Jewelers Prefer Prongs. You Don’t.

Why don’t you like prongs?  I so wish you did!  Deep down, this is what I want to say whenever I get a new custom order for bezel set gems.  But I hear you.  It just looks so nice, and it’s a very protective for the stone, too.  So if we’re going to bezel set your stone, there are some things you need to know.

First of all, let’s talk about why jewelers prefer prongs.  For one, prongs can better accommodate odd stone sizes and depths.  There are no prong settings for cushion cuts, but very often a round or a square setting will work.  And most existing bezels for pears are 8x6, 7x5, and so on.  Whereas most pear shapes are fatter, shorter, or longer (i.e. 8x7, or 7x3).  But prongs can be opened up just a little, and in a 4 prong setting, the gem can stick out on both ends and that won’t matter.  You can also take a prong setting, cut some metal from the bottom half, then re-solder the wire to make a narrower setting.
Another reason why jewelers prefer prongs is because the stone is less likely to break during setting.  Paradoxically, it is the soft stones you would want to bezel set for precisely that reason.  Oh well….

So as you’re dreaming about the next bezeled ring or pendant, keep in mind a few simple rules.
1. Bezels come in standard sizes, gems don’t.   For rounds, there are full and half mm sizes; and with straight, as opposed to tapered bezels, the stone has to fit exactly.  If it’s 1/10th mm too big, it sticks out and the walls don’t fold.  If it’s 2/10th mm too small, it will fall through the back.  For ovals, pears, and emerald cuts, the easily available sizes are 5x3, 6x4 etc., but not 5x4, or 6x5.

2. There are tapered bezels and straight bezels.  The straight bezels require a nearly perfect fit, the tapered bezels can be shaved down a little from the top if the stone is too small (for a perfect fit, it should line up with the rim of the bezel).  Most tapered bezels on the market have an airline, however.  That means they are not fully closed but have an opening on the sides that goes around the stone.  This allows for more light to fall in.
Two straight bezels (an oval and a princess), a round tapered bezel with airline and a half-bezel, similar to a tourmaline setting (with a tourmaline sitting in it).
3. Not all stone shapes have bezels you can buy.  Here’s a big mystery for you: there are no cushion shaped bezels available anywhere.  Who knows why.  It is the same with baguettes.  For baguettes, you usually use prong settings or a setting (called tourmaline or baguette) that has two walls folding in on the stone on the outer ends.
4. If you buy 14K, you usually have more choices available, because in the industry, gold is still used far more than silver.  For now…
What happens if the bezel you want doesn’t exist and that you need to have it made?

There are two ways to make a bezel (that I know of).  The easy method is to use step bezel wire which has a second inner wall that will serve as the seat for the gem (look at the picture with the bezels, the way the straight bezels look gives you an idea of the shape of the wire).  This wire gets folded gently around the stone, with grooves filed on the inside to allow corners to fold in, and the ends soldered together (or if you cut three pieces for, say, a triangle, then you solder the three seams).  Making this kind of bezel takes about a half hour on average.  And: I know how to do it!

The hard method is to take a block of silver, or a block of wax if you like, and shave out the opening for the stone with a drill, then shave the outside to suit.  That’s like sculpting, essentially, just with different tools.  Like Michelangelo, you’re digging out a little cushion shaped David from a piece of metal or wax. 
This, by the way, is the only way to make a tapered bezel for an oddly shaped stone.  But I cannot do it for you.  I can hire out, I did it once for my 6mm cushion bezel.  But it cost $60 and it took the guy all afternoon.  I’m glad I did it because I had it cast to make more, but now all I have is that one size.  I can shave the top to make it smaller, but I sure can’t make it bigger. 

Ring with My Handmade Cushion Bezel
Lastly, there are three reasons for why you, too, might prefer prongs.
1. Your stone is likely to break if bezeled.  If it’s a soft stone (kyanite, sunstone, Mexican fire opal, apatite), and especially if it has sharp corners like a princess cut, forget bezeling it. 

2. Your stone is too deep.  Some stones are so deep they stick out the back of a bezel.  This is not such a big deal for a pendant, but in a ring it may be uncomfortable to wear.
3. Your stone is too dark.  Normally a bezel is recommended for medium to lighter gems because the bezel takes away the light.  Sometimes, what I do in that case is solder the bezel on top of the ring shank because the silver behind it will brighten the gem.  But if it’s a deep bezel, that won’t work.

Happy designing!