Most of what is written about jewelry design focuses only on the look but truly well-designed piece of jewelry, that’s meant to last years and generations, is made by achieving a balance between aesthetics and construction. A beautiful ring will cease to be so if it can’t stand up to the unpredictability and rigors of being worn daily. Many assume that since fine jewelry is made from metal, it inherently will be able to withstand years of wear and tear. This is only the case when a piece has been thoughtfully designed and constructed, balancing looks and proportions, and considering how it’s worn and what it’s made of.
These considerations are especially important when it comes to engagement rings because they are designed to focus on the center stone, raising it further away from the finger so that it can receive as much light as possible and be the focus of one’s eye. While this structure maximizes the center stone’s beauty, the higher the center stone sits above the finger the more likely it, and the rest of the ring accommodating this height, are to get bumped or dinged. Ignoring practical design and construction is especially perilous now because engagement rings are worn more constantly than in the past. They are more regularly exposed to the nearly automatic actions that we do countless times a day, like reaching into a drawer or putting on a sweater, which are done with our innate understanding of our hand shape and size. Adding an additional dimension to our hand such as a ring with an elevated stone can mean repeated exposure to getting caught or dinged that we’re never even conscious of.
Taking all that into account, it’s imperative to strike a balance between achieving the desired look of the ring and making sure it’s designed well enough to maintain that look for years and generations of continuous wearing.
Below is Part 2 of our comprehensive guide to design principles, focusing on ring construction.
Together these guides provide an understanding of suitable material choices and proper ring construction, enabling you to make informed choices and further appreciate the designs that resonate with you.
There can be countless ways to design an engagement ring, but customarily an engagement ring has 3 structural elements:
- Center Diamond (or other gemstone)
- Center Setting
Understanding the interplay of all 3 is essential to the construction of a well-designed piece. The material section of our design guide has covered the considerations for center stone types. Type of center stone is also very relevant to ring construction. For example, more fragile stones require greater protection since they cannot withstand the same wear and tear as a diamond or even a sapphire. In terms of design considerations, an emerald ring would benefit from a center setting that is heavier and less elevated from the shank to cover its edges more and avoid unnecessary exposure.
This guide will focus on diamond centered engagement rings but will raise considerations for other stones when relevant.
Key Considerations: Size and Shape
The Reason: While the quality characteristics of a diamond (color, cut, clarity) are never afterthoughts, size and shape are the essential considerations when it comes to a ring’s construction. This is because they physically effect how a ring can be designed and structured, including determining the proportions of their setting and how it connects to the shank of the ring.
It’s important to make a clarification before delving further, and that is:
Carat is a unit of weight, not a measurement of size.
This is important to keep in mind, because when considering stones with different cut grades or different shapes, 2 stones with the same carat weight can be very different and drastically alter the shape of your setting.
TL;DR: One size does not fit all, a ring designed for a ½ carat diamond can’t have a 2 carat diamond in it, and trying to make it work will imperil both the center diamond and the ring.
Practical Takeaway: A bigger stone needs a bigger setting and shank. Whether you opt for custom-made or buying an existing ring to set your diamond in, it needs to be designed for your specific diamond’s measurement. Diamonds shapes adhere to certain proportions, while these can change depending on the shape and cut quality, larger diamonds are deeper than smaller ones. This means they are further raised off the finger, making them more exposed to the accidental dings and bumps of everyday wear. To account for this, everything about a ring should be incrementally increased as the center size increases. Whether it’s prongs, bezel, or a halo, there needs to be more metal covering the key points of the diamond so that it remains secure. The ring’s shank should also be heavier to account for the larger diamond and its setting so that there is more metal to enforce a stronger connection where the shank and the setting meet.
Putting a 2-carat diamond in a ring that was designed for a ½-carat diamond may make the center look even larger and more impressive, but it also imperils the safety of the diamond, reducing the strength of the center setting and the shank, as well as causing there to be disproportion between the setting and the shank.
With that you may come to see that some choices work better at some sizes than others.
- A 6-prong setting will have more points of security than a 4-prong setting, but below a ½-carat the diameter of a diamond is much smaller than that of a diamond over 1-carat. Because prongs need a certain level of thickness to maintain structural stability, using 6-prongs on a smaller center may detract from the beauty of a center diamond more than it adds to its security.
- Conversely, halos are a great way to enhance the beauty of smaller center diamonds, as well as create a protective buffer. Past 2-carats though, there is lesser need to enhance what is already a rare and significant diamond. While the proportion of the halo relative to the center can be adjusted downwards, it inherently increases the overall size such that the protective buffer a halo offers is diminished because the size is large enough that it is more likely to get bumped or dinged.
- Opting for a shank with an airline is one way to protect larger centers, and it provides a nice aesthetic for any size center. Having a shank with an airline means there are more points of connection to the center setting, and the raised shoulders will shield the sides of a center diamond and setting as they are further off the wearers’ finger.
Key Considerations: How you wear your ring, what metal you choose.
The Reason: The center setting for a diamond is not just part of the design, it is the linchpin of the entire ring. It secures the center stone and connects it to the ring (shank) and its wearer.
TL;DR: If you plan to wear your engagement ring at all times, and be active with it on, more metal around the center diamond will keep it secure and looking good.
Practical Takeaway: As we’ve covered, engagement rings have become more and more a piece of jewelry that is worn all the time, including while we work, exercise, take care of kids, etc.…
With that in mind it’s important to consider the most appropriate setting for the stone you have and your expected use:
The setting most synonymous with engagement rings. Prong settings will raise the diamond furthest off a wearer’s finger and expose most of the diamond to maximize light refraction. It’s the traditional engagement ring setting and is meant to emphasize the beauty of the center stone. That’s not to say it’s an impractical choice. A well-made 4-prong ring can withstand decades of regular wear and opting for a split prong (especially for fancy cuts like Squares or Emerald Cuts) or 6-prong are great ways to personalize the design while adding a bit more protection.
