When it comes to high-end jewelry, auction houses are the best sources to go to. Beyond the glitter and grandeur of these events lies a language all its own — a lexicon of terms that can make or break a sale, and can turn an ordinary necklace into an extraordinary masterpiece.
In this beginning segment called ‘Bling’s Anatomy,’ we'll explore the important anatomy of jewelry, and unravel just how vital the terminology is.
Whether you're a passionate collector, an aspiring buyer, or simply someone who appreciates that gemstone shine, understanding jewelry terminology can unlock a world of possibilities.
There are three major categories that all jewelry collectors, as well as makers, must know by heart: Setting, Clasp, and Chain Type.
All jewelry pieces begin and end with the clasp, and is a key fixture in all accessories, from cufflinks, to necklaces, to bracelets and earrings. While we have seen an array of clasps, chains, and settings that are modified or mixed, we will focus on the most popular styles that come through our gallery.
This is one of the top most common clasps in jewelry, along with the lobster claw. It’s relatively simple and is designed to be inexpensive in bulk for jewelry creators, but with precious metals like platinum or gold, it can drastically increase the value of the jewelry piece.
There is a reason this is the most common in jewelry creation, as used in this pearl necklace we sold years ago.
This is another extremely popular clasp used in jewelry, and by far a favorite for many jewelry makers! A fun design and easier to use compared to the spring ring, the lobster claw is also known as the trigger hook or my personal favorite, the bocklebee clasp!
A great example of the iconic lobster claw clasp would include this diamond and yellow gold bracelet we sold.
Box clasps are quite common in estate and high-end jewelry, as these clasps can morph into a hidden clasp with any surface designs or decorations. The chain or bar on the opposing side of the necklace, or bracelet, is placed within the teeth of the bar and clamps tightly. Compared to the two previous clasps, the box is the most secure and optimal choice for many jewelry enthusiasts.
An example of a box clasp is this platinum and diamond encrusted bracelet by Cartier.
While commonly used in fashion jewelry and less so in high-end or estate accessories, the toggle is another favorite by enthusiasts as it's the easiest clasp to adjust and wear. These are mostly seen on bracelets, but necklaces can sport a stylish toggle as well. The toggle provides a unique and fun personality compared to the others, and can be treated as a secondary pendant.
A great example of a toggle clasp is this 14k yellow gold charm bracelet.
Seen frequently with high-end jewelry and desired by most, if not all, jewelry collectors, hidden clasps provide top-tier security as well as maintain the gleam and extravagance of the piece. Usually these hidden clasps are designed to appear as the main centerpiece or are hidden as one of the many beads or chains.
(And because of this, we occasionally have to help previewers in the gallery because they’re so neatly hidden within a bracelet or necklace. Sometimes even we can’t find them at first!)
Jewelry setting can definitely make or break the entire ensemble. Every gemstone that’s cut and placed for a necklace, ring, or bracelet will define the overall allure of the piece. If you’re in the throng of people who are currently looking for wedding bands in time for the season, these terms are of high importance depending on the ring you’re looking for!
This is also where the buyer’s tastes highly affect the popularity of the jewelry piece as well, as the gem’s foundation can affect that final bid.
A bezel setting is something most jewelers are quite familiar with, as well as prong and channel settings. It is a secured groove holding the crystal or stone, a pretty basic form of a jewelry setting.
These two gold and diamond earrings with white gold bezels show the detail of the setting.
Prong settings are often seen in rings, especially engagement rings. The tongs, or ‘prongs,’ form a secure claw that holds the gemstone or crystal above the band. This allows light to create a more dazzling effect on jewelry compared to bezel, bar or gypsy settings. You can see an example of prong settings within this gold, diamond and sapphire bracelet we sold in a past auction.
This is also a common form for engagement rings, as the illusion settings create an effect where the diamonds (or stones in general) appear larger than they actually are. Along with the metalwork of the band, there is a mirror effect that evokes a more dazzling tone for the wearer. It also uses some forms of the bezel setting, too.
