Fashions and styles come and go. Some, however, are timeless. The much-loved solitaire engagement ring tops the list of best-selling settings year after year, and may never relinquish its title as the most popular engagement ring setting of all time.
There as almost as many reasons for the popularity of solitaire engagement rings as the number of women who wear them. Among them are their simple but classic look, the fact that they usually take a backseat to the diamond which is being showcased, the ease in matching a solitaire to a wedding band, and the unavoidable truth that they’re often much less expensive than more ornate settings.
Many brides-to-be don’t even give much thought to the setting when they buy a diamond solitaire engagement ring; they’re completely focused on the look and quality of the stone, and simply take the setting for granted. That’s not necessarily the wrong decision, but buyers should know more about a ring in its entirety before pulling out the credit card, so here’s some help to understand whether a solitaire setting is the right choice for you.
The History of Solitaire Setting
No one knows when a man first gave an engagement ring to a woman. Historians disagree on the origin of the tradition; some credit the ancient Egyptians or Greeks with starting the practice while others say it goes back much further, all the way back to the days of cavemen. However, they pretty much all agree that the “modern engagement ring” was born in 1477, when Archduke Maximillian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a diamond betrothal ring. Even so, most engagement rings continued to featured only metals or simple stones (or colored gems among the wealthy), until diamonds became more commonly available in the latter stages of the 19th century.
It was around that same time, in 1886, when what we think of as the classic diamond engagement ring arrived on the scene. That was when Tiffany & Co. introduced the solitaire Tiffany setting, with six claws to hold a diamond symbolizing a woman’s engagement. Before that time, rings primarily featured extremely intricate or detailed designs, so the concept of a “simple” precious metal band used primarily to raise a single, showcased diamond to a featured position was new and groundbreaking.
The brilliance of a beautiful diamond set in a solitaire engagement ring opened a lot of eyes, because the settings which had previously been used hadn’t allowed for such sparkle. The solitaire setting became popular among American women almost immediately and the trend spread quickly to Europe. Since that time as many as eighty percent of all brides have walked to the altar wearing solitaire engagement rings.
Engagement Rings Settings To Choose From
While the term “setting” is often used to describe the combination of the band (technically known as the shank) and the part of the ring which actually holds the stone (technically known as the head), it really means the latter. We’ll start our examination of options for solitaire diamond engagement rings by checking out the two types of settings the majority of people choose: the classic solitaire with a prong setting which raises the ring above the band, or a halo setting which we’ll describe shortly.
If you’ve decided on a classic solitaire, you’ll need to decide whether to use four or six prongs to hold the diamond. Technically speaking, a Tiffany setting has four prongs, but both options are viewed today as “classic” and acceptable. Each has its advantages and drawbacks.
Four-prong settings are viewed as the best choice for the rectangular or square-shaped stones you find in emerald or princess cut solitaire engagement rings, because having one prong in each corner fits right in with the shape of the diamond and overall appearance of the ring. On the other hand, four prongs can make an oval or round stone look somewhat “boxy”. The way to avoid that problem is to ask the jeweler to use a “kite mounting” in which the four prongs are at the top, bottom, left and right of the stone instead of the four corners. This has the added benefit of making a round diamond look bigger. The only drawback is that a matching wedding band won’t sit quite as nicely next to the engagement ring. A four-prong setting also allows more light to shine through the diamond than would be the case with two additional prongs; this is advantageous when the stone is small or when it’s cut in a shape which can use all of the extra light it can get, such as an emerald or Royal Asscher cut. The main drawback to four-prong settings is the obvious one – they’re less secure than having six prongs holding your diamond in place.
Six-prong settings are preferable in two situations. We’ve just alluded to the first one, when the bride-to-be wants to be sure her stone will be firmly secured (particularly if she’s accident-prone). The second is for round solitaire engagement rings, because the six prongs form a hexagon around the diamond, making it look bigger and rounder (vastly preferable to the previously-mentioned boxy look created by a four-prong setting). The drawback to a six-prong setting is simply that a little less light will be allowed into the stone, particularly if it’s small.
We’ve mentioned that the classic solitaire setting is, by far, the most popular among buyers. The second-most popular is the halo setting; it was the must-have setting for solitaire engagement rings during the Art Deco era, faded into the background for decades, but has had an enormous resurgence in the 21st century. A halo setting surrounds the center stone with a rim which typically features pavé diamonds or small channel-set diamonds, although some opt for a halo of small colored gemstones instead of diamonds.
There are those who don’t consider a halo ring to actually be a solitaire, because the often-showy look of a halo diamond ring doesn’t fully match the concept of a “simple” diamond ring. Halos can produce exceptional brightness and shine because of their extra pavé diamonds (even more so if they’re double or triple halos, with two or three rings of small diamonds), so they’re capable of attracting every eye in the room. However, many halo solitaire engagement rings feature smaller stones with sedate settings for an antique look, and come closer to the picture most people have of a classic solitaire whose primary purpose is to showcase a beautiful center diamond.
