Claw Set or Bezel Set Gemstones. Which is Better?
With most gemstones set in jewelry whether it be a ring, pendant, earrings or other you have a choice as to how the stone will be set in the piece. There are several ways to hold a stone in place but the two most commonly used are claw set, called prong set in the USA, and bezel set. Claw set is where usually three or more pieces of metal stick out from the piece and bend over the stone slightly and hold it in place. Bezel set is where the metal goes all the way around the stone.
Let’s look at bezel settings first and get an understanding of why they are used. Bezel setting can be used for any type of stone but it suits some more than others.
Firstly, there are two type of cutting of a stone which is important to understand: facet cutting, where you see all those different angles on the stone such as in a diamond and the other is cabochon cutting, where the stone is a shiny looking dome. You see cabochons, which is a mediaeval French word for hat, in nearly all opal jewellery. Cabochons were used in jewellery before faceting was thought of. So some of the antique gems in English crowns from earlier kings and queens have rubies, emeralds and other gemstones cut into cabochons where today they would be facet cut.
Opals are soft stones and I like to use bezel setting for opals because that metal surrounding the gem gives a soft stone a little more protection from knocks and bumps. Also the metal enhances the piece whereas I personally do not feel that claws have any attraction or beauty of their own. The same applies for other harder stones but that added protection may not be necessary. Bezels never get torn off the piece like claws do and they never actually push into the stone in a bad knock and chip the stone but claws do. That’s why I prefer them. Bezel setting costs a little more as there is more labour involved and there is more metal in the piece but overall it is worth it.
Now let’s look a claw or prong settings. The greatest asset of claw setting is that there is very little metal holding the stone in place so you can see much more of the actual stone. A diamond and any faceted stone requires light to pass through the stone in order for the beauty of it to materialize. The light reflects and refracts from different parts of the stone and bounces back to your eye and that is how you as the viewer see the glory of it. So the more light that can get in and out of that stone the better. That is why you will see small holes underneath the gemstones in your ring or other piece of jewellery.
The purpose of claws is simply to hold the stone in the piece so only enough claws are used so that the stone is held firmly in place. There are many shapes and types of cuts of stones. You may have heard about marquise, emerald, brilliant, square and now cabochon cuts. Each one may use a different looking and different shaped claw. Some cuts have points on the end of the gemstone so a claw which wraps around the point might be used, or two claws might be used with one on each side of the point.
The disadvantages of claw setting is that only a very small piece of metal is in contact with the gemstone and this can get easily damaged. Some claws get torn completely off the piece in an accidental bump. Sitting in front of me as I write are three rings customers have left for repairs. They have stones missing, and valuable rubies and sapphires at that, and the claws are completely missing or bent out of shape and I would bet that the owners do not even realize that the claws are missing and that is why she has lost the stones.
As a ring gets older it wears and the claws get brushed against desks, tables, chairs, cars and everything else. Over time the claws wear so thin that they can simply break off. So they need to be re-tipped or replaced.
Both claw and bezel setting have their place and one or the other will be the better method for setting a stone depending on the type of stone, the type of setting and the wish of the wearer. But get a jeweller to check you rings every year and let him polish them professionally. At some stage, he might inform you that your diamond or emerald is loose and needs tightening or the claw needs attention. Let him do it as it will be cheaper than replacing the stone if it falls out. Think of your jewellery as needing professional servicing from time to time just like your car does.