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tips for choosing the right ring

  • Remember not to pick a setting based on looks alone. Choose the one that best fits your everyday life and the stone (this is especially true when resetting an heirloom stone). For example, a high prong-set diamond will wreak havoc on an active woman's hand. Sporty types, avid gardeners, or those with manual jobs should choose a setting that offers good protection for the stone and a smooth surface to avoid damaging or losing the stone and scratching other people.
  • Keep the shape of the wearer's hand in mind to select the most flattering style. For example, people with small hands and fingers look best with a proportionately sized ring. Stones set vertically will make a hand seem longer; an oversized, broad ring will make it look shorter; a diagonal design -- or a multistone ring -- pulls the eye across the hand and gives the illusion of greater width. On the other hand (no pun intended), a broad ring can "rein in" and balance long, thin fingers. When it comes to broad hands, opposites do not attract: small rings will make them look bigger -- think balance.
  • A very popular look is a ring with three stones, representing yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The trio is either uniform in size or the center stone is slightly larger for a tapered effect. You can use different colors -- even shapes! -- to personalize the look.
  • Smaller side stones such as tapered baguettes or trilliants (triangle-shaped stones with "canted" or slightly squared-off corners) on either side of your center stone can create a delicate tapering effect and an eyeful of sparkle. The contrast of a white center stone and colored side stones -- or vice versa -- enhances the beauty of both.
 
Antonis Achilleos

Engagement Rings: Settings 101

A vast array of settings are available: Which is best for you? Read on to learn the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Photo: Antonis Achilleos

Once you've chosen a stone for your engagement ring, then the fun part starts: choosing a setting. Although the stone can account for up to 90% of the cost of the ring, the setting is what defines its look and showcases the stone to its best advantage. When shopping, be sure to check out a variety of rings, even those you might not like -- these things can surprise you!

First Things First

When shopping for a mounting (the industry term for a setting before it is set with a stone), never let the addition of a wedding band stray far from your thoughts. (An engagement ring may represent a promise but the wedding band ultimately outranks it in significance, and will likely be worn every day.) Consider whether you would rather stack the two (you can always customize a band to fit) or wear the engagement ring on the right hand and/or for special occasions only.

Double Up

One foolproof way to solve this dilemma -- and save time and money to boot -- is to buy a wedding set. This will include an engagement ring and woman's wedding band (duo) or an engagement ring and his-and-hers wedding bands (trio). The advantage of these sets is that the woman's engagement ring and wedding band fit together perfectly -- most also look good separately -- and share cohesive design elements. Sets can also save you money over buying each ring separately (as much as 50% less according to the Diamond Information Center).

Set Your Sights

Whether you are buying a set or building an engagement ring from scratch, every aspect of said ring -- the stone, metal, and mounting -- should be chosen with your lifestyle and budget in mind. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular basic settings from Renée Newman, GG, MA, author of Gold & Platinum Jewelry Buying Guide (International Jewelry Publications). The choices are endless, from a simple solitaire to a number of stones and combination of settings on the same ring. Luckily, it's relatively easy to reset your stone -- and add stones -- as your bank account and lifestyle permit.

The Settings...

Prong


What It Is: This most common type of engagement-ring setting involves three to six "claws" that hold a stone firmly in a metal "head" or "basket". Prongs can be pointed, rounded, flat, or V-shaped, and act as "pockets" for a square stone's corners. When deciding between four and six prongs, know that four prongs show more of the diamond, while six prongs are more secure, but can overwhelm a small stone. If you have heart-, marquise-, or pear-shaped stone, be sure its points are cradled in a V-shaped prong for protection. Flat prongs are recommended for emerald-cut stones.

Advantages:
  • Permits the most light exposure from all angles and therefore maximizes a diamond's brilliance and "lightens up" richly colored gems.
  • Less metal means less time and money is required than other setting styles.
  • Allows easy cleaning of the stone.
  • Holds even the most fragile (soft) gems securely.

