There is no doubt that one of the most important influences on jewellery setting in the 18th and 19th centuries was the continuing developments in gem cutting, particularly of diamonds. The replacement of the flat based rose cut diamond with the brilliant cut diamond which was faceted on all sides led to open back settings (Ogeden, 165). The move away from closed back settings is significant in helping to identify the age of pieces of antique jewellery. This is not to say that closed back jewellery settings disappeared altogether in the 19th century but they were generally began to be seen only with mourning and sentimental jewellery, signet rings and settings for cabochons and opaque stones.

As mentioned in last week’s post, claw or coronet settings had become popular from the 1830s. With claw setting, a jeweller cuts prongs into or solders them to the outside of a collet. The stone itself sits on a metal band soldered inside the collet and the prongs are pressed over the stone to keep it in place. The claw setting allows light to enter and pass through the stone from both the top and the bottom.

Coronet settings are in the shape of a circle with high prongs jutting up and forming a crown shape. The girdle of the stone sits within the crown shape and the prongs are bent over to hold it. The setting makes the stone look bigger and the use of claws meant that stones didn’t have to be held in the collet, which had had to be made to fit the dimensions of each stone.

Another change was the use of pieced galleries. The part of the ring that sits on a finger is called the bridge. With a stone set ring, the stone could just sit on top of the bridge but the change introduced was to add a gallery that holds the stone but sits on top of the bridge. These galleries were often ‘pieced’, that is, sawn to create open cut areas and arches to let the light through. This style led to the scrolled work that was used for five stone rings later in the century.

Changing ring profiles throughout the 19th century

In the 19th century, in addition to the move away from closed back settings, other changes to settings were being made. For instance, pavé settings began to be used in the early 1800s, in which small stones or pearls were held in place with small grains or beads of gold, known also as ‘thread and grain’. Millegraining, involving tiny dots of gold joined together, was used around 1812, then its use stopped until the Edwardian era in the 1900s

Two antique pavé snake heads

Gypsy settings started in mid 1850s. Stones were countersunk ‘in the centre of a star incised in the surface of a solid metal setting so that the eye took in not only the stone but the extended arms of the star’ (Bury, pp138-9). Examples are shown in the photo at the top of the post.


Antique Jewellery University

Nancy Armstrong, ‘Jewellery: an historical survey of British styles and jewels’, 1973, Lutterworth Press

Shirley Bury, ‘Jewellery: 1789-1910, vol 1’, 1991, Antique Collector’s Club

Duncan James, ‘Antique Jewellery: Its manufacture, materials and design’, 1998, Shire Publications

Jack Ogden, ‘Diamonds: An Early History of the King of Gems’, 2008, Yale University Press.