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:
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 and the choice of stone(s) considered.
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.
Cluster settings cluster a group of stones together — from four to hundreds. (You may also see this called a melée setting.) 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.
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.
TRADITIONAL: A band whose width is completely even from front to back.
STRAIGHT: Features cuts in the metal reaching out and away from the stone.
TAPERED: Shank is wider at the front of the head, or mounting, and tapers as it circles back behind the finger.
REVERSE TAPERED: Shank is narrower at the front of the head and widens as it circles back behind the finger.
FLARE: The metal flares out to create interesting grooves in the metal.
FREEFORM: Moves and curves at the designer’s whim.
SPLIT: 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.
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.