Single stones
People often assume that a single gemstone will become the dominant focal point of a jewllery design< bu this isn?t necessarily the case. A well-placed stone can, instead, be used to accentuate a design feature. The eye could be drawn to a surface texture or an interesting form solely by the glimmer of a 2-point brilliant-cut diamond. A gemstone can be used in many subtle ways to balance a structure, link different simply by being placed at a certain angle.

More often than not, a single stone will appear in a traditional solitaire format. A single stone ring can be transformed simply by avoiding regularity and repositioning the gem off-centre. The gemstone can also be used as just as one element of design; placing a pearl among the colour and pattern of enamel work will stop it from being the sole focal point of the piece. Using one very small stone can be as powerful as using a large stone. In the brief moment that a pure spot of colour catches the eye, the viewer will also notice the texture and structure of the surrounding jewelry.

Designing with single stones

Vibrant pear-shape emeralds are the focal points of these long slender earrings. They also lead the eye up the length of the swan-necked hooks. The size of the stones is important as they need to balance the elongated hooks, not dominate them.

The square motif of this brooch is highlighted by the setting of a single white diamond of the same size as the multiple square cutouts.

A angle small diamond joins the two sections of this brooch. The placement of the stone is crucial as it balances the piece and draws the whole structure together.

A gemstone is placed at a random point on this pendant. The shape of the single stone reflects the shape of the pendant and the etched designs and encourages the eye to explore the whole piece.

These earrings have very clean lines with bands of inlaid silver and 18K white gold. The single small ruby cabochon that joins the two earring elements suits the minimal design.

These highly refined pin designs use key stones to lead the eye. The shapes and colours of the stones add interest and energy, but never dominate the structure.

Grouped stones
Stones may be grouped in traditional, formal arrangements or in a more random placement. Conventional grouped designs use small calibrated stones in one or possibly two types of gemstone material to create linear and geometric patterns. Informal groupings tend to make use of contrasts of light, lustre, size, shape and colour to lend a more organic feel to a piece of jewelry. “Scattered” stones may actually have been carefully placed to highlight design features, while combinations of shapes or gemstones may produce interesting visual and tactile qualities.

Traditional, structured groupings of stones normally use a channel setting, bead setting (pave setting) or claw setting, so that the gems can be butted up closely to form a line or shape. The more organic designs employ a variety of setting methods. Bezel and gypsy settings are often chosen for their simplicity and clean lines; a plain bezel setting will always accentuate the shape of the stone and the gypsy setting is ideal for a minimal look as it has no metal structure.

The placement of grouped stones will affect the energy of a design – a massed, even coverage will be dramatic but also rather static, while a few carefully positioned stones will create tension in the piece. Mixing gemstone materials allows a design to make use of differing lustres, textures, colours and qualities of light. The translucency of blue chalcedony contrasts beautifully with the brilliance and colour of rhodolite garnet or pink sapphire, while iridescent silver pearls look great with bluish green emeralds or smoky quartz.

Types of multiple setting

Careful placement of just a few stones can balance a design and add drama.

Organic designs are effective in the way they combine different materials.

Fragile stones
Despite their beauty, softer gemstones such as opals, turquoise and the organics – pearls, coral, jet, fossilized wood, amber, shell and mother-of-pearl – are often avoided because they can be damaged by impact and exposure to heat and chemicals. As jewelry has to withstand a certain amount of wear and tear, this type of material
presents designers and makers with a real challenge. How do you incorporate suitable protection for the vulnerable stone and make it an integral part of the piece’s design?

A barrier is one of the most effective ways of protecting fragile material. For instance, granulation not only looks good, but if built up around a ring setting will take impact in place of the stone. Wirework and domed cups act in the same way. It is possible to use other gemstones to shield delicate material – white diamonds are often set around opals as they are tough and durable (as well as beautiful). Alternatively, colourful sapphires and spinel could be used.

The stone setting itself can be revised. The shoulders of the shank can be used to frame the gemstone, or a bezel could be widened out like a hat brim to provide some extra cover. Recessed settings such as the gypsy setting could be considered for delicate gemstones, as long as high-karat gold is used and care is taken when the metal is pushed over the edge of the stone.

Inlaying is another technique that could be used on soft gemstones. If the surface of the metal is flush with the surface of the stone, there will be nothing projecting to be damaged. Softer material has itself the potential to be inlaid. Pearls can be drilled with a burr to allow decorative metal work such as gold balls to be inlaid and glued
into the pearly nacre coating. This technique can also be used with coral, turquoise, mother-of-pearl and amber.

Nonstandard gemstone forms
Nonstandard gemstone forms are stones that are neither cut to a calibrated shape, such as an oval or a square, nor cut in a recognized form such as a cabochon or faceted gem. The term also covers freeform or baroque stones and pearls, crystal forms and carved material. The unique visual qualities of this type of gem make non?standard forms very popular, but using and securing them in a piece of jewelry requires some thought. The problem-solving process will often mean that a design has to evolve rather than be preplanned, but this can be a satisfying method of working that may result in a truly individual piece of jewelry.

The description “nonstandard” encompasses most natural and organic forms, found objects and hand-carved pieces. These tend to be used in organic designs that have a less formal structure, rather than in traditional jewelry formats or standard arrangements of stones. The challenges of the design process will often entail the construction of mock-ups to find alternative means of fixing the gemstones.

The strength and durability of the gem material have to be considered because some natural forms are more vulnerable than a traditionally cut stone. Drusy and crystal slices, for example, can be fragile and will need to be handled and set with care. The method of setting has to be secure enough for the type of jewelry and must protect the material from the resulting wear and tear. There are a number of mechanisms for setting nonstandard forms, such as cages, wire-wrapping, framing, pegging and riveting. These can be adapted to suit a variety of materials and can produce exciting and unusual pieces of jewelry.

Securing nonstandard form

Small crystals can be grasped in the middle by a strip surround, allowing them to be viewed from different angles and “float away” from the main structure. This type of fixing would not be suitable for jewelry that gets a lot of wear and tear.

A cap allows the full beauty of a belemnite opal or crystal to be seen. It needs to be fixed firmly with a good epoxy resin. Opal has a low density, which makes the material light and suitable for supporting in this way.

Wire-wrapping pearls or beads to make a frame for a stone is an attractive device that looks best with smaller-sized pearls. They can be secured with wire loops that thread through drill holes in the back plate.

A riveted post enables elements of a design to be fixed when it is not possible to solder and secure several elements together centrally. The rivet is itself a design feature.

Cages come in many shapes and sizes. They may wrap tightly around the stone or take a larger form, allowing the material to move around inside.