The Nomenclature of Jewelry

by Donald Clark CSM

The Nomenclature of Jewelry, or… “What do you call that thingy?”

While some people are happy referring to the clasp on a necklace as “that thingy,” others prefer to use the proper terminology for such things. Although there are quite a few terms related to jewelry design, once you have a clear understanding of each part of a piece of jewelry, the language becomes second nature. Because some parts are unique to specific types of jewelry, each type of jewelry will be discussed in detail. First, parts and pieces found on several different jewelry types will be explained.

Each piece of jewelry may be cast as a single piece or assembled from separate components. Individual pieces that can be used to create jewelry are called findings. This includes clasps, bails, metal loops and stringing material for threading beads, just to name a few. If you have an unfinished ring, brooch, pendant, or other item that has a place to hold a gem, it is referred to as a setting. Once a gem has been mounted in the setting; however, it is referred to by its name. For example, an unfinished pendant is referred to as a setting. After the stone has been added you would refer to it simply as a pendant.

Types of Gemstone Settings

There are quite a few different types of gemstone settings for bracelets, rings, necklaces, pendants, and earrings. Which type of setting you use depends on what type of jewelry you wish to make, the type of gemstone, and the size and finish of the stone. The three most common types of gemstone settings are bezel settings, prong settings, and channel settings.

Bezel Setting

A bezel setting is essentially a metal band that wraps around a stone. While a bezel setting is stronger and more secure than a prong or channel setting, it does not let as much light through the gemstone, which reduces its brilliance and appeal. Because of this, bezel settings are typically used with cabochons, which is a polished but unfaceted stone. Sometimes bezel settings are used with smaller, less perfect stones as well so their imperfections are not as noticeable. The majority of bezel settings are handmade to fit specific stones, although you can order bezel cups in a variety of standard sizes.

Examples of Bezel Settings

Bezel settings can be plain or fancy, and can be made from a variety of different metals. As seen above, you can even embed gemstones in a bezel.

Prong Setting

A prong setting has three or more metal tines, or prongs, that stick up and hold the gemstone in place. A setting that contains prongs is referred to as a head. This head can be soldered or welded onto a piece of jewelry, such as a ring or pendant, to allow for the mounting of a gemstone. Heads come in the same shapes as the gems they hold and must be the right size, otherwise the gem may fall out or not fit into the prong setting at all.

Prong Heads

These prong heads can be soldered onto rings, earrings, or pendants to add gemstones to the piece.

Prong heads can hold a single stone or many and can either be solid or wire baskets that simply hold one or more stones in place. Settings with more metal are stronger, so keep this in mind when looking at jewelry with prong settings, especially if you plan to wear a specific item daily. Prong settings are typically used with faceted gemstones as they allow light in and hold the gems securely. While it is possible to use prong settings with pearls, the pearls spin in the setting, which causes surface damage. Because of this, pearls are often glued in the prong setting to keep it in place. Prong settings are incredibly versatile and can be as simple or elaborate as the designer wants.

Prongs

Examples of simple prong settings.

Prong settings used in rings, especially wedding and engagement rings, are stronger than prong settings used in other types of jewelry because these rings are worn daily and the setting must be able to stand up to constant wear and tear. A newer style of prong setting, called the Tiffany setting, is also used in engagement and wedding rings. This head puts more space between the stone and the rest of the ring allowing the gemstone to really sparkle.

Wedding and Engagement Ring Prong Settings

Wedding and engagement rings typically have heavier, stronger prongs to stand up to everyday wear.

Channel Setting

The third type of gemstone setting is the channel setting. This style aligns several gems in a row. The channels are cut length wise in the ring and the stones are placed inside the channel. While channel settings can be used to make beautifully designed pieces, they are not as secure as other settings and are prone to loosing gems. For example, lifting a heavy suitcase can cause enough bend in a ring for the stones to pop out. If you chose a channel setting, make sure it has substantial metal both in the band and around the stones to make it as secure as possible.

Channel Settings

Examples of channel set gemstones.

Other Types of Settings

Marquis Cut Settings

Because marquis cut stones have sharp tips, their settings are specially designed to protect the tips.

Small Stones Settings

Settings designed specifically for smaller stones are often designed to make the gems look bigger than they actually are. Purchasing a piece with smaller stones and these enhancing settings is a great way to add sparkle to your wardrobe on a budget. Examples include rose head and buttercup settings. They resemble flowers as their names suggest and are great at highlighting smaller gems. These settings are often found in earrings and pendants.

Rose Head

A rose head earring finding.

Buttercup

A buttercup style earring finding.

 

Cluster Settings

Cluster settings are designed to house three or more stones. The tennis bracelet is a prime example of this setting type. In addition to bracelets and necklaces, cluster settings are used to create unique earrings and pendants in a variety of styles.

Cluster Settings

Samples of jewelry featuring cluster settings.

Illusion Settings

Illusion settings are used to mount a small gem into a larger setting. Although not often seen in new jewelry, these settings are a great way to keep a favorite piece of jewelry and refit it with a different gem that is smaller than the original gem.

Illusion Setting

An illusion setting is a great way to make a small gem look larger.

Bar Settings

Another type of specialty setting, the bar setting is usually made of platinum or white gold. The shiny, angled surfaces of the bar setting enhance the gem and make it appear larger. This setting is most often seen in men’s rings.

Bar

Common in men’s jewelry, a bar setting makes a smaller gem look larger.

 

Wrap-Tites

Similar in style to the bezel setting, the Wrap-Tite setting fits around the stone’s girdle to hold it firmly. These settings have a loop on one or both ends to attach them to bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. While they offer a unique shape and style, Wrap-Tite settings are not as secure as other setting types, so you may not want to use them on expensive gemstones.

Wrap-Tite

A Wrap-Tite fitting is similar in function to a bezel setting.

Pavé

Pavé means to pave, as in laying cobblestones close together. Creating a pave piece is one of the most difficult techniques and only the best goldsmiths can do it well. To create a pave setting, holes that are slightly smaller than the stone girdle’s diameter are drilled into the metal. The stones are placed inside these holes and then the prongs are pressed over the girdle of the gem using a v-shaped chisel. When set properly, light reflects all of the tables in a pave row simultaneously, creating a stunning effect.

Pave

A pave setting features many smaller gemstones mounted close together.

Click here to go to The Nomenclature of Jewelry Part 2: Bracelets and Necklaces


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