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There are many types of settings for diamond rings, and one way to classify them is as a cathedral or non-cathedral setting.
The main difference between cathedral and non-cathedral settings is that cathedral settings have an arch that extends from the top of the shank to hold the diamond high above the ring. Non-cathedral settings don’t have this arch, so the diamond is often placed closer to the ring.
When I was shopping for my wife’s engagement ring, I explored dozens of styles of settings, including a variety of cathedral and non-cathedral settings. I ended up choosing one without the cathedral arches.
It’s a four-prong solitaire setting that positions the diamond close to the ring.
Let’s compare cathedral versus non-cathedral settings and how to decide which is right for you.
What is a Cathedral Setting?
A cathedral setting features two arches that form the shape of a cathedral building when they extend up from the shank to hold the diamond. It creates triangle gaps in the setting. At the top, prongs often secure the diamond, supported by the cathedral arches.
Take the cathedral setting below as an example.
It’s a solitaire setting, but it’s distinguishing feature is located at the top of the shank, where it breaks from the traditional style and slopes upward. Notice the two holes those arches create.
Cathedral settings aren’t limited to prongs. The design refers to the slope of the band, not the entire setting.
Whether you choose a tension or a bezel setting, the arches can still rise from the band to meet the metal holding the diamond.
In most cases, cathedral settings result in a high-set diamond.
The diamond sits higher off the band and your finger compared to other types. There are unique designs where the diamond sits low, but traditional cathedral settings give diamonds more prominence.
There are many pros of cathedral settings that make them a popular choice for engagement rings.
Prominently Displays Diamond
Settings are often judged based on how well they display the diamond. High-set cathedral settings score well in this area because the diamond is elevated from the shank to make it appear larger.
It maximizes the amount of light that enters the diamond to enhance its brilliance, which also minimizes the visibility of inclusions.
In the example below, the diamond sits far higher off the ring than in most non-cathedral settings.
Available in Multiple Styles
Another benefit of cathedral settings is the variety of designs.
As long as the sloped arches are still present, this setting can include a number of additions, such as milgrain on the ring or several rows of pave diamonds.
Although I ended up choosing a solitaire setting, I considered a style resembling this design. There’s something about complementing a diamond with an elegant cathedral, in addition to diamonds lining the shank, that creates a truly stunning ring.
You can also add bead-set or channel set accents to the shank.
Cathedral settings are available with thin bands and solitaire settings, where the only focus is the center diamond. If you’ve chosen a large, eye-clean diamond, I recommend not crowding it with too many other designs.
A simple cathedral setting maximizes its display and light performance.
Pairs Well with Wedding Rings
The setting also fits well with a wedding ring.
A reason many buyers choose a cathedral setting is because the wedding ring can slide underneath the high setting.
Instead of competing with each other because both settings are low, the engagement ring and wedding ring will complement each other.
Cathedral settings have disadvantages, several of which are why I opted for a solitaire setting instead.
Diamond is More Vulnerable
For ones with a high-set design, it leaves the diamond more susceptible to hits and chips. This is countered by the strong security of a cathedral setting, but it puts the diamond in a vulnerable position.
Notice how high the diamond sits on this cathedral setting.
You should remove the piece of jewelry during physical activity where it could experience hard impact.
Cathedral settings are also more liable to snag on furniture, hair, or clothing.
This trait lead to another downside. The crevices in cathedral settings can fill with debris and dirt, which means it’ll need cleaning more often than non-cathedral settings.
I recommend you take it to a professional jeweler once or twice per year to remove the grime that accumulates.
Distracts from Center Diamond
The unique design of a cathedral can also be an issue. Most buyers want the focus on the diamond itself, and the elegant, sloped appearance of a cathedral setting can distract from the center diamond.
Ensure you approve of its design before choosing it for an engagement ring.
What is a Non-Cathedral Setting?
Non-cathedral settings are any settings that don’t include the cathedral arches sloping upward to hold the diamond.
