Protective Gem Settings for Rings


Summary
Some beautiful gems, like pearls, opals, and tanzanites, are very vulnerable to impacts and scratches, especially when worn on rings. Even more durable stones like rubies and diamonds can be damaged or lost if they catch on clothing or other objects. Protective gem settings can help your prized jewelry pieces last a lifetime. We’ll cover some of the most popular and practical choices here.
Reading time: 10 min 56 sec
ring with bezel and channel settings - protective gem settings
This award-winning ring by Lindsay Jane Designs features a bezel-set bi-color sapphire center stone and channel-set stones on the sides. Photo courtesy of the American Gem Trade Association, taken by Brian Moghadam Photography.

To get the most from your jewelry, familiarize yourself with gemstone wearability factors and the safest cleaning methods. Of course, your gems are most vulnerable when worn. If you’re having your ring custom designed, discuss protective gem settings with your jeweler. If you’re shopping for commercial jewelry, consider rings with the following types of settings and choose one that’s best for you.

Bezel Setting

Perhaps the most well-known protective setting, bezel settings wrap the gemstone in metal. In contrast, popular prong settings leave the sides of the stone exposed. Only the top surface of a bezel-set stone remains exposed.

A bezel setting will hold a gem very securely. You’re less likely to snag a bezel-set gemstone ring, especially if combined with a smooth band. Since a bezel setting covers most of a gem, it’s well-protected from damage. You’ll also find bezel-set gems easy to clean, since they have fewer places to trap dirt.

bezel-set diamond ring - protective gem settings
Bezel-set diamond ring. Photo by Christina Rutz. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Bezel settings are also versatile stylistically. Some people may like them because they prefer a clean, modern design. However, bezel settings are one of the oldest known ring styles, perfect for a vintage or ancient look.

victorian-style ring with bezel-set amethyst - protective gem settings
Victorian-style sterling silver ring with bezel-set amethyst cabochon. Jewelry and photo by Nana Louise Nielsen. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Jewelers can also adapt bezel settings to the cut of the stone, not only rounds but also, for example, asscher, marquise, and emerald cuts.

Bezel settings do have one main drawback. They obscure the sides of the stone, thus reducing the amount of light that strikes or bounces out of the stone. This diminishes the stone’s brilliance.

half-bezel setting - protective gem settings
A half-bezel setting offers a compromise between excellent protection and brilliance. Half-bezel solitaire diamond and platinum engagement ring. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Dtrinder Inc.

Tension Setting

Tension settings consist of two metal bands holding a faceted center stone. This creates a stunning, gravity-defying look, as the gem appears suspended between the bands. Although it looks precariously perched, the stone is actually very snugly secured by grooves lasered into the metal. The stone’s girdle slides into the grooves, and the tension of the metal bands holds it in place.

tension-set diamond ring - protective gem settings
Titanium engagement ring band with a 0.1-ct, brilliant-cut, tension-set diamond. Photo by Dzol. Licensed under CC By-SA 3.0.

Jewelers can use tension settings on stones of all shapes. Unlike bezel settings, most of the gem remains uncovered. However, jewelers can also extend the bands over the top and bottom of the stone for additional protection. This still allows more brilliance than bezel settings. Tension settings also require less maintenance than prong-set rings. (Jewelers must periodically check prongs for signs of wear or weakness).

titanium engagement ring with tension-set diamond - protective gem settings
Custom titanium engagement ring with a tension-set diamond. Photo by Ryan McFarland. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Tension-set rings may present some problems. Resizing one is difficult and, therefore, expensive. Covering the girdle of a gem on each side may also make the stone appear smaller, especially if the metal bands are thick. If the ring is struck with great force, the stone could still fall out.

Tension-Style Setting

Although similar in appearance to a tension setting, the tension-style setting actually works more like a bezel setting. The stone looks as if it were suspended by metal bands, but a bezel setting at the bottom of the stone actually secures it. This makes tension-style rings easier and less expensive to create than tension-set rings.

tension-style setting featuring pink sapphire - protective gem settings
An oval-cut pink sapphire in a tension-style ring setting. Photo and design by Nina Elle Jewels. Used with permission.

