems securely.
The gemstones in a flush setting are even or “flush” with the surface of the ring’s shank. This gives the ring a simple, but stylish beauty that works well for both men and women’s wedding rings, as well as engagement rings.
The flush setting represents a free spirit and can be easily personalized
The flush setting is sometimes also called a gypsy setting. We can’t say for sure how it came to have that name, but perhaps it is because the setting represents a free spirit. A free spirit isn’t afraid to be independent, to break a few traditions and to look for beauty in unexpected places.
Flush settings work well for round, square or rectangular gemstones, but they can be hard to adapt to certain fancy cuts, for example, a heart-shaped diamond.
Advantages of the flush setting:
- Keeps the gemstones safe and secure.
- Wears especially well.
- Practical for people with active lifestyles.
- Stands out for having a simple, but stylish beauty.
- Easy to clean and requires no special maintenance.
- Reminds the owner to cultivate a free spirit.
Disadvantages of the flush setting:
- Since the gems are set in the shank, they receive a limited amount of light and produce less brilliance.
- Often impractical for heart-shaped gems and a few other gems with fancy cuts.
Interesting trivia: Rings with flush or gypsy settings have been around since the late 1800s. Back then jewellers often set a variety of colourful stones in the ring’s shank and then etched stars, crescents or geometric shapes around them.
The Different Settings Used for Accent Gemstones
Solitaire engagement rings have only one centre gemstone on a plain band. Many other engagement rings, though, also have accent gemstones.
Accent gems can be diamonds or a variety of other precious stones. They usually range in size from tiny to moderate and are set close together.
Accent gems are added to engagement rings specifically to increase brilliance and sparkle. They can also add different colours or shapes to the ring and influence its overall style.
There are 4 settings that are widely used to hold accent gemstones.
1. The castle or scallop setting
The castle setting earned its name because from the side it looks like the battlements on top of a castle wall. This setting is also frequently called the scallop setting.
Castle settings are made directly on the shank of the ring. They include small indentions that hold the base of the gemstones and each indention has four tiny prongs that fold over the top of the gem.
The prongs in a castle setting can be straight up and down with simple rounded tips or they can be cut at an angle so that they resemble fishtails. These fishtail prongs can also be called French cut prongs.
Castle settings are very versatile. They can be set completely around the shank, just placed across the ring’s shoulders or used to create a halo around the centre gemstone. In all of these cases, the setting holds round brilliant cut diamonds or other gemstones close together so that they form a row of eye-catching sparkles and fire. The metal sides of the castle setting are always cut low, usually in a scallop pattern. This allows more light to reach the accent gems and increases their brilliance.
If it is well made, the low scalloped edge of the castle setting can also create an optical illusion. It allows the sides of the gemstones to be easily seen and creates the impression that the gems are being held in an invisible setting.
Advantages of the castle setting:
- Holds the accent gems securely.
- Increases light refraction and brilliance.
- Catches attention with its sparkles.
- Creates the illusion of an invisible setting.
- Has an elegant beauty.
- Easy to clean and requires little maintenance.
Disadvantages of the castle setting:
- The small prongs can become loose. We recommend that rings with the castle setting be cleaned occasionally by a jeweller, so that the prongs can be checked. Here at Beldiamond, we offer a complementary replacement in the rare event that an accent stone falls out and is lost.
- The prongs on a castle setting can catch on clothing, but this is rare because the prongs are smooth.
Interesting trivia: The castle setting can be used to make beautiful eternity rings. The first eternity rings were designed in the 1960s. Those original rings, like eternity rings today, have a row of closely set gemstones completely encircling their shank. This unending circle of gems symbolizes eternal love.
2. The bead setting
The bead setting is another outstanding setting for accent gemstones. As its name suggests, this setting is characterized by tiny beads or bearings that hold the gems in place.
The bead setting is made by cutting a narrow channel in the shank of the engagement ring. Shallow holes are then drilled at even intervals all along the channel and two tiny prongs topped with a bead of precious metal are placed after each hole.
After the setting is finished, jewellers set an accent diamond or other gemstone in each hole and adjust the beads so that they hold the gems firmly above their girdles.
The bead setting is a very secure setting. The sides of the channel protect the accent gems from bumps and scratches and the beaded prongs rarely become loose.
One downside of the bead setting is that the gemstones receive less light because they are set down in the channel. This results in the gems producing slightly less brilliance and sparkle.
The tiny metal beads on each prong come to the rescue, though. Every gem in the bead setting is surrounded by 4 shiny beads that are level with the top of the shank.
These beads catch the light and emit their own sparkles in every direction. The beads’ sparkles together with the brilliance and sparkles produced by the accent gems bring the bead setting to life and give it continuous sparkles.
Jewellers use the bead setting in many ways. They can use it to make eternity rings, as well as to decorate the simple shank or more intricate split shank that some engagement rings have.
The Pavé Setting is a variation of the bead setting
In the basic bead setting, the accent gems are set in one straight line. Occasionally, though, jewellers will increase the sparkle on an engagement ring by adding two or more parallel lines of bead set gems.
In these cases, the bead setting changes its name to a pavé setting, because the gems “pave” the shank of the ring.
Advantages of the bead and pavé setting:
- Offers extra security and protection.