A great example of an illusion setting includes this white gold engagement ring with diamonds.
This is also known as a flush or burnish setting, and is when the gemstone is set into the metal of the band or chain. This is one of the oldest forms of jewelry setting known in the world, you will often find ancient Roman, Greek or Byzantine jewelry with this type of embellishment!
In modern day, they are quite popular for men’s jewelry, and are the most secure and preserve the stone’s surface clarity.
You can see the gypsy settings of diamonds within this men’s platinum ring we sold a while ago.
Common in eternity bands and rings, bar settings are quite easy to spot for beginning collectors and enthusiasts, as they have inset stones separated by the band’s metal in a ‘bar’ shape. For those seeking the most security and durability for their jewelry, this would be a premium choice.
An example includes this 14k wedding band with diamond stones we sold in the past.
Channel settings are by far one of the most popular jewelry settings across not just rings, but also bracelets and necklaces. These offer a sleek and sophisticated appearance with their geometric patterns and uniform shapes, and are known to be quite durable through time and wear.
A great example of channel set jewelry we sold includes this lot of men’s yellow gold cufflinks, bedazzled with sapphires and diamonds.
Pronounced, ‘pah-vay,’ is a fun jewelry setting that uses tiny gemstones, usually diamonds, across the body of the jewelry piece in a tight design, much like a paved street. Hence the name, derived from the French word for ‘paved.’
Pavé is a popular setting style for those looking for bright, dazzling and glamorous appeal. The louder, the more prouder!
Finally, we get to the most essential element of all jewelry terminology, it’s the chain. The chain, much like the setting, defines the overall style, cost, and allure of the piece. Obviously, there is a multitude of chain styles, but the most common and popular you’ll see within auction galleries and jewelry boutiques are the ones that follow below.
A popular choice among necklaces, herringbone is also known as the ‘broken twill weave.’ This style of chain bears an iconic V-shape design. It received its name for its similarity to that of the skeleton of a herring fish.
A dazzling example of herringbone chains include this gold bracelet with diamonds, pearls and sapphires.
This type of chain is quite literally a box-style chain, with square or rectangular links throughout. Smooth and sleek, this style is pendant friendly for necklaces and typically feature lobster, box or illusion clasps.
This pearl and gold pendant seen below dangles off a box chain necklace, which sold in a previous auction years ago.
Again, a very straight-to-the-point name, it resembles much like an electric cable. By far the most durable of all chains, and come in various thickness levels. Due to their sturdy and minimalistic design, it’s also the easiest for owners or jewelers to clean.
This yellow gold bracelet is mostly just a cable chain.
Rope chains are easy to discern due to their twisting design, resembling a rope or cord. This chain design is popular with collectors and makers, and is a classic and timeless piece for any wardrobe. Unlike the cable chain, rope chains do take more time to clean, but overall are the easiest to maintain in good condition.
This long 18k yellow gold chain sold at auction a while back for $4,000.
Finally, the last but certainly not least of them all, the curb chain contains flat, interlocking links that create a smooth and classic design. There are a variety of styles for curb chains, and are often seen in popular culture worn by celebrities, singers and entertainers to display their wealth and style. They are extremely versatile and are easy to maintain and clean.
This diamond and yellow gold necklace sold in a past auction years ago for $12,000.
In another upcoming blog post, we will follow up the Bling’s Anatomy series with gemstone cuts and the creative hybrids behind them.
If you find yourself hoping to acquire more estate jewelry pieces to add to your collection or wardrobe, feel free to sign up for our e-newsletters and be the first notified of any and all special jewelry lots coming up soon! Or, if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and looking to consign jewelry to an auction house near you, you can email our appraisal team at email@example.com or stop by for Free Appraisal Day every Tuesday. Check out our Free Appraisal Day page on our website to view our morning and afternoon session times.