A stone setting is more than just a means of securing a gemstone. It plays an important part in the design of a piece of jewelry and needs to be considered from an early stage, in light of the piece’s proposed usage. The setting can also bring a gemstone alive – or kill it dead. While the gem material will partly determine the type of setting you use, there are always opportunities for modification, decoration and trying something new.

Talk of the trade
As with the cut of a gem, a stone setting is described with specific terminology, which you will need to know if you are to brief another goldsmith or stone setter about a design.

Stone settings are sometimes pigeonholed as having either a traditional or a modern look, which can inhibit jewelry designers from trying something new. A claw setting can certainly have a traditional feel when it is made of thin round wire and has a plain single bezel, yet changing the format slightly, for example by making the prongs heavier and the profile square and removing the bezel, can give the setting a much more contemporary appearance.

Designing or adapting a stone setting requires consideration of the type of gemstone material, the size and weight of the stone and the usage the jewelry will receive. Tension setting might look very impressive and have a contemporary edge, but if you wear a tension- set ring every single day the stone will fall out. Design and practicality have to be balanced, and finding the means to achieve a concept is a challenge of gem-set jewelry design.

Types of setting

The claw setting is commonly wised with transparent faceted stones as it elevates and displays the stone while keeping the surrounding metal to a minimum. The prongs are attached to a bezel to maintain shape and stability,and at least four claws should hold the stone. Decorative detail can be added, such as splitting the prongs to create forked claws or setting small diamonds into the top of the claws.

Gypsy setting is popular because of its clean minimal look. Faceted stones are sunk into the metal so that the girdle is flush with the surface and the metal is then burnished over the stone’s edge. Cabochons with good angled sides can be recessed and the metal pushed over to meet the stone, leaving no evidence of a setting.

This is one of the most secure types of setting and can be used on both cabochons and faceted stones. The top edge of the bezel or collet can be decorated with a beadlike pattern that is created with a millegrain tool. The bezel setting lends itself to high- karat golds, as they are soft enough to burnish over the edge of the stone.

A grain or bead setting can be used for cabochons, faceted stones and full or half pearls. The stone is recessed slightly and held in place by a number of tiny beads. These are made by chiselling up metal chips and then shaping the chips into rounded beads or grains with a beading tool. This type of setting is best carried out with softer, higher-karat gold.

This type of setting also uses bead or grain setting. Small stones are arranged very close together (with tiny gaps) and secured by beads that are carefully raised by chiselling up metal. Pave setting requires great skill and many jewelry designers use specialized setters for the work. A similar effect can be produced with prongs instead of beads.

A channel setting is used for securing rows of square or baguette step-cut stones. Ledges are cut in the edges of the channel and metal is folded over to grip the girdle of the stones on two sides. This allows for gems to be butted up, giving a continuous effect. The setting demands accuracy as the stones have to match in colour and be a calibrated size. A channel setting is traditionally used for eternity rings.

This relies on the tension of the shank to keep a stone in place with just two points of contact securing it. Tension-set stones frequently fall out, so the setting is not suitable for an expensive diamond ring. It can be made more secure by filing a ledge in the two sides of the shank to seat the girdle and then pushing metal over the edge of the stone. A tension setting works best with platinum, which is malleable but not springy.

An illusion setting is designed to make a stone look larger than it really is. It consists of a white gold or platinum disc with a hole in the centre into which a small stone is fitted. The stone is traditionally bead-set or grain-set and the chiselled beading creates carved facets on the disc, which enhance the stone and confuse the eye.

A pegged setting allows for close groupings of cabochons or rose cuts, with the stones touching each other. The stones need a flat base and well-angled sides. Tiny pegs or pins are fixed in the spaces between the stones and then pushed down so they thicken and spread, gripping the surrounding stones.

The most crucial factor in assessing coloured gemstones, colour is also the most important consideration when designing jewelry with coloured stones. Hue, intensity and tone are all relevant to a design, whether they are used to create a focal point, a contrast to the colour of the metal or a subtle tonal effect. Colour also has a vitality that relates to the cut of the stone, and this too will have an impact on the design. A piece of jewelry that contains a transparent faceted sapphire will have a vibrant mood, while one that uses a translucent cabochon will possess a quieter, gentler energy.

