Halo Setting: Something Old, Something New

One of the biggest jewelry trends during the 2010s has been the surge in sales of halo engagement rings. Many who see have seen Olivia Wilde, Nicole Ritchie, Natalie Portman or Carrie Underwood – as well as the Duchess of Cambridge – showing off their gorgeous halo rings have been struck by the beauty and versatility of the setting, and have decided they just have to have one for themselves.

A large number of those purchasing a halo engagement ring believe that it’s simply the latest and newest design to hit the market – and would be surprised to learn that halo rings were one of the most popular styles in the early part of the 20th century. But that’s one of the reasons these often-spectacular rings appeal to so many celebrities. A halo diamond engagement ring doesn’t have to be splashy to be stunning; it can also be an understated, stylish throwback to the days of the Roaring 20’s and the Art Deco era. For every halo ring with a huge stone surrounded by eye-catching diamonds or emeralds, there’s another halo with an exquisite antique-style setting and more sedate but perfect stones.

Here’s a comprehensive look at this enormously popular ring of the 2010s – and the 1920s.

Diamond Pink Sapphire Heart-Shaped 14K White Gold Halo Ring

Diamond Pink Sapphire Heart-Shaped 14K White Gold Halo Ring / Ice.com

Defining Halo Setting

As we’ve mentioned, halo engagement rings have become extremely popular in the last few years, so it’s hard to imagine anyone who’s not familiar with this compelling setting. A halo ring, at its most basic level, features a center stone surrounded by a collection of smaller stones forming a halo around it. The center stone can be almost any type of diamond (or other gemstone), and the halo is usually comprised of pavé (or micro-pavé) diamonds, although small diamonds can also be invisible-set or channel set. Some people prefer to use small colored stones with facets instead of diamonds. This halo serves an added function: it holds the center diamond more securely than four or six prongs would.

There are a number of benefits to halo settings other than trendiness. First of all, the small diamonds surrounding the large stone also reflect light, increasing the overall flash of the ring and calling attention to the center diamond. Second, because of the height of the center stone, small diamonds look much bigger in halo engagement rings (sometimes ¼ to ½ carat larger) while large stones appear to be absolutely huge. The overall size of the ring also contributes to the appearance of a larger, more impressive piece. Whether you’re trying to save money by purchasing a smaller stone, or to make a major impression with a bigger one, a halo diamond engagement ring will do the trick. You’ll have more total carat weight, too, because of the pavé diamonds on the ring.

Another benefit comes with the different types of halo settings you can select. A floating halo (with small spaces between the center and pavé diamonds) allows extra light to enter the large diamond, a tremendous advantage for cuts like cushion cut or emerald cut which aren’t known for exceptional brilliance. A double (or even triple) halo of small stones can add even more brilliance and flash to a ring, along with a show-stopping overall look.

We’ll get much more into some of these options later on, but first let’s see why the halo engagement ring is considered a classic – even if many people don’t realize it.

The History Of Rings With Halo Setting

Halo engagement rings were first popularized in the late Victorian and Georgian eras, which is why they still engender feelings of Old World charm. During this period, center stones were primarily cushion cut or round diamonds, and the small diamonds surrounding them were round stones rather than the small pavés we see today. They became the engagement ring of choice during the Art Deco era (from around 1920 through the start of World War II) because the symmetry and lines of the setting fit perfectly with the Art Deco focus on geometric shapes, pleasing lines and bright colors. It was also the perfect look for the 1920s culture of consumption and opulence. With the onset of the great depression, followed by the start of the war and its accompanying shortage of precious metals, demand for halo rings dropped considerably.

The halo setting never completely vanished from the scene, but has now come back in a big way with only solitaire settings more popular. It’s believed the 21st century reawakening of interest in the halo engagement ring was part of an overall growth in public fascination with antique and vintage pieces and designs. Some also believe that the new surge in the halo’s popularity is the same boost that’s seen with any “fad”, and that halo settings will quickly lose public favor. However, it’s hard to believe this classic, timeless ring will ever go completely out of fashion.

Diamond Polished and Milgrain 14K White Gold Halo Engagement Ring

Diamond Polished and Milgrain 14K White Gold Halo Engagement Ring / Ice.com

Choosing The Best Ring

We’ve briefly mentioned a few of the choices you have when buying a halo engagement ring, but there are an almost infinite number of ways you can customize your halo setting.

For those who prefer a clean, simple look but still like the idea of a halo ring, there’s the choice often called “white on white on white”. It features a round brilliant center stone with one set of pavé diamonds surrounding it, mounted on a platinum or white gold band (known as the shank). It’s beautiful yet elegant, making a statement without being overly ostentatious.

Most of today’s halo engagement rings, however, go a step further. Most common is another row of pavé diamonds around part or all of the shank, turning the entire ring into a fiery and gorgeous showpiece. (The one downside to running the diamonds around the full shank, though, is that it makes the ring harder to resize.). Alternatively, you can add an extra row of pavé diamonds (some people even go for two extra rows) to create what’s known as a double halo engagement ring (or, of course, a triple halo), and/or add a second row of pavés around the shank. All of those styles are popular, and all work to create an engagement ring which simply can’t be ignored.