It isn’t an official term to describe a setting but instead generally refers to a ring where the prongs extend from the shank from one point.
Notice this trait on the four-prong setting below. All four converge to around the same point at the top of the shank, creating a tight aesthetic.
It’s often called a floating setting or described as one where the diamond rests on top.
As the band approaches the top of your finger on each side, it doesn’t break off into two parts to form the cathedral arches.
This results in less metal surrounding the diamond.
There are many pros to non-cathedral settings, whether it’s a floating setting, a three-stone piece, or a standard tension setting.
The main benefit is a simplistic design that minimizes the amount of metal on the piece.
I’ve seen designs that appear too bulky, where the diamond itself just doesn’t stand out like it should. Diamonds cost too much money to be hidden by its setting.
The sloped metal on cathedral settings can also block the profile view of the diamond. When you’re showing off your diamond ring, it won’t always be from the top-down view.
Be mindful of its appearance from every angle.
By choosing a non-cathedral setting, you provide more visibility to the diamond and allow light to hit it from every side.
Variety of Designs
There are also more varieties of non-cathedral settings versus cathedral. Nearly all of the designs for a cathedral setting, from pave and channel set diamond accents to solitaires and double halos, are available in a floating setting.
The arches of the cathedral don’t allow for many additional designs compared to ones without them.
Easier to Clean
Many of these options also don’t accumulate debris or snag as easily. If you opt for a solitaire setting where the diamond rests on top, cleaning the ring doesn’t always require a professional.
In fact, I’ve always just cleaned my wife’s engagement ring at home because of its simple design. I don’t have to worry about dislodging pave diamonds or milgrain.
There are fewer spaces for dirt to get stuck, so the design gives it an advantage.
Many non-cathedral settings, such as trellis settings, sit lower compared to cathedral designs. It lessens the chance of it getting caught on everyday items. A low-set diamond is also better protected.
I should clarify that you can still have a high-set, non-cathedral setting or a cathedral setting with a low profile. But as a general rule, non-cathedral settings don’t position the diamond at the same height.
There are downsides to many of the settings that don’t feature cathedral arches.
Some Designs Lack Elegance
If you’re considering a floating style, the simplistic design may not appeal to you.
Instead, you may want the structure provided by a cathedral setting and the way it secures the diamond.
Cathedral settings provide a degree of elegance not found in many other types of setting.
From conversations I’ve had with prospective buyers, I’ve learned there are generally two perspectives. Some place all their attention on choosing the center diamond, and others are more concerned with the overall appearance of the ring.
Neither is right or wrong, but if you’re focused on how the diamond is displayed, cathedral settings are an exceptional choice because of the prominence it gives the diamond.
They don’t require additional diamonds to enhance its appearance, while some buyers find non-cathedral settings too plain, such as a simple knife edge ring.
Many buyers who choose a non-cathedral setting look for ways to enhance other parts of the band.
Diamond Sits Lower
Floating style settings or ones where the diamond rests on top often sit lower compared to cathedral settings.
It may interfere with the wedding ring and not slide under it as easily.
I also often tell buyers to choose a high setting for large diamonds, so a cathedral setting can be the right fit in many cases.
How to Decide Between Cathedral and Non-Cathedral Settings
If you’re deciding between a cathedral versus non-cathedral setting, you should know which characteristics in a setting are most important to you.
Choose a cathedral setting if:
- The arched design and triangle gaps are appealing to you
- You have a large center diamond
- You prefer the prominence of a high setting that better displays the diamond
- You want to maximize the amount of light that can enter the diamond from the top
Opt for a non-cathedral setting if:
- You don’t prefer the appearance of sloped arches leading to the diamond
- You want to choose from a variety of options such as traditional bezel or tension settings
- You’re concerned the prongs on a high setting could snag
- Keeping the setting free of debris and grime is important to you
Many online retailers allow you to view images of how your diamond would look in a particular setting.
By comparing how your diamond is showcased by cathedral and non-cathedral settings, you’ll find the right setting for you.