Disadvantages:

  • Offers less protection to the stone than other styles since most of the girdle (the perimeter of the stone) is exposed.
  • Can get caught in hair or snag clothing (especially when pulling on a long-sleeved shirt) and panty hose.
  • High-set prong settings can scratch and hurt other people if brushed against, and are hard to fit in gloves. (Lower prong settings are available and more practical for those on the go.)

Tension

What It Is: A design in which the compression-spring pressure of the shank holds the stone firmly in place. The minimal interference of metal can give the impression that the stone is "floating". Knot Note: Only extremely hard stones such as diamonds, sapphires, and rubies can withstand the required pressure.

Advantages:

  • Allows a lot of light into the stone.

Disadvantages:

  • Ring is built to fit and difficult to resize at a later date.
  • Repair options are limited; only the manufacturer can fix your ring.
  • Less metal means less protection to the girdle of the stone; recommended for less active people or for special occasions only (not everyday wear).
  • Not recommended for gems other than diamonds, sapphires, or rubies.

Bezel

What It Is: A metal rim with edges fully or partially surrounds the perimeter of the stone.

Advantages:

  • Protects a stone's girdle from being nicked or chipped.
  • Conceals existing nicks or chips on a stone's girdle.
  • Secures a stone well.
  • The ring surface is completely smooth.
  • Metal can be molded to fit any stone shape snugly.
  • A white metal encircling a white stone can make the stone appear larger.
  • A yellow gold bezel setting can enhance the color of red or green gemstones.

Disadvantages:

  • A yellow gold bezel setting can make a "white" stone such as a diamond appear less white because the yellow tint of the setting is reflected in the stone.

Channel

What It Is: Popular for wedding bands, this setting sandwiches a row of stones -- with no metal separating them -- between two horizontal channels for part or all of the ring.
Knot Note: Round stones cost less to set than square or rectangular ones.

Advantages:

  • Protects the girdle of the stones.
  • Provides better security for small stones than a prong or pave setting.
  • The surface is completely smooth and unobtrusive.

Disadvantages:

  • A ring set with stones all the way around can be difficult to resize (leave at least one third of the shank unset for greatest flexibility -- this saves money, too)
  • Not recommended for fragile gems such as emeralds, opals, or tourmalines.

Bar

What It Is: This setting can also be applied around some or all of the ring, but instead of channels holding the stones, thin vertical bars of metal between stones secure them firmly in place.

Advantages:

  • Protects the sides of each stone's girdle.
  • The surface is relatively smooth and unobtrusive.
  • Puts a contemporary spin on a classic look.

Disadvantages:

  • Leaves the top and bottom of the stone exposed.
  • The uneven edges of some designs may cause discomfort.

Pave

What It Is: The French word for "paved", a pavé setting (pronounced "pah-vay") involves three or more rows of several small stones fitted into holes that set them level with the surface of the ring. Surrounding metal -- white gold or platinum for white stones so as to be unnoticeable -- is then raised to form beads that secure the gems. The setting can be flat or domed.

Advantages::

  • Gives the illusion of more and bigger diamonds than they really are.
  • Allows an uninterrupted design flow of varying width.

Disadvantages::

  • Not recommended for fragile gems, although the proximity of the stones offers good protection for the girdle of each stone.
  • The surface is level but not as smooth as a bezel, channel, or gypsy setting.
  • Beads are not as reliable as other settings for securing stones.

Gypsy

What It Is: Popular for men's rings, this setting sets the stone "flush" into a hole in the ring so that it does not protrude at all. The ring's metal is then pressed and hammered around the stone's perimeter to secure it.

Advantages::

  • Protects a stone's girdle from being nicked or chipped.
  • Conceals existing nicks or chips on a stone's girdle.
  • Secures a stone well.
  • The ring surface is completely smooth.
  • Disadvantages::

    • More time-intensive to set and expensive than a prong setting.
    • Not recommended for fragile gems such as emeralds, opals, or tourmalines.

    -- Lori Seto

    See More: Engagement Rings