When I set out on this journey to learn everything I could about diamonds, I resisted the idea of stepping into the world of jewelry. I’m not an artist, and I don’t have great fashion sense. But as more and more readers asked me for advice on setting their diamond, I slowly began to realize that creating a piece of diamond jewelry can actually be very technical.
I suddenly had a new goal, which was to compile everything there is to know about getting a diamond set. Honestly, when I purchased an engagement ring for my wife, I didn’t do enough research on the setting. I focused my energy on trying to pick the perfect diamond and my considerations for the setting were mainly how to maximize the brilliance of the diamond, the color, and for its protection.
I spent about 10% of the price of the diamond on the setting and convenience was a big factor for me (at least unknowingly). I picked the simplest Tiffany-style solitaire from Blue Nile where we got our diamond. What little I knew about diamonds when I started could only be surpassed by how much less I knew about jewelry. Although the setting I picked ended up being perfect for my wife who loves everything simple, you should at least be aware of all the options out there when finding a setting for your diamond.
So what are your options for setting a diamond?
I’m not talking about style or the material of the setting, which I’ve written about in other articles. What I’m talking about is the difference between a generic, non-branded, mass-produced ring and a high-end, couture, and bespoke piece of jewelry.
There are branded and non-branded generic settings, both of which are mass-produced. Mass-production usually involves assembly lines where each worker is responsible for a single step, without regard to any other process or how the entire piece of jewelry comes together. What you’ll find is that the designs have to be simpler, and inconsistency in quality between each piece is unavoidable.
Quality control is merely another step in the line and very little time is spent to ensure that a piece is of good quality before it leaves the factory. Because cost-effectiveness is a primary consideration in these types of rings, every effort is made to reduce production costs and every step that can be automated cost-effectively will be. You will typically find materials that are used in these kinds of rings to be chosen for ease of manufacture and lower costs than for beauty and quality.
If you buy a diamond ring online, there’s a good chance you’ll purchase at least a generic branded setting that has been selected by the diamond vendor, perhaps even customized by them to represent their brand. There’s an extra level of quality control for branded generic settings. For simple settings, this is the way to go and thanks to online vendors like Blue Nile, the process of buying a completed engagement ring couldn’t be easier.
Top designer settings are also mass-produced because that is the only way to fill orders. The difference between generic and designer is in how the design is protected from being copied. Jewelry can be protected through trademarks, copyrights, and patents, but for the most part it is the unique style of the designer that sets them apart from other designers.
The basic premise for a designer setting is that every diamond is beautiful, rare, and desirable and therefore you should mount your diamond on something that is also beautiful, rare, and desirable.
Most top designers don’t actually sell their designs themselves, but rather through authorized retailers. However, the jewelry will usually be manufactured from a single factory and service and repairs are usually done by having the piece sent back to the designer. Designer settings will use better materials and go through a much higher standard of quality control than generic rings. Some designers only use ethically sourced and environmentally friendly materials and so the brand comes with a promise.
Designer settings will cost around $2,000 – $4,000 USD and you can find top designer brands such as Tacori, Verragio, Simon G., Vatche, and Ritani available at authorized distributors such as Whiteflash.
Couture and Bespoke Settings
These are two terms that originated from tailoring and bespoke means something that is made to order. Couture refers to the design and manufacture of an item of fashion. The problem with these terms is that they are often misused both in the tailoring and the jewelry industry to the extent that it is difficult to use them in a way to identify precisely how a piece of jewelry is made.
Used properly, bespoke is used to differentiate an item from ‘off-the-rack’ or ‘made-to-measure’. You can think of off-the-rack as being mass-produced and you can think of made-to-measure as a customized cup of coffee at Starbucks. Neither is truly bespoke because a bespoke item requires a completely customized design.
When you go the custom route, you open up a whole new world of options for you to decide. You can choose the way your custom setting is crafted by carefully deciding which artisan to work with. The look and feel of the ring is highly influenced by the style of the craftsman.
Some custom ring designers such as Brian Gavin Diamonds leverage the use of technology such as CAD/CAM and wax, molds, and castings. But what you’ll find is that the high-end custom designers will only use traditional jewelry making techniques and the custom ring is primarily hand-fabricated without the use of wax, molds, or castings.
Regardless of the tools being used, it’s an important distinction that a bespoke design has to be an original design, and not a modification of an existing design that is more like a ‘made-to-measure’ customization. Most custom designers will meet with you face to face to discuss your design and you will very much be a part of the entire process.
So which route should you go?
This is a very personal decision that is going to be driven by different tastes and budget. What I can share from experience is that you should think about the diamond and the setting together. After all, they will become a single piece of jewelry. If you can afford to get a decent diamond (G-H, VS1-VS2) in the size and cut you’re looking for, then I would try to get a nice designer setting at the very least.
I always talk about striking a balance in your diamond, but you should try to strike a balance for the entire ring. Why go through the lengths of getting a diamond that isn’t mass-produced only to get it set in a mass-produced setting? In the same way it doesn’t make sense to me if someone buys a beautiful H&A diamond (even if it’s mass-produced in India) and have it set in a generic non-branded setting.
I actually think it makes more sense to make compromises on the diamond, and get the setting that you want because my experience is that most people cannot tell minor differences in diamonds, but the setting is something that everyone can see and something that you will feel.
I think everyone would go for a designer setting if there wasn’t a price premium and I don’t think anyone would disagree. There are certainly bragging rights to owning a designer setting and if you fall in love with a certain design then you should definitely go for it. But personally, I think that if you want a piece of jewelry that is truly special, an heirloom, then a custom setting made using traditional jewelry making techniques is the only way to go.
If you know what style you like but haven’t decided which designer to work with, please get in touch with me and I will be happy to point you in the right direction.