Naturally, there’s no rule that you have to use diamonds. Some choose to use colored, faceted stones in the halo instead of pavé or micro-pavé diamonds. The choices are endless, but most focus on precious stones like tanzanite, sapphire, ruby, or emerald which are a wonderful counterpoint to the flash and fire of the diamond in the center. On the other hand, some brides create that type of contrast by using a colored stone as the centerpiece of their halo engagement ring; there’s everything from a “black-on-white” combination of a black center diamond and a pavé halo, to a glistening ruby surrounded by small diamonds. One of the most stunning possibilities is using a pink sapphire as the center stone with a halo of brilliant diamonds around it, creating a subtle yet spectacular display of color and shine. Of course, you’d probably have to be one of the celebrities we’ve previously mentioned in order to be able to afford a pink sapphire in the first place.

There are other ways to use color to create statement halo engagement rings. Instead of the now-dominant platinum or white gold shanks, consider the possibility of a yellow gold or rose gold band combined with a smaller stone. This delicate look immediately transforms your piece from a modern-looking ring into one with an antique look, transporting you from the 21st century into a more romantic era. Much the same look can be achieved, at a lesser cost, by using a lower-graded yellow center diamond with brilliant halo stones.

Another possibility is the floating halo mentioned earlier, which has a small space in between the center stone and the halo of smaller ones. This serves to highlight the center diamond to an even greater degree, and allows more light to penetrate the stone for greater brilliance.

Of course, diamonds are cut in a number of different shapes. However, there are different shapes of halo settings as well, both to fit the shape of the stone and to convey a particular look. Round or oval diamonds have entirely different appearances when set in unusual cushion-shaped halo settings, which also greatly benefit rectangular stones (as we’ll discuss below). A hexagonal halo setting may look contemporary to some, but also pays homage to the Art Deco era in an eye-catching way.

We’ve mentioned that there’s no rule that you have to use diamonds in the center of a halo engagement ring, but there’s also no rule that you have to use one large stone, either. Some choose to use a cluster of pavé or other small diamonds in the center of their ring; they end up with a similar carat weight and great shine for a lower price.

If you are going to use a classic diamond as your center stone, the shape and cut of the stone have a major impact on the overall look of a halo diamond engagement ring. We’ll take an in-depth at that aspect of the selection process next.

Diamond 14K White Gold Halo Engagement Ring

Diamond 14K White Gold Halo Engagement Ring / Ice.com

How Shapes and Cut Affect the Look of Halo Rings

It’s commonly believed that a few types of diamonds work best with a halo setting. However, all cuts will fit into this versatile setting, meaning that you can make a non-traditional choice to alter the look of your engagement ring in order to create exactly the appearance you desire.

  • Cushion Cut Halo Engagement Rings: The most traditional approach is to use a cushion cut or even an old mine cut diamond as the center stone in a halo setting, because those were the most common combination when halo engagement rings first became popular in the early 20th These stones are most likely to recreate the feel of an antique or vintage halo ring. Cushion cut halo engagement rings have the added benefit of showing off the diamond to its best advantage, because the added elevation for the stone and the added shine of the pavé halo help compensate for the cushion cut’s deficiencies in the brilliance department. A floating halo setting, providing more room for light to shine through the cushion cut halo engagement ring, is an even better choice.
  • Round Halo Engagement Rings and Oval Halo Engagement Rings: Jewelers or designers will often recommend that you go with a round brilliant diamond when purchasing a halo engagement ring, if you’re not going to use a classic cushion cut stone. The reason is simple to understand: a round halo of diamonds will greatly accentuate the shape of the center stone and overall brilliance, while retaining some of the setting’s antique look. Particularly considering the Art Deco background of this setting, with the period’s focus on geometric shapes, round halo engagement rings appear almost as authentically vintage as cushion cut rings. The look is luxurious and opulent, yet also romantic. A similar feel can be achieved with oval halo engagement rings, another popular choice because the size of the diamond is emphasized by the halo setting.
  • Princess Cut Halo Engagement Rings: Many women have their hearts set on princess cut stones. There’s one problem, though; the square cut of the stone can look quite harsh to some in some settings. The way to handle the issue is to use a cushion shape halo setting (see our discussion of different halo shapes earlier in this article). Cushion halos have curved corners, softening the look of a princess diamond’s cut and making princess cut halo engagement rings appear elegant rather than a bit jarring to the eye.

Even marquise and pear shaped diamonds look wonderful in halo settings, and there’s a major benefit to using a halo for these fancy cuts. Any cut with pointed edges is at risk of chipping or breaking, but when those diamonds are enclosed in a halo, however, that danger is eliminated.

You may be initially attracted to halo engagement rings because “everybody’s wearing them these days”. The timeless beauty of this style, however, plus the unquestionably dramatic appearance of a halo engagement ring – coupled with the fact that halos can have a look ranging from antique and romantic to modern and splashy – argue strongly that halo diamond engagement rings aren’t just a fad. They’ll be delighting brides-to-be for generations to come.