The pros and cons of this setting are what you might expect from a compromise between bezel and tension settings. Although more secure than a tension setting, it’s less secure than a bezel setting. (Some tension-style rings may use prong settings to secure the stone instead of bezels. These will require more maintenance). The brilliance of a tension-style set gem will also fall somewhere between that of a bezel and tension-set gem.

Channel Setting

Channel settings are great for getting small gems into a ring band, especially wedding bands. Jewelers set the stones closely together, fitting them into the grooves of a channel, making them flush with the band. A ring can have channel settings at the top or sides of the band, or both. This setting is also a popular way to accent center stones.

channel-set emerald band - protective gem settings
Channel-set emerald band, 14k white gold. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Dtrinder Inc.

Like bezels, channel settings make great protective gem settings. The metal securely holds the stones in place and shields them from scratches and impacts. Of course, channel-set gems won’t have great brilliance, although this matters less with smaller stones. They’ll sparkle enough for accents. Channel-set stones won’t snag on materials.

large rubellites in channel settings - protective gem settings
Channel settings may even work well with larger gemstones. Both 7-ct rubellites and 3 small diamonds are protected by channel settings in this very striking 14k white gold ring. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Prince Gems.

Unlike bezel-set jewelry, channel-set jewelry is harder to clean. Dirt can become trapped in the channels. Resizing will also prove difficult and expensive. Should a jeweler accidentally bend the channels, the stones may come loose.

Protective Gem Settings for Cabochons and Soft Materials

All of the above settings, except the bezel setting, are more appropriate for faceted stones. Protective settings for cabochons and soft gem materials, like pearl and opal, rely partly on the ingenuity of their design.

Pearls

Although easily harmed by heat, chemicals, and hard objects, pearls enjoy great popularity due to their unique, soft glow. If you’re considering a pearl for a ring stone, consult our article on pearl engagement rings.

The following protective gem settings can reveal the beauty of your pearl securely on your ring. 

The Cage Design

You’ll find the cage setting more commonly used for pearl pendants than rings, but it works for both. In pendant designs, the pearl typically rolls around loosely within the protection of a metal cage. In ring designs, jewelers will glue the pearl to the ring and either wrap the cage directly around the pearl or extend it outwards to encircle the pearl like a bubble.

pearl cage ring - protective gem settings
Many ring designers will encase the pearl in a beautiful spiral cage. Pink freshwater pearl in 14k rose gold cage with diamonds. © Urth Kandi Jewelry. Used with permission.

Cage settings entice the viewer to examine the pearl while effectively protecting it from scratches and blows.

pearl cage pendant - protective gem settings
Pearl cage settings for pendants have inspired jewelers looking for pearl ring settings. This pendant features a pearl locked in a silver lotus-shaped cage. © Mermaid’s Sparkle Shop. Used with permission.
The Bowl Design

A bowl design consists of a pearl surrounded by a metal hemisphere or bowl. As a result, the pearl is visible mostly from the top of the ring but not the sides. This setting can vary greatly in appearance, from abstract, modern looks to very ornate, flower-like shapes.

flower-like bowl setting for pearl ring - protective gem settings
This 14k gold ring features a Japanese cultured pearl in a beautiful flowery bowl setting. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and IEGOR Auctions.

The bowl shields the pearl from blows from the side. If the pearl is flush or sunk into the bowl, its top is also protected from scratches. Although less protective overall than the cage design, the bowl design does offer an unobstructed view of the pearl (at least from the top).

The Arch Design

This design protects the pearl not only with metal but also with the wearer’s hand itself! The metal band wraps around the ring finger as well as the top of the pearl. An arch setting will make your ring look like an architectural masterpiece. While not as protective as the cage or bowl, the arch design does reveal more of the pearl.

pearl arch design - protective gem settings
14k white gold ring with a Tahitian pearl in an arch setting. © Urth Kandi Jewelry. Used with permission.

The main drawback to this design is that it puts the pearl in direct contact with the wearer’s finger. If you choose this setting, avoid using sunscreen, perfume, or other chemicals that could potentially harm the pearl on your ring hand. Also, make sure the pearl’s surface is smooth enough not to irritate your finger.

Opals

Another notoriously fragile gem, opals come in many shapes and sizes. Thus, designers have to get inventive when it comes to creating protective gem settings for these stones. In rings, most opals receive bezel settings. In general, the less domed the opal, the easier it is to protect, since less of the stone protrudes above the setting.

If you’re considering an opal for a ring stone, consult our article on opal engagement rings. Furthermore, keep in mind that assembled opal doublets and triplets will give you additional durable and secure options. The protective gem settings below are suitable for both assembled and whole, natural opals.

bezel-set opals - protective gem settings
Ring with bezel-set opals. Photo by James Petts. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.
Solid Backings

When designing an opal ring, you can choose whether or not to make the backing of the ring solid. Empty or open backings allow light to play around more when passing through the opal. Some opals may shine red or orange when the light shines through them. Solid or closed backings remove this effect. However, they also help reinforce thinner, more delicate opals, making them less likely to shatter.

Choosing a solid backing doesn’t mean you’re closing the door on spectacular displays. In fact, a solid black backing can also increase the intensity of an opal’s play-of-color effect. However, the color of the ring metal also plays a role here. With a thin opal, white or rose gold may wash out the opal’s color. Discuss backing and ring metal color options with your jeweler.

Raised Prongs

Adding thick, designer prongs to a bezel setting will give an opal more protection from blows and scratches. It also adds some pizzazz to a ring. These prongs don’t have to be metal claws. For example, trios of bezel-set diamonds can secure a corner of a square or tear-shaped cabbed opal. Any thick prongs or gems that rise above the opal can provide some protection.

bezel-set opal ring with raised prongs - protective gem settings
Even three short prongs that rise over a bezel-set opal can provide some additional protection. “Favorite ring ever,” photo by Alexa LaSpisa. Licensed under CC By 2.0.
Raised Border

The idea of the raised border is similar to that of the raised prongs. If a border around the opal protrudes slightly above it, the opal will be protected from most blows. This design offers even more protection than raised prongs, although it will also allow less light to reach the stone.

opal pendant with raised borders - protective gem settings
Raised borders, like those shown in this pendant, can also be applied to opal ring settings. Custom-cast sterling silver snake pendant with Mexican fire opals. Collaboration between Mark Anderson and Martha Borzoni. Photo by Jessa and Mark Anderson. Licensed under CC By 2.0.
Setting Stones or Metal Leafing Over an Opal

Opals have inspired some unique jewelry designs and protective gem settings. Some designers, such as Paula Crevoshay, will glue an additional stone or add metal leafing right on the center of the opal. This protects the most vulnerable part of the opal and adds visual interest. Other designers have covered opals with thin diamond-and-metal vines — or something with a similar motif — that function like cage settings.

Amber

Like opal, amber comes in unusual shapes and sizes. It’s also soft and can be damaged easily. Jewelers usually bezel set amber stones in rings with solid backings. As with opals, designers sometimes use metal leafing to cover portions of the amber stone for additional protection. 

bezel-set amber ring - protective gem settings
Antique handmade silver ring, made in Nepal, with bezel-set Tibetan amber. Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Pristine Gems.

About the author
Phoebe Shang, GG
A gem lover and writer, Phoebe holds a graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America and masters in writing from Columbia University. She got her start in gemology translating and editing Colored Stone and Mineral Highlights for a professor based in Shanghai. Whether in LA, Taipei, or New York, Phoebe spends her time searching for gems to design and being lost in good books.
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