To many people, the primary advantage to halo settings is their spectacular appearance. However, another major advantage is security; the pavé diamonds hold the center stone firmly in place, much more strongly than simple prongs. The only disadvantage to a halo solitaire is “maintenance” because the pave diamonds are apt to pop out or become loose over time.
Tiffany and halo are the two most popular settings, but they aren’t the only options. Some women prefer the still-simple look of a bezel setting, while others who want a showier appearance prefer something more modern and striking such as an arched or tension setting. Those won’t look like the solitaires of old, but will definitely attract attention.
Once you’ve chosen a setting the decision-making is far from over, though. You still need to consider the band (we’re talking about what’s called the shank on the solitaire, not the wedding band – which entails even more choices). The easy decision is whether it should be thin or thick, and what type of precious metal should be used (platinum and white gold are much more popular these days than yellow or rose gold). More difficult choices involve whether to select a simple or fancy band, because there are literally thousands of possibilities.
If you’re looking for more than just a very plain shank, there are variations like the knife-edge which is rounded at the back and tapers to meet at two points under the stone, and the cathedral setting which sees the shank’s two shoulders connect with the ring’s head in a sort of inverted “A” pattern. If you’d like to add precious stones to the shank, which is quite common with halo settings, you can choose from a wide variety including striking U-shaped or V-shaped settings, and bead or channel settings which hold the small stones into place by different methods. There are also split shanks, again more common with halos, which have what appear to be two separate shanks separating from the head and joining into one shank at the sides of the finger.
That’s just a quick summary. When you’re ready to go shopping, be prepared to be amazed at all of the different looks your dream diamond solitaire engagement ring can have, just by switching out the setting.
Stones To Choose From
You’ve seen a number of mentions of round solitaire engagement rings in this article because, as we’ve said, they’re by far the most popular choice for brides-to-be. We’ve touched on their classic look, as well as the facts that solitaire settings can showcase the brilliance of round diamonds and even make them appear larger.
Many other types of stones are ideal for solitaire diamond engagement rings as well. Among them:
- Princess cut solitaire engagement rings: princess cut stones are the second most popular diamond used in solitaires, which is easy to understand. If the stone is square rather than rectangular it is almost the equal of a round brilliant diamond in terms of its sparkle and shine, and the clean lines of this type of ring is quite pleasing to the eye with the stone elevated above the band. Rectangular princess cut solitaire engagement rings won’t have as much brilliance but will still be impressive pieces.
- Cushion cut solitaire engagement rings: there are pros and cons to using a cushion cut stone on a solitaire. The advantage is that it can be a gorgeous look, with the stone certainly looking impressive and large above the shank. The disadvantage is that cushion diamonds won’t reflect light and shine in the same way that round or princess cut diamonds will. There’s an easy way to get the best of both worlds: cushion cut solitaire engagement rings with the stone set into a cushion shaped halo will preserve the distinctive cushion look, but the extra halo of pavé stones can compensate for the brilliance that the center stone won’t provide. A floating halo setting will increase the shine and flash even more, with extra light allowed into the center diamond through the extra spaces between the stone and the halo.
- Marquise cut solitaire engagement rings: Solitaires featuring marquise diamonds aren’t seen as often, particularly since many brides-to-be who favor the marquise look want to add offset stones to their settings. However, with the right setting a marquise solitaire can have a very sophisticated look. The recommended choice is a classic Tiffany with six prongs, so that the two extra prongs can cover the points of the diamond to protect them. However, you’ll also find that a slightly bolder setting, such as a polished bezel setting, can add to the dramatic appearance of a marquise cut solitaire engagement ring.
There’s no reason you can’t use a brilliant oval cut or pear cut diamond in a solitaire engagement ring if you’re in love with those shapes; they’ll add an unusual twist to a normally-classic solitaire which many brides love. Emerald cut and Royal Asscher cut diamonds are a bit more problematic for solitaires because of the stones’ innate tendency not to shine as brightly as the brilliant cuts. If that’s not a concern because you’re more interested in showing off a diamond with wonderful clarity, then go for it. If you still want an emerald or Asscher cut solitaire, you might go in the same direction as we suggested for the cushion cut, and set the stone in a halo which can add sparkle to the diamond solitaire engagement ring.
The hot dog is a classic American food. The Mustangs is a classic American car. They don’t remain classics just because they were popular for a short time – there is still meat and muscle behind them. The same is true of solitaire engagement rings: they’re not classic because many people wore them for a brief period; they’re as popular and gorgeous today as they were 100 years ago. It’s why you can’t go wrong with a timeless, elegant solitaire engagement ring.