Rare Antique and Estate Jewelry & Fine Collections of Precious Gems
September 20, 2016
In most cases, stones are set in jewelry using prongs or bezels, which can easily be seen with even a cursory inspection. These methods are preferred because of the relatively simple work required in creating the setting, and because they are very reliable. But there’s a third way known as invisible setting which is, as you might expect all but invisible to detect without a very through inspection. The invisible set process was developed in France around the beginning of the 19th century, and hasn’t actually changed much since that time.
A custom metal frame is used, in which the stones are cut specifically to use opposite pressures to stay in place. Princess cut stones are used almost exclusively, as straight, precise edges are required for the stones to sit together properly and without gaps between.
The technique is commonly used with diamonds, but there are no limits on which type of stone can be used. Diamonds, however, are especially popular as the reflective properties help to hide any potentially visible joins between the stones.
Each individual stone has small grooves on the base which perfectly match the framework into which they are being set. A final “snap” into place and the pressure exerted across all four edges of the stones to its neighbors, as well as down into the mounting framework keeps the stones in place.
By using an invisible setting, several smaller stones can appear as though they are a single stone by creating an effective carpet. A similar technique is sometimes used to set stones in the band of a ring, where the setting is often a combination of part invisible and part bezel.
In the 1920s, legendary Parisian jeweler Van Cleef & Arples set about perfecting the invisible set, acquiring a patent in France for what they called “The Mystery Setting”, and quickly became the first name in invisible set jewelry despite stiff competition from Cartier, who owned the US patent for a similar technique. What VCA did differently to Cartier, and which brought them a lot of attention, was to use colored stones such as rubies, emeralds and sapphires rather than concentrating primarily on diamonds.
This made for spectacular creations that buyers loved, and meant VCA remained the kings of the invisible set for decades. So why aren’t all ring settings invisible? There are several reasons why bezel and prong settings are still the most widely used for all kinds of rings and especially engagement rings.
Firstly, invisible settings are very expensive to create. They are complicated and require a level of precision that bezels and prongs don’t, and each creation also requires a jeweler and a gem cutter working in perfect harmony. If the jeweler creates a framework that the cutter doesn’t match perfectly, the stones just won’t fit and, of course, the cost of two experts is far higher than just one.
Another reason is that, if the stones are cut or grooved incorrectly, it is difficult to find another use for them and the value drops dramatically. Mostly, however, the reason invisible set rings in particular aren’t more popular is down to simple longevity. Because nothing other than the expert cut of the stones and the framework underneath is holding the stones in place, they are prone to working loose and even falling out.
Replacement stones are very difficult to acquire, due to the unique cutting of each one and, even if the stone is not lost, resetting it is no guarantee of the future integrity of the set. Resizing is also almost impossible with an invisible set ring, as any flexing could be disastrous to the strength of the invisible setting and stones could fly out with the slightest manipulation.
Despite all these problems, modern laser cutting and manufacturing techniques has meant more secure invisible settings due to the more precise tolerances that can be employed.
An invisible setting still isn’t infallible, but it has come a long way in the last 25 years or so. Also, such pieces are an absolute joy to behold when made correctly and, as long as care is taken and attention is paid to the condition of the ring, they are also a joy to wear. This improvement in manufacturing techniques has allowed something of a comeback for the setting which deserves to be anything but invisible.
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