- Prongs are almost invisible.
- Produces continuous sparkles.
- Has a delicate beauty.
- Easy to clean.
- Prongs do not become loose or catch on clothing.
Disadvantages of the bead and pavé setting:
- Less light reaches the gemstones and causes a decrease in brilliance and sparkle, but the beads in the setting make their own sparkles and help compensate for this disadvantage.
- The channel hides the girdles of the accent gems and can make them look smaller than they actually are, but this is not a major concern in relation to accent gems.
Interesting trivia: You can tell if a bead setting is well-made or not by looking at the intervals between the gems. A poorly-made setting will have slightly uneven intervals. In contrast, the high-quality settings are carefully designed down to the last fraction of a millimetre and will have even intervals. These intervals usually measure one-tenth of a millimetre.
3. The channel setting
This third accent setting stands out from many others because it is secure and beautiful, but doesn’t use prongs to hold the gems in place.
The channel setting is made by cutting a channel in the shank of the engagement ring. This channel must be tailormade to fit the width and depth of the gemstones that are going to be set in it.
If the channel is cut too deep, the gems will be dark with little brilliance. If it is cut too shallow, the gems will protrude above the shank of the ring and run the risk of being damaged or coming loose.
The ideal channel holds the crown of the gemstones even with the surface of the shank.
Once the channel has been cut to perfection, jewellers add either small lips to the top of the channel or etched grooves along its sides to hold the gemstones in place.
One of the benefits of the channel setting is that it allows accent diamonds or other gemstones to be set right up against each other. This forms an unbroken line of brilliance and fire when diamonds are used or a continuous line of colour and sparkle when sapphires, rubies, emeralds, or other gems are used.
Like other accent settings that include a channel, the channel setting does limit the amount of light that enters through the sides and bottom of the gems.
However, since the channel setting holds the gems even with the shank of the ring, light is able to enter and reflect out of the crown of the gems.
The channel setting can be used in many different ways. It can be the primary decoration on a ring or be used as a complementary decoration. It can also be made to hold round, square or even baguette-shaped gemstones.
The channel setting is very symmetrical and brings sophisticated beauty to any ring. It is widely used for engagement rings but is also popular for wedding rings.
Advantages of the channel setting:
- It is a very safe setting.
- Does not use prongs.
- Allows the accent gems to be set in a continuous line.
- Brings a sophisticated beauty to the ring.
- Easy to clean and requires only basic maintenance.
- Has a smooth surface that does not catch on clothing.
Disadvantages of the channel setting:
- The channel reduces the amount of light that enters the gems from the sides and bottom. The gems, however, are even with the surface of the shank and this allows ample light to enter and exit out of their crown.
- If the channel setting encircles the entire shank, it can make the ring difficult to resize.
Interesting trivia: Today most channel settings are set horizontally across rings. Years ago, though, it was common to set them vertically and it wasn’t unusual to find an engagement ring that had three primary coloured stones, for example blue sapphires, separated by vertical channel settings filled with diamonds.
4. The bar Setting
The bar setting is perhaps one of the newest settings for accent gems. It leaves behind the prongs and channels that have held accent gems for many years and boldly proposes a new design – a design where bars hold the gemstones in place.
Bar settings have a basket at their base. This basket can be round, square or baguette-shaped depending on the gems that are going to be set in it.
On either side of the basket, there is a bar made out of precious metal. These bars are usually perpendicular to the shank of the ring, but occasionally they can also be parallel.
Each of the bars has a groove etched into it at the level of the gemstone’s girdle. When a gemstone is set in the basket of a bar setting, its girdle fits firmly into the grooves on either side of it and it is held securely.
One of the benefits of the bar setting is that it only touches the gem on two sides. This leaves the other two sides open and allows more light to travel through the gem which produces more brilliance and sparkle.
The bar setting can be used in many ways on engagement and wedding rings. It can be the only setting used for accent gemstones or it can be paired with other settings to create a unique design.
No matter how it is used, the bar setting adds a touch a boldness to the ring and gives it a fresh, modern beauty.
Advantages of the bar setting:
- Holds the gemstones firmly.
- Allows additional light to reach the gems.
- Increases brilliance and sparkle.
- Can be used in unique designs.
- Has a modern style and beauty.
- Easy to clean and wears well.
Disadvantages of the bar setting:
- The bars sometimes stand above the gemstones and on rare occasions may catch on clothing.
- If bar settings completely encircle a ring, it can make the ring difficult to resize.
Interesting trivia: Engagement rings have been used for about 600 years, but they only began to be overwhelmingly popular in the mid-1900s. A few years after this, jewellers began to design stackable engagement and wedding rings that become more beautiful and eye-catching when they were worn together. Some of these stackable rings incorporate bar settings in their designs.
In conclusion, ring settings help determine beauty and security
The gem settings on an engagement ring may seem like minor details at first glance. When you consider them carefully, though, it is easy to understand how they add beauty to a ring and influence the security of both the centre and accent gemstones.
There are two other aspects of an engagement ring that greatly influence its ultimate beauty. The first of these is often overlooked and that is the ring’s general style. The second aspect is the engagement ring’s gemstones, which can be diamonds, sapphires, rubies or emeralds.