Another consideration would be platinum instead of gold since it is a more durable metal. If exercise or hand intensive activities, like gardening or working with tools, are part of your daily routine we’d recommend removing your ring, especially for any center that is over a ½-carat, or any ring made in gold. This is because the height of the ring can lead to getting caught which poses a risk to the ring itself as well as to you the wearer. Because gold is a softer metal, wearing a gold ring while interacting with other metals is an easy way to misshape it, even if you are careful to avoid bumps.
The ideal setting for wearing your ring day in and day out while active is a bezel setting. It’s a setting type that keeps the ring as low and protected as possible. A bezel is a rim of metal around the circumference of your diamond (known as the girdle), which minimizes the chance of any damage to it or of the diamond getting loose. Not only will a bezel cover more of your diamond, but it will also sit lower, meaning closer to your finger, which lowers the risk of getting dinged or bumped in the first place. It is also the smoothest of settings, with no edges or bumps, minimizing the chance it gets caught on clothing or anything else. Because it covers more of the diamond than other settings, we recommend it for diamonds ¾-carats and above, but if protection and comfort are the key considerations, it will work at any size.
Halos present a nice middle ground between Bezels and Prongs. Halos wrap the center diamond with a ring of smaller diamonds (which creates a halo effect from which the setting gets its name). This not only creates a nice aesthetic, but it functions as a buffer around the center. Halo settings are inherently larger than other settings because they not only hold the center diamond, but many smaller diamonds around it. There isn’t one uniform size for these smaller diamonds, but as the center gets larger, the buffering offered by the smaller diamonds begins to diminish due to the overall size of the setting becoming overly large, making it more likely to get bumped or caught. We recommend halos for centers below 2-carats. Past that size you can still have a great looking ring, but it’s size will be such that it will be best suited for occasional wear.
Key Considerations: Plain or with diamonds, will it be worn next to a band, how will you wear your ring.
The Reason: We’ve focused a lot on how you wear your ring may literally and figuratively impact your center stone, but it’s also a key consideration for the shank. This is because the shank is the part that physically goes around your finger, so when you grab or push or pick something up, it’s guaranteed to get bumped or dinged, so it needs to be able to hold up to your daily routine.
TL;DR: The thicker the shank, the more wear and tear a ring can withstand – which is especially important if there are diamonds on the shank.
Practical Takeaway: A common request for the design of the shank is to keep it as thin as possible. It’s an understandable request, a thinner shank is lighter, and any center stone will look larger relative to it. Unfortunately, it is also a prime example of aesthetics being placed ahead of construction because an excessively thin shank endangers the stability of the center setting, accent diamonds, and the overall structure of the ring.
Pure gold is not a naturally hard metal, but it is hardened by the alloys mixed to create 14k or 18k gold in its various colors (yellow, white, pink, etc.). Gold and even the naturally harder platinum both require a certain amount of thickness to be durable and avoid deforming or even outright breaking. When a shank is too thin, it may initially appear stable and feel hard to the touch, but even light wear and tear may be enough to weaken the metal’s integrity and compromise the ring’s structure.
A common scenario that can really exacerbate the issues of a thin shank is wearing your engagement ring and wedding band together. It’s a great look, especially if the ring and band are designed to sit flush together, but the reality is that the ring and band are rubbing against one another. A well-made shank has enough metal that under normal circumstances this rubbing will never adversely affect it – especially if it’s platinum which won’t wear down as much as gold. When a shank is too thin, this rubbing can be the final straw that compromises an already shaky structural integrity, making it easily susceptible to bending or a full-on break.
When a shank has diamonds or other gemstones set on it, it should be made a little thicker so that there is enough space for healthy settings as well as a little buffer metal so that the settings aren’t right on the edge. When a shank is too thin though, not only is the shank itself compromised but there won’t be sufficient space for healthy prongs, which will more easily wear down or break from an impact, both of which will lead to the diamonds falling out. When one diamond falls out it’s likely an indicator that more will fall out as well. When a shank is too thin to have healthy prongs, then designs that have the diamonds sit right on their edge are especially susceptible to losing numerous stones because they don’t have any buffer metal to protect the weakened prongs and can be a source of perpetual frustration and additional costs to repair and replace lost diamonds repeatedly.
The shank also acts as a counterweight to the center stone. The lighter it is, especially as the center diamond gets larger, the more likely your ring is to twist on your finger (this is further exacerbated by wearing a ring that is not the right finger size). This can create discomfort as the diamond and setting may begin to rub against your other fingers because they are not sitting upright and away from your hand.
Whether you intend to wear your engagement ring with your wedding band or alone, how active you intend to be while wearing it is important. If you expect to be active, opt for a thicker shank if you can find one you like. If having a diamond shank is important, consider having them set within the shank instead of on top so that the diamonds and their settings are more protected and there is buffer metal. Not having the diamonds extend beyond the halfway point of the shank is another practical consideration. Not only will it make re-sizing a ring easier, but there will be no diamonds or settings impacted when grabbing or holding on to anything, just plain metal because even healthy prongs can get misshapen or break if impacted or pressed against other hard objects repeatedly (think exercising or gardening). If having an as-thin-as-possible look is important, consider a knife-edge style shank. This is a shank that has a wider base that tapers upwards – like the point of a knife. The top will be thinner than the base, but because the base is thicker, the shank and the rest of the ring will have enough metal to maintain structural integrity.