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For such a small piece of jewelry, rings have an impressive ability to be subtle or standout works of art.

Elements Of Rings Styles & Settings

portrait Mary Nevill with rings
A portrait of Mary Nevill and her son Gregory Fiennes, the Baron Dacre, by Hans Eworth (1559).

Rings are made in a variety of different precious metals.  Although silver is now common and affordable, it was once coveted as much as gold.  Fine gemstones are rarely set in silver today, but until about four hundred years ago, it was frequently used to create crowns, scepters, and other royal regalia.  With its silky glow, silver–and even slightly tarnished silver–can flatter many gemstones.

Mary Nevill's ring closeup
A close up of Mary Nevill’s gold and gemstone rings.

Yellow gold and rose gold are frequently used to mount gemstones.  Both of these gold alloys can emphasize any yellowish color in a gemstone.  White gold is often used as an affordable alternative to platinum and its aesthetic advantages in complementing gemstones are similar.  Jewelers are continually experimenting with new gold alloys, including green and blue gold—which are nice companions for many gemstones.

Of the metals regularly used in jewelry, platinum is the most valuable.  Most fine gemstones look magnificent in a platinum setting, which makes blue and green colors look cool, and yellow and red colors look crisp and highly saturated.  Palladium is also good alternative for platinum or white gold, as it is significantly less expensive.

ring diagram to show setting
A diagram of a ring highlighting the crown and shank.

Rings have two basic parts:  the shank  (or band) and the head  (or crown).  Most rings have a single band of metal for the shank.  However, the shank of the ring can take several different forms.  Most rings have what is called a straight shank, a single band with an even width around the finger.   If the band of the shank does not have an even width all around the finger, but instead gets wider at the head or the base of the ring, it is considered a tapered shank.

sapphire ring with tapered shank
A light blue sapphire ring with a tapered shank.

Split shank rings have two separate bands of metal supporting the head or crown of the ring.  The finger may show through the separate bands of metal.  The purpose behind this style is to create comfort for the wearer when supporting a large gemstone or central element since it is a nice alternative to an excessively wide band.  

pink sapphire ring with split shank setting
A pink sapphire and diamond ring with a split shank setting.

Rings with split shanks are also less likely to turn on the wearer’s finger.  The ring may still be easily sized to fit because the base of the ring is usually composed of a single band of metal.  A single split is the most common, but rings can also have double split shanks or triple split shanks as well.  Most split shank rings have a tapered design, which makes them slightly more difficult to wear with other rings.

Many band rings, especially those designed for men, have what is called a comfort fit.  The inside of these rings are contoured to the finger.  The ring’s edges are finished to a smooth curve so that the ring is comfortable to wear for long periods of time.  

Jewelry makers have considerable latitude in the design of the head or crown of women’s rings. Contemporary men’s rings often feature bold geometry and clean, crisp lines, although some men are beginning to experiment with more elaborate designs as well.  Below is a selection of popular ring styles:

diamond eternity band in rose gold
A diamond pave band in rose gold.

Band Rings

The band ring is one of the oldest and simplest designs for a ring.  Popular setting techniques for band rings include channel setting , bezel settings , and pave settings .

yellow sapphire solitaire setting
A yellow sapphire solitaire ring.

Solitaire Rings

Like the band ring, the solitaire is a simple, classical style.  While the band ring emphasizes metal or closely set small stones, the solitaire is meant to exhibit a single central stone of superb quality.  In its purest form, the solitaire ring consists of a plain band supporting a prong set center stone.  In some contemporary solitaire rings the central stone is bezel set, which serves to increase the apparent size of the stone.  Another modern variation is the striking tension set  ring, where the stone seems to float in midair.

purple sapphire three stone ring
A purple sapphire and diamond three-stone ring.

Three-Stone Rings

The three-stone ring is a popular favorite.  In a three-stone ring, two well-matched accent stones  flank a center stone, which may be any durable gemstone including diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, or rubies.

cluster ring setting
A cluster ring of semiprecious gemstones set in gold.

Cluster Rings

Instead of a single centerpiece stone, cluster rings feature groupings of smaller stones, arranged in an artful pattern.  Cluster rings can be set with multiples of a single type of gemstone or with an assortment of stones.  Cluster rings often mix stones of different shapes, including rounds, ovals, pears, and marquises.  Using smaller stones in clusters makes a generous display of gems more affordable, since several small stones will cost less than a large single stone.

Cartier ruby bombe ring
A ruby and diamond bombe ring by Cartier.

Bombé Rings

The bombé ring is a variant of the cluster ring, featuring a dome of small, closely set stones, with or without a prominent center stone.  The style was popular during the 1920s and 1930s, and reemerged during the 1980s.  Bombé rings garner lots of attention, especially when set with dazzling gemstones.

emerald and diamond cocktail ring
An emerald and diamond cocktail ring set in platinum.

Dinner or Cocktail Rings

A dinner ring or cocktail ring is a large oversized ring, set with precious or semiprecious gemstones.  Cocktail rings became popular during the 1940s and 1950s. They are generally worn by women and placed on the fourth finger of the right hand.  For this reason they are sometimes known as Right Hand Rings.

stacking diamond rings
A set of stacking diamond and rose gold rings.

Stack Rings

Whether worn alone or in multiples, stackable rings look good on both men and women.  Although many believe this is a modern trend, both men and women in ancient Rome wore many rings stacked on a single finger.  

Stack rings have the additional advantage in that they can be purchased to celebrate or commemorate any number of special occasions: a birthday, a graduation, a promotion or new job for example.  Gemstone stack rings make perfect “mother’s rings” when each band features the birthstone of a different child.

silver signet ring
A silver signet ring from 15th-16th century Iran.

Signet Rings

Signet rings were some of the first ancient rings.  Signet rings contain a carved seal of metal or an inscribed stone, which would be pressed into melted wax to seal a document.  Because signet rings were also used to prove the identity or authority of their bearer, these rings have also been used as symbols of power.  Signet rings are also souvenirs or symbols of membership, as in a class ring or professional ring.

With so many styles of rings available, next learn about Famous Rings | A Selection of Rings from History.

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