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If you’re searching for an engagement ring or any other piece of jewelry, the number of styles available seem endless.
One initial decision is whether to choose a cluster or solitaire setting.
The main difference between cluster and solitaire rings is that cluster rings consist of many small diamonds placed closely together to imitate a single center stone. Solitaire rings feature one center stone without any diamonds surrounding it or placed along the shank.
We’ll compare cluster versus solitaire rings, including an overview of each, four main differences, and how to decide which is right for you.
What is a Cluster Ring?
Cluster rings are often meant to mimic the appearance of a single stone placed on top of the ring.
But if you examine them closely, you’ll find that instead of one diamond, there are often five to 10 smaller ones.
This group of diamonds forms the cluster.
Within this style, there are a variety of designs.
Some include one stone that’s larger than the others. It sits in the middle and is surrounded by several accents of equal size.
This diamond ring provides an example of this type.
Other cluster settings contain diamonds that are all the same size.
This cluster setting includes multiple round-cut diamonds in the center that form a cushion shape.
Either way, the intent is typically that when someone views the piece, the diamonds will blend together to create the illusion that there’s only one.
Whether there are additional diamonds on the shank doesn’t determine whether it’s a cluster setting. Some have pavé diamonds cascading down the ring, and others keep the band free of these accents.
What is a Solitaire Setting?
A solitaire setting includes a single diamond, with no side stones or pave on the ring.
It’s most commonly associated with diamond rings, but any piece of jewelry, such as necklaces or earrings, can be considered solitaire.
One of the reasons buyers choose solitaire settings is it focuses all attention on the center diamond. So it’s important to select a quality gem that’s eye-clean and appears colorless.
If there are shades of yellow or noticeable inclusions, they’re more noticeable in a solitaire setting compared to ones with a halo or pavé.
For example, check out this solitaire setting.
The diamond is held by four prongs and stands alone on top of the ring. Its simplistic, sleek design is available in