Cluster Rings - The Original Halo Setting

What is the difference between a cluster and halo engagement ring?

Cluster rings can be the 'marmite' of jewellery, people love or hate them. They are the original halo setting after all, but are so much more than that..

Yes thank you Kate Middleton, for bringing sapphire cluster rings back into style.

For a lot of people, when they think of a cluster engagement ring setting (if they think of a cluster engagement ring setting at all) they think about rings that are set with loads of small round brilliant diamonds set in white metal with a yellow shank.. (And generally on sale for half price, not that it ever went on sale for full price..) I’d say I’m not going to diss such rings, however I guess with that last sentence I already have..  Apologies to anyone reading this article who picked up a such a ring in those circumstances. Yes, that is a cluster ring, a very modern and cost effective way to create a lot of sparkle by using a lot of tiny diamonds. It’s a modern cluster, and this article is going to look at some different styles that are still cluster.

The halo evolved out of the cluster setting for diamonds – it creates the visual impact of a bigger stone.  Technically, it is still a cluster, the term halo evolved out of a very specific look.  While a cluster ring is made of similarly sized stones (where the centre may be larger but generally not more than 40%), a halo setting surrounds the centre stone with a border of smaller diamonds, usually melee size.  Hence the term, in the classic sense it is a ring of stones ‘haloing’ the centre.  

Diamond sizes for the halo can vary.  Their overall appearance will be in line with the size of the overall centre stone – as they can look disproportionately large or small.

Some goldsmiths still refer to the halo as a cluster ring.  Technically, all rings in this style are still cluster, as that is what is happening with the stones!.

There are a lot of different options for side diamonds when creating a halo setting, and with modern rings, preference is going to come down to the taste of the wearer.  A popular look for engagement rings, and I describe it as ‘mascara’ with the outer border of stones enhancing the overall size and appearance of the centre stone.  This is great, especially where budget is tight, creating a larger looking setting which is more budget friendly because the diamond doesn’t have to be as big!

There are a lot of halo examples in this article I wrote recently.  So we’ll keep the halo example short;

Here we have a stylish halo engagement ring, where the centre stone is set in a collet which appears to float in the centre of the ring. The tiny side stones have been thread and grain set.

Now we can move on to the cluster, because I really love cluster settings. They make the most out of smaller gemstones, and can offer the wearer all sorts of solutions for different hand shapes.  If you are looking for a ring with a larger setting, and are either unwilling or unable or just don’t like the idea of having a large centre stone, small stones give you endless ideas for creativity.

No tiny diamonds in sight.. A few cluster setting examples.  The 8 stones on the left hand ring are so well set they look like one large diamond! The centre ring shows how we created drama in an old cluster setting by replacing the shank, and the right hand ring is another restoration project come good.
A diamond cluster ring we restored.  Old clusters often have claws wearing out, and as in this case, come to us because a stone has dropped out.  Keep an eye on your setting with these rings, especially when the ring has been passed down to you.

Old cluster rings never die. They just wear away..

We restore a lot of cluster rings. Reason for this, is that it has been very popular, especially in the 40s and 50s when post-war, it was a good solution for cash strapped couples. And there are so many interesting designs out there. But as I've noted, they will wear out with prolonged wear. If you are already the proud owner of a cluster ring, it's always worth having your setting checked every couple of years to ensure that everything is still in place. For a skilled goldsmith, it is easy enough to re-tip claws and refurbish worn settings, and saves you the upset of missing diamonds and other stones.

Cluster rings do not have to look traditional.  This pretty design accentuates the diamonds in a petal style setting, the edging is so clean and sleek the ring looks very modern.

Does it matter whether I choose a halo or cluster ring?

No (slaps head) of course not, it is completely down to your own sense of style. Better you discuss the look you are trying to achieve, and a good jeweller will know what you are looking for anyhow.

Final Thoughts

A halo ring can be a cluster, but a cluster isn't always a halo.. Hopefully now you know why, and also why a cluster ring doesn't have to be an old-fashioned looking thing on your finger.

Got a cluster ring to repair? We're pretty hot on jewellery restoration. Likewise, if you are looking for a special ring, and like the idea of a cluster engagement ring, we'll help you visualise what is going to work best for the wearer. Get in touch with us for more information.

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