Coloured stones can be used quite simply in a design. A gem with a pure intense colour will always draw the eye and become a focal point, and coloured stones can be grouped in a pattern to lead the eye across the piece. Colour contrasts can be created using the colour of the metal; a satin or matte finish will make red, yellow and green gold look richer in colour than when highly polished and will enhance intense gemstone colours. While some metal colours improve or accentuate stones, others will make them look visibly worse. Hot pinks can become orangey red when placed on or next to yellow gold, making pinkish rubies look cherry red but destroying the hot bluish pink of rubellite. The blue of aquamarine is enriched by the warmth of rose gold, but becomes grey and watery next to white gold.Decorative finishes such as enamel work and patination are perfect for coloured stones; the colour and pattern combinations can be truly opulent and the jewelry vibrates with colour. In cooler colours, patination and metal inlay can produce very refined, subtle designs and be highly effective with stones that have a less intense colour, such as earth-toned agates or soft chalcedony and jade.

Decorative finishes using colour

After annealing and hammering, silver was dipped in hot potassium sulphide and then rinsed with cold water as soon as the colours appeared.

The pattern was hand-engraved onto photo-etched silver, then transparent grey enamel was applied.

A cast piece of silver was decorated with gold foil and fused.

Hammered silver was oxidized in hot potassium sulphide. The indentations held the oxidization and the relief areas were rubbed clean.

The circles were pierced, then the silver sheet was soldered to copper sheet and put through a rolling mill for inlaying. Next the texture was applied.

Here 18K white gold sheet and 18K red gold sheet were inlaid and soldered and then domed.

Photo-etched silver was used here. Cloisonn? wires were placed on flux and fired. The coloured enamels were laid wet into the cloisons and fired when dry.

Silver was enamelled with transparent purple and fired. Silver foil was then brushed on and fired, then gently rubbed with a burnisher.

Texture and lustre
Decorative surface textures and coloured gemstones enhance one another, and their combination results in cohesive designs in which the impact of stone and metal is balanced. Decorative techniques such as granulation, texturing and fusing can produce beautiful effects that are similar to a gem’s optical property of lustre, and when combined with a stone lend a design depth, sensuality and richness.

In the same way as the colour of metal interacts with a coloured stone, the texture of metal also influences the design of gem-set jewelry. Just like the gemstone, gold can be admired for its qualities of colour and lustre, and the two materials can be combined to create some exciting effects. Granulation produces a rich golden texture that sits beautifully with the smooth lustrous nacre of a pearl or the clear liquid colours of a cabochon. Fused and textured surfaces offset the brilliance of a faceted stone; sparkle and fire are enhanced by gentler, unpolished surfaces. Conversely, the drama of a perfect high polish suits the duller “greasy” lustre of carved jade or natural, unfinished lapis lazuli.

If a gemstone possesses an optical effect it needs to be set sympathetically, so that its iridescence or colour play is emphasized. Decorative or satin finishes are less likely than a high polish to compete with the stone, and the surface texture will provide visual interest when the colour play can’t be seen. Designing and making jewelry such as this is highly rewarding, as by virtue of the creative process each piece is individual and unique.

Decorative finishes

lined chasing tool has been applied to the annealed silver using a ball-peen hammer.

The silver was annealed and wrapped in binding wire, then placed on a steel plate and hammered on both sides.

Thick silver was heated until the sides gravitated toward the middle.

Different thicknesses of 18K gold were fused to form an undulating background.

A triangular shape was engraved in silver and 18K gold balls were soldered in place by heating from underneath.

Domed circles of 22K gold were dipped in a borax solution and the piece was then heated until a granulation flash occurred.

Reticulation was achieved on silver sheet and the piece was oxidized afterward to give the blue-pink effect. The relief areas were polished with a buffing cloth.

A sheet of 9K gold shows classic reticulation markings. Results can be unpredictable with 9K gold.

The impression was made using skeleton leaf, highlighted with a black oxide.

Selecting the right size of stone for a jewelry design is not just a question of proportion or impact; the decision also has implications for the structuring of the piece. Small stones demand precise planning, accuracy and setting skills, while large stones require careful consideration of weight distribution, balance and support mechanisms.

The size of the gemstone will often be dictated by the amount and type of usage that the piece of jewelry will receive. Wearability and comfort come high on the list of design considerations, so large designs that use big stones may be considered impractical. Large rings are frequently top-heavy and rotate on the finger, or the gemstone may be exposed and become damaged. Ornate gem-set earrings look dramatic and are fun to dress up in, but they have a tendency to feel excruciating after a couple of hours of wear.

Using small stones in jewelry doesn’t necessarily entail fewer technical problems. The designs and setting styles are frequently more refined than with large stones, making strength and durability important factors. Small faceted stones are secured with less metal, so settings will wear more quickly and fine jewelry will break if it is caught on hair or clothes. With careful planning, however, it is possible to address these common size-related problems and create designs that are both robust and wearable.