Stone Settings Used in Antique Jewelry

5 styles old jewelry lovers should know

The roots of modern jewelry can be found in antique styles, including the way stones are set whether in precious metals like karat gold or imitations. They often, with the gypsy setting being one example, are updated and improved as time passes. Even the legendary Tiffany diamond setting has been refined over time.

Learn about five unique styles of stone settings that can be found in both antique fine jewelry and vintage costume jewelry

  • 01 of 05

    Gypsy Setting

    Platinum ring with gypsy set European-cut diamonds.
    Alice Antique Jewelry on

    In antique jewelry, a gypsy setting sometimes has a star shape surrounding a gemstone. The star was formed when a graver (a commonly used jeweler's tool) was used to push gold around the stone to form prongs. Or, the metal may completely surround a stone to hold it in place (as exhibited in the diamond ring here). Dealers and collectors alternatively refer to this style as a star setting (when a star is present), and less frequently as a graver setting. 

    Some of the prongs and/or metalwork in this type of antique setting popular in the late-Victorian era through the early 1900s can look crude, depending on the skill level of the person who originally crafted the jewelry. Modern rings made with gypsy settings draw on the styling where a stone is sunk into and completely surrounded by metal. Jewelers most often call this a flush mount setting, and they are generally much more polished looking in comparison with antique gypsy mountings.

    An alternative spelling you will run across occasionally in describing antique pieces is "gipsy" setting.

  • 02 of 05

    Invisible Setting

    Brooch with invisibly set rubies, diamonds gold and platinum
    Patrick Gires/Van Cleef & Arpels

    This is a method of setting gems in which a mosaic-like array of stones seems to float seamlessly in a piece with no visible prongs or support. In reality, they have been cut individually and very precisely with grooved girdles that are locked into a thin wire framework underneath. Imagine how pieces in a jigsaw puzzle fit together to get an idea of the construction hidden beneath these designs. This technique tends to work most effectively using straight-edged cuts, such as square, emerald or baguette stones. 

    Developed in the mid-19th century in France, invisible settings were perfected and patented by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1933 as the "mystery setting" (but also referenced as mystère setting or invisibly set at times). Technological advances in cutting techniques caused the method to surge in popularity again in the mid-1990s.

    Costume jewelry pieces have also been made to simulate the invisible setting technique since it was introduced in the 1930s. Most of these imitation pieces, however, are made with rows of pressed glass stones created to emulate the look rather than duplicating the construction that pieces individual gemstones together. 

  • 03 of 05

    Millegrain Setting

    Ring with millegrain setting, 3 ct. center diamond set in 14K white gold
    Morphy Auctions

    A type of jewelry setting, characterized by a series of continuous fine beads (the term literally translates as "a thousand grains" in French) on the surface. These are not only decorative but can also help secure a gemstone in place. They are created by rolling a tiny wheel at the edge of a special tool over the metal.

    Ornamental beading existed in Etruscan jewelry centuries ago. In modern times, the Castellani family jewelry firm revived its popularity in the mid-1800s with their efforts to reproduce the ancient granulation techniques in gold. Millegrain settings became especially popular for use in jewelry made with platinum around the turn of the 20th century, and are a typical feature of the garland style that characterized Belle Époque and Edwardian jewelry. The style remained popular, however, well into the Art Deco era of the 1920s and '30s.

    Millegrain settings were popular for early 20th-century diamond and platinum pieces, partly because the technique mitigates the metal's shiny quality, thus enhancing the brilliance of the gemstones.

  • 04 of 05

    Pavé Setting

    Pavé Set Rhinestone Heart Pin, Ca. 1940s
    - Jay B. Siegel for

    Pavé (pronounced "pah-vay") is a word of French origin derived from paver meaning "to pave." It is used to describe a stone setting technique where gemstones, or even rhinestones, are set as closely together as possible on a metal base as if the surface were paved with them. The result is a piece of jewelry completed encrusted with stones so that very little of the base metal shows through.

    This is a centuries-old technique used fine jewelry time and again in many different styles. It has been copied prolifically in more modern costume jewelry (like the brooch shown here dating to the late 1940s). White metals are often used with colorless stones for this process since they blend together to enhance the paved look of a piece. Colored stones can also be pavé set in either monotone versions or alternate colors to produce a striped look or rainbow effect.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Tiffany Setting

    Tiffany & Co. Ring - Classic Tiffany Setting
    Photo courtesy of The Three Graces (

    This is a type of setting for a solitaire stone in which several claw-like prongs (usually six, but sometimes as few as four) hold the gemstone around the thickest part of its edge so that it is lifted above the band while being securely held in place. The raised nature allows light to penetrate both the top and the sides of the stone, ensuring the maximum amount of sparkle for the wearer.

    Named after Tiffany & Co., which invented the setting in 1886, it was an innovation when it was first introduced. Traditionally, stones had been set deep into the band's shank (see Gypsy setting above for an example). More than a century later, the Tiffany setting has become a standard for traditional diamond engagement rings as well as stud earrings. The overall appearance is essentially unchanged since its introduction, though the prongs have become slimmer over time.

    The first Tiffany settings were made of platinum, and since that white metal is nearly invisible against a diamond, a Tiffany-set diamond ring truly seemed to float on the wearer's finger. They can, however, be crafted of any type of metal, even sterling silver or plated base metal set with imitation stones.

    Special thanks to Troy Segal, contributing writer, for her help with this feature.