What Is a Cathedral Setting?

Kate Miller-Wilson
Cathedral Setting

A cathedral setting is an elegant and classic display to set a gem, particularly in a ring. This exceptional setting mimics the grace and elegance of a cathedral, using arches to frame the gem as the stunning focal point of the jewelry.

Understanding the Cathedral Setting

In a cathedral setting, prongs, a bezel, or a tension setting hold the gem in place and sweeping arches of precious metal frame it on either side. Before choosing a cathedral setting, you should understand the pros and cons of this popular design, as well as the variations you may encounter as you shop.

Advantages

Many people choose a cathedral setting for its elegant appearance, as well as the following advantages:

  • The arch provides some protection to the center stone, particularly if the arch extends to the stone's table or girdle. This is especially important if your stone is relatively soft, such as an opal, turquoise, or lapis.
  • Arches add height and distinction to a piece of jewelry for less expense than adding multiple accent stones. This offers maximum impact on a smaller budget.
  • Arches can accentuate the perceived carat size of a small ring, making it seem larger.

Disadvantages

At the same time, cathedral settings have a few disadvantages:

  • Ruby Tapered Cathedral Setting Solitaire Ring from GemsNY, Photo courtesy GemsNY
    Ruby Tapered Cathedral Setting Solitaire Ring from GemsNY
    Open arches can be difficult to clean as dirt and oil build up in small niches and crevices. This can be especially problematic in a ring you wear frequently.
  • High arches may snag more easily on clothing, furniture, textiles, and other external objects. This can cause damage both to your ring and to the item on which it snagged.
  • Arches can be disproportionate or ostentatious when paired with a large gem or multi-stone ring.

Variations

A cathedral setting is a classic choice, but it can take on many subtle variations. As you shop for jewelry, you may encounter cathedral settings with these features:

  • Different arch degrees, from very small arches to dramatic curves that frame a high setting
  • Either convex or concave curves to the arches
  • Square, rounded, or tapered edges to both the length and the point of the arches
  • Different arch widths proportionate to the jewelry itself or the size of the gemstone
  • Arches that may or may not nestle between the prongs holding the central gem
  • Solid or split band arches

Examples of Cathedral Styles

Regardless of the rest of the ring's design, the critical feature of a cathedral setting is the sweeping arches. However, you'll notice many different styles as you shop for jewelry with a cathedral setting. The following examples can help illustrate some of the options.

Heart Shape Pink Sapphire Tapered Cathedral Setting Solitaire Ring from GemsNY, Photo courtesy GemsNY
Heart Shape Pink Sapphire Cathedral Setting Solitaire Ring from GemsNY

Cathedral Settings with Fancy Stone Shapes

While round diamonds are the most popular shape for cathedral settings, this setting lends itself to almost any gem. More unique designs may use princess cuts or even marquise-shaped precious stones. In this beautiful pink sapphire ring from Gems NY, a 0.68-carat, heart-shaped pink sapphire is elegantly framed in an 18k white gold cathedral setting. This gorgeous ring retails for about $600.

Cathedral Settings with Decorated Arches

The arches on a cathedral setting don't have to be plain precious metal. They often feature engraving, carving, or filigree. In this cathedral design fashion ring from Amazon, a 1.5-carat London blue topaz is set of by two elaborate sterling silver filigree arches and tiny, sparkling cubic zirconia. This design retails for about $30.

Build-Your-Own Cathedral Rings

One great style is a cathedral ring you build yourself. These make great gifts, especially when they feature your birthstone or a favorite gem. You can select the gem, such as this ruby ring from Gems NY, and then choose the cathedral setting you love and the stone shape that sets it off. This cathedral ring retails for about $460, not including the gem.

Sweeping Grace

Although cathedral settings are popular for engagement rings, you aren't limited to bridal jewelry when using this versatile design. Right-hand rings, fashion rings, and other styles also look lovely when set off with cathedral arches. No matter which style you choose, the sweeping grace and distinctive appearance of this setting adds elegance to any piece of jewelry.

What Is a Cathedral Setting?