Jewelry Nomenclature: Gem Settings


Step 1: Introduction to Gemology

Lesson 17

gem settings - rhinestones
For the perfect jewelry piece, designers and consumers can choose from many different gem settings. There are styles to showcase any type of gemstone. The rhinestones in this vintage brooch look wonderful in bezel, channel, and pavé settings. “Exquisite 1930s Clear & Emerald Green Pave Set Rhinestone Brooch” by GlitzUK is licensed under CC By-ND 2.0

Basic Jewelry Terminology

Many people are happy referring to the clasp on a necklace as “that thingy.” A few prefer using the proper terminology. There are indeed many terms related to jewelry designs and gem settings. However, once you have a clear understanding of each part of a jewelry piece, the terminology will become second nature.

Since some parts are unique to specific types of jewelry, each type will be discussed in detail in our Jewelry Nomenclature series. First, a brief explanation of parts and pieces found in several different jewelry types is in order.

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. If you have an unfinished ring, brooch, pendant, or other item with a place to hold a gem, it’s referred to as a setting. After a gem has been mounted in the setting, the jewelry piece is referred to by its name. For example, an unfinished pendant is called a setting. After the stone has been added, you would simply call it a pendant.

Common Gem Settings

There are quite a few different types of gem settings for bracelets, rings, necklaces, pendants, and earrings. The setting you’ll use for any given jewelry piece depends on what type of jewelry you wish to make and the type, size, and finish of the stone you wish to use.

Bezel Setting

A bezel setting is essentially a metal band that wraps around a stone. A bezel setting is stronger and more secure than a prong or channel setting but doesn’t let as much light through the gemstone. This reduces its brilliance and may affect its appeal. Bezel settings are typically used with cabochons, which are polished but not faceted stones.

Sometimes bezel settings are also used with smaller, less perfect stones to make their imperfections less noticeable. The majority of bezel settings are handmade to fit specific stones, although you can order bezel cups in a variety of standard sizes.

gem settings – bezel
Bezel settings, plain or fancy, can be made from many different metals. 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. Gem settings that contain prongs are called heads. A head can be soldered or welded onto a piece of jewelry, such as a ring or pendant, to allow the mounting of a gemstone. Heads come in the same shapes as the gems they hold and must be the right size. Otherwise, the stones may fall out or not fit into the prong setting at all.

Prong settings are incredibly versatile and can be as simple or elaborate as the designer wants. They are typically used with faceted gemstones, since they allow light in and hold them securely. Although prong settings can be used with pearls, they can spin in the settings, causing surface damage. To prevent this, pearls are often glued in prong settings to keep them in place.

gem settings – simple prongs

Prong heads can hold a single stone or many. They can be solid or simply wire baskets that hold one or more stones in place. When jewelry shopping, however, keep in mind that gem settings with more metal are stronger, especially if you plan to wear a jewelry item daily. Prong settings used in rings, especially wedding and engagement rings, are stronger than other prong settings because they must be able to withstand daily wear and tear.

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

Tiffany Setting

The Tiffany setting is a newer style of prong setting that’s also used in engagement and wedding rings. This head puts more space between the stone and the rest of the ring and allows the gemstone to really sparkle.

gem settings - Tiffany

Channel Setting

A channel setting can be one of the most beautifully designed gem settings for rings. This style aligns several gems in a row. Channels are cut lengthwise in the ring, and the stones are placed inside them. The channel edges overlap the gems. Unfortunately, channel settings are not as secure as other settings and are prone to losing gems. For example, lifting a heavy suitcase can cause enough bend in a ring for the stones to pop out. If you choose a channel setting, make sure it has substantial metal both in the band and around the stones to make it as secure as possible.

gem settings - channel

Gem Settings For Small Stones

Settings created specifically for smaller stones are often designed to make the gems look bigger. These flattering settings are a great way to add sparkle to your wardrobe on a small stone jewelry budget.

Rose Head And Buttercup Settings

These settings resemble flowers, as their names suggest, and really highlight smaller gems. These types of settings are often found in earrings and pendants.

gem settings - small stones
Rose head (left) and buttercup (right) earring findings.

Illusion Setting

An illusion setting is a small stone setting that’s 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 by refitting it with a different gem that’s smaller than the original gem. It also makes a small gem appear larger.

gem settings – illusion

Bar Setting

A bar setting is usually made of platinum or white gold. The shiny, angled surfaces of this setting enhance the gem and make it appear larger. These gem settings are most often seen in men’s jewelry.

gem settings – bar

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 aren’t as secure as other setting types. You may not want to use them on expensive gemstones.

gem settings – wrap-tites

Speciality Gem Settings

Some settings are actually techniques rather than components.

Marquis Cut Setting

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

gem settings - marquis
Protected Marquis Cut Settings

Cluster Settings

Cluster settings are designed to house three or more stones. The tennis bracelet is a prime example of this type. Cluster settings are used to create not only bracelets and necklaces but also unique earrings and pendants in a variety of styles.

gem settings – clusters

Hammer Setting

Sometimes called a “gypsy setting,” this is an ancient technique. A simple ring is cast, then the excess metal is cut away to hold the gem. This setting will have the stone flush with the ring’s surface.

gem settings - hammer
“Worry Rings,” diamonds in hammer settings, by christina rutz is licensed under CC By 2.0

Pavé

Pavé means to pave, as in laying cobblestones close together. A pavé piece is one of the most difficult gem settings to create. Only the best goldsmiths can do it well. In this setting, holes that are slightly smaller than the diameters of the gems’ girdles are drilled into the metal. The stones are placed inside these holes. Then, small prongs of gold are raised and pressed over the girdles of the gems using a V-shaped chisel. When done properly, this setting creates a stunning effect: light will reflect off all the tables in a row simultaneously.

gem settings - pavé
Pavé set rose earrings

About the author
Donald Clark, CSM IMG
Donald Clark, CSM founded the International Gem Society in 1998. Donald started in the gem and jewelry industry in 1976. He received his formal gemology training from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and the American Society of Gemcutters (ASG). The letters "CSM" after his name stood for Certified Supreme Master Gemcutter, a designation of Wykoff's ASG which has often been referred to as the doctorate of gem cutting. The American Society of Gemcutters only had 54 people reach this level. Along with dozens of articles for leading trade magazines, Donald authored the book "Modern Faceting, the Easy Way."
All articles by this author