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Prong, channel, and beyond: Choosing an appropriate setting style for everyday rings

By Renée Newman

Figure 1: Prong-set sapphire (1.14 carats) by Dana’s Goldsmithing. Photo courtesy Dana’s Goldsmithing
Figure 1: Prong-set sapphire (1.14 carats) by Dana’s Goldsmithing.
Photo courtesy Dana’s Goldsmithing

When selecting an everyday ring, it is important to consider more than its appearance and price. One should also make sure the ring is comfortable and practical, and that the gemstones are well-protected and secure. To address these issues, it is helpful to know the advantages and disadvantages of the various setting styles.

Claw (prong) setting

This is the most common type of setting, especially for ladies’ solitaire diamond rings (Figures 1 and 2). This style involves fitting the centre stone in a metal head or basket and securing it with a minimum of three prongs or metal claws.

Figure 2: Prong-set Canadian diamond (1.50 carats) by Dana’s Goldsmithing.
Figure 2: Prong-set Canadian diamond (1.50 carats) by Dana’s Goldsmithing.

The shape of the prongs can vary. They may be rounded, elongated, or pointed. There are many decorative variations of this setting style. Tiffany & Co. popularized the claw setting for engagement rings when it introduced its signature, elevated six-claw Tiffany setting in 1886.

Advantages

  • The claw setting allows more of the stone to be in view as compared to most other styles. This, in turn, allows more light to pass through the gem.
  • It can hold large gemstones securely when properly set. Settings with six or more prongs are more secure than those with four. If one prong of a four-prong setting is damaged, it’s easy to lose the stone; however, if one is damaged on a six-prong setting, the stone will likely stay in until the setting can be repaired.
  • It allows gemstones to be more easily cleaned than other styles (provided the prongs are not encased with a lot of metal or wire).
  • It can be used to set any type of gemstone, regardless of fragility. Claw setting is particularly popular for transparent faceted gemstones, for example.

Disadvantages

  • The claw setting may not provide as smooth a ring surface as some other styles. Sometimes prongs can get caught in clothing and hair, especially if the setting is high.
  • It does not protect gemstones as well as other styles, as most of the girdle area is left exposed. V-tips can help protect the points of marquise, heart, and pear-shape stones.

Channel setting

The channel style is often used for wedding bands, but may also be used to accent the centre stone of an engagement ring. Gemstones are suspended in a channel of vertical walls with no metal separating the stones.

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Advantages

  • Channel setting protects the girdle area of gemstones.
  • It provides a smooth ring surface.
  • It is appropriate for enhancing ring shanks and for creating linear designs with a tailored look.

Disadvantages

  • Channel setting is usually more time consuming than claw setting (especially if the stones are square and not round). Some channel setting is done cheaply and quickly by just cutting a long groove in thin metal and sliding diamonds in; however, in these designs, the stones may not be secure. When done properly, stones are placed individually in seats in a sturdy channel with sufficient metal along both sides for support.
  • This setting carries high risk in terms of potential damage to stones and should not be used for fragile gems.

Bezel (tube) setting

Figure 3: Bezel-set rhodolite garnet ring by Christine Dwane. Photo by Anthony McLean
Figure 3: Bezel-set rhodolite garnet ring by Christine Dwane.
Photo by Anthony McLean

A bezel is a band of metal surrounding the gem and holding it in place. The bezel may either fully or partially encircle the stone (Figures 3, 4, and 5).

Advantages

  • Bezel setting provides good protection for the girdle and pavilion areas of gems.
  • It can be used to set almost all gemstones without causing damage to them.
  • It provides a smooth ring surface, which does not typically snag clothing.
  • When done properly, it holds gems well and does not require repair or maintenance later on.
  • A partial bezel setting reveals more of a stone, while also allowing more light into them as well as offering good protection.

Disadvantage

  • This style is usually more time consuming and expensive as compared to claw and bead setting.

Bead or pavé setting

In this type of setting, gemstones are fit into tapered holes and set almost level with the surface of the ring. Once set, some of the surrounding metal is raised to form beads which hold the stones in place (Figure 6, page 36).

When there are two or more rows of stones set in this way without partitions between the stones, it’s called pavé—which, in French, means ‘paved’ like a cobblestone road. However, despite the distinction of rows, the jewellery trade often refers to any type of bead setting as ‘pavé.’

To help give the impression of a continuous diamond surface, it is customary to use white gold or platinum to support pavé-set diamonds, even if the rest of the mounting is yellow gold. Rhodium plating is added to further heighten this effect. If diamonds are yellowish, they tend to look better set in yellow gold without rhodium plating.

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Advantages

  • Pavé setting may protect gems better than claw because the stones are usually set lower.
  • It allows uninterrupted designs of varying width. When pavé designs are spread over the surface of a mounting, it gives the illusion gems are larger and more numerous than they actually are.

Disadvantages

Figure 4: Bezel-set aquamarine ring by Corona Jewellery accented with partial bezel-set diamonds. Photo courtesy Corona Jewellery
Figure 4: Bezel-set aquamarine ring by Corona Jewellery accented with partial bezel-set diamonds.
Photo courtesy Corona Jewellery

Generally, this is a risky setting method in terms of possible stone damage. While good diamonds, rubies, and sapphires can withstand the pressure of being pavé set, fragile stones such as emeralds, opals, tourmalines, and diamonds with large cracks might be damaged. Specifically, pavé setting does not provide as smooth of a ring surface as bezel, channel, and flush setting. Additionally, it may not be as secure as other settings.

Flush setting

Flush setting is a popular style for people who work with their hands and do not want to remove their rings. It offers good protection for gems because they are set flush in tapered holes and don’t protrude (Figure 7).

Québec-based jewellery fabrication teacher Christine Dwane divides flush setting into two types: burnish and gypsy settings. For the former, a burnishing tool is used to push metal all around the stone and the metal is pressed and hammered in place. For gypsy settings, a graver is used to raise slivers of metal that come up just above the girdle, securing the stone in place. Gypsy setting is not as risky as burnish setting. 

Advantages

  • Flush setting protects the gem’s girdle.
  • When done properly, it secures gemstones well.
  • It provides a tailored look and does not snag on clothing.

Disadvantages

  • Flush designs do not let as much light into the gem as a claw setting.
  • It is a risky setting method in terms of stone damage and shouldn’t be used for fragile gems.

Jewellers’ tips on selecting a secure setting

While working on the eighth edition of her Diamond Ring Buying Guide, this author asked several jewellers what advice they would offer to those looking for a ring they can wear continually every day. Here are their recommendations:

  1. Select a setting with at least six prongs for claw-set large diamonds. This will help prevent the diamond from being lost if one prong breaks. Some jewellers recommend six prongs for any diamond weighing more than a half carat.
  2. Make sure bead-set stones are set low and protected by adequate metal.
  3. Avoid shared bead settings which have one bead securing two diamonds, as these are not as secure as settings in which each bead secures only one stone.
  4. Remember: the smaller a diamond is, the easier it is for it to fall out of a ring, as less metal is used to secure the stone. Half pointers (0.005-carat diamonds) in halo rings look attractive, but they may fall out if they are not set by an expertly skilled craftsman.
  5. Make sure channel-set diamonds have bars below them to help prevent the channel from widening (if this happens, it is more likely the diamonds will fall out). If you think you might resize the ring at a later date, avoid rings with channel setting around the entire ring.
  6. Avoid rings with pre-set gems. (To ensure maximum security, Christine Dwane advises gems should be set after the mounting has been cast instead of being set in wax.)
  7. Beware of thin, mass-produced rings sold on the internet for bargain prices. Jewellers who must face customers when stones fall out of their rings have more of an incentive to sell securely set diamond rings than a vendor who does not replace lost stones.
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Jewellery buyers don’t typically analyze what setting styles would be best and why, but they should. Too often, jewellery that looks attractive at the time of purchase ends up being too impractical for daily wear. With a bit of forethought, however, it is possible to select a style that is not only esthetically pleasing, but functional as well.

That said, no matter how suitable the style, if a stone is not properly set in a ring, it can come out of its setting. To avoid this, it is important to work with professionals who place an importance on good craftsmanship.

Renée Newman, BA, MA, GG, is a gemmologist, lecturer, and author of 14 gem and jewellery books. She wrote her first book, the Diamond Ring Buying Guide, in 1989 while working at the Josam Diamond Trading Corporation in downtown Los Angeles. A new eighth edition was published last year. Her newest book, Diamonds: Their History, Sources, Qualities and Benefits, was released on October 1. For more information about Newman and her books, visit www.ReneeNewman.com.

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