Rings are works of art shaped from metal and stone. The more you understand about how they’re made, the easier it is to choose a quality piece. There are four basic elements that go into the creation of a ring:
1. The head or setting
2. The shank or band
3. The claw
4. The shoulder
1. The head or setting
This is the area where the stone is mounted. Some of the most popular settings are:
Prong settings are the most popular, especially with engagement rings. Thin metal prongs rise from the base of the setting and grip the stone securely. This type of setting also raises the stone above the rest of the ring, exposing it to more light and making it stand out more. The downside of prong settings is part of the upside: Because it “sticks out” more, the setting can get caught on things, loosening the prongs from the stone over time. For this reason, prong settings should be regularly checked.
Bezel settings circle the main stone in a metal collar that‘s just a little higher than the top of the stone. Bezels can completely encircle a stone, or just partly, which will allow other parts of the stone to become visible. Bezel settings are very secure because they’re made specifically for the stones they’re holding. The downside? Less light gets into the stone, which may make a faceted gem less dazzling.
With a tension setting, it is actually the pressure from the metal of the band (or shank) that holds the stone in place. Tension settings look very modern, with stones that seem to float in mid-air inside the sides of the band. Tension settings are specifically made for the stone or stones they hold, and cannot be changed or resized, which can be a drawback.
Cluster settings “cluster” a group of stones together — from four to hundreds. (You may also see this called a “melée” setting.) Usually seen with small diamonds (but also many other small faceted gemstones), a cluster setting can make a big statement for less money, since a collection of smaller gemstones is generally less expensive than one big rock. Circle and oval cluster settings are the most common, but any shape can be created.
Pavé (which means “paved” in French) settings feature lots of tiny gemstones that are held in place by tiny beads of metal. They are similar to cluster settings, but always have lots of small stones set very close together, versus the four or more that clusters may feature.
Channel settings are created by placing a row of gems into a metal channel set into the ring’s band. In engagement rings, this creates the look of a continuous flow of diamonds that enhances the center stone. It is also a very popular setting for eternity bands.
Flush settings, which may also be called “burnish” settings, are a modern alternative to the popular prong setting. A flush-set stone is held level below the surface of the metal in a “seat,” so there is less to catch on and less wear on the setting (unlike a prong setting), which also makes it more secure. The disadvantage is that the majority of the stone is below the surface of the setting.
2. Shank or band
This is the (usually metal) cylinder that goes around the finger.
A band whose width is completely even from front to back.
Squared off on the underside, which helps a band with a heavy stone stay centered on the finger.
Features cuts in the metal reaching out and away from the stone.
Shank is wider at the front of the head, or mounting, and tapers as it circles back behind the finger.
Shank is narrower at the front of the head and widens as it circles back behind the finger.
Has a “squished” look at the mounting as well as a little ways back (still visible on the front of the finger), which gives an ovoid shape to the metal.
The metal flares out to create interesting grooves in the metal.
The shank curves up on one side and down on the other to cup a central stone like a pair of hands that do not actually meet holding a large object.
Moves and curves at the designer’s whim.
Uses metal arches to curve up from the band and frame the stone.
The shank splits from the head of the ring, so it looks like two different bands.
Pavé or micro-pavé
Any style of shank can be pavé or micro-pavé. This entails “paving” the band of the ring, either partly or fully, in tiny diamonds. Keep in mind that if the pavé completely encircles the ring, it cannot be resized.
Described as the “talons” that keep the stone in place. Most people think of these as the “prongs.” Usually four or more metal claws form a basket-like container for the gemstone to sit in. The claws are then bent over and shaped to rest against the stone and hold it securely in place.
Claws can be V-shaped, points, ovals, flat or formed into decorative shapes like hearts. Six prongs are safest to hold large stones, although many more may be used as a decorative element. Smaller stones may be held safely by four prongs. V-shaped prongs can protect stones with pointed edges, such as marquises, trillians, teardrops and pears.
This area joins the band to the head. Shoulders can be utterly simple — just the metal of the setting. But they can also be designed with pavé, larger stones, channeling, filigree and many other ways. Vintage milgrain rings can have stunning detail work in the shoulders.
As for shoulder shape, generally you’re looking for something that will enhance — not detract from — the gemstone. In cathedral settings, the shoulders come way up high to raise the center stone. A flat shoulder of clean, polished metal will also make a gem, especially a diamond, pop. Shoulders that sport pavé or channels of stones can create a continuous ring of shimmering light.