Gem Setting Types and Process

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If I have ever created a custom piece for you, you may have heard me say something along the lines of “the ring is just waiting to be set” or “it’s at the setters”.

I wanted to explain a little bit more about the term “setting” (stone setting) and what it means in the jewellery industry as well as talk about other various methods involved.

Stone setting is the process of a gemstone being securely attached into the  jewellery setting . In pretty much every case, it is the last stage of completing a jewellery piece.

I often get such questions like “what holds the gems in place? Are they glued in?” or “will the gems fall out?”. My answer is always a definite “No”. I can assure you that there is no glue involved in holding stones in jewellery. 

While my husband does the majority of our gem setting in house, I still use a very experienced gem setter for my more complex jobs (she is worth her weight in gold!). Believe it or not, a gem or diamond setter is actually a separate trade to being a jeweller, and takes many years of training.

There are many different variations of gem setting. I personally sometimes like to “mix up” my setting and use 2 – 3 different techniques in one piece. Below I’m going to explain the methods my husband, and I often use.

GRAIN SETTINGgrain_setting_ring_nz

This type of setting is also called bead setting or pave setting. During this process pave gems are tightly set to cover the work, as shown in my “Diamond Starduster” ring. 

Smaller gems are often set close to one another, so you cannot see the tiny “beads” holding them in place. The “beads” are created by a tiny chisel that rolls a small piece of metal at a few points around the stone, then that “bead” is pushed over the stone to secure it in place. This allows the stones to catch the light and sparkle beautifully. This setting gives any piece of jewellery a vintage or starry look.

I love to use this setting to create beautifully flowing “rivers” of multi-coloured diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. I never plan the placement of gems too much and prefer to work them into jewellery in a somewhat slightly chaotic mosaic.

Grain setting is fabulous for remodelling old gemstones that are either too small to flush set or have too many inclusions or little chips.

FLUSH SETTINGflush_setting_ring_nz

This setting type has lots of names – rub over, gypsy or burnish, but all refer to pretty much the same technique.

In this style of setting a gemstone is placed into a drilled hole. It sits inside of jewellery and doesn’t show above the surface of the piece. See it demonstrated in my “Brushed Blues” ring here.

Flush setting is perfect for a ring band and especially if its owner leads an active lifestyle or has a type of work where there is a high chance of stones “being caught”. Flush setting protects gemstones far better than a claw setting, for example. 

In this setting, a stone sits on the ledge inside the hole. This ledge is ground out of the metal with a special setting burr. The setter then uses a highly polished burnisher,  to push and mould metal around the stone to make sure the stone sits in place securely. Sometimes a special mechanical hammer handpiece attached to a pendant drill is used to punch the metal around harder stones. At the very end, a graver, which is a sharp steel device, is used to smooth everything to create a bright and shiny metal finish. 

While it sounds relatively straight-forward, this technique is anything but that. In fact, it demands total accuracy, only experienced gem setters can do a great job of making it look nice and clean and not like a butchered job. 

Flush setting can be very time-consuming!

I personally love using this setting with wide brushed gold bands, as the brush finish makes the stones stand out and pop.

Flush setting does have its limitations, though. The stone needs to be no smaller than 1.5mm round and no larger than at 4mm round for this setting to work. Another important factor here is that the stone ideally needs to be well-cut and have higher hardness like diamond, sapphire or moissanite. Shapes like oval or square can also be very challenging for this setting type.

BEZEL SETTING bezel_setting_ring_nz

This setting was one of the first methods used for setting stones into jewellery. In this style, the metal securely wraps around the stone like in my “Star Ruby” ring.

I often use bezel setting on larger gemstones, especially on “Cabochon” stones.  It gives the work a modern contemporary or even rustic feel, which is very different from the cookie-cutter style you find in the mainstream jewellery stores.

A cabochon is a gemstone with a rounded/convex and highly polished top. Its name comes from French “caboche” which means “small dome”. Such stones have a flat base and no faceting. The oval and round shape is the most common for such stones, although they can be cut in any other shape.

The first setting you will ever do at a jewellery class is a bezel setting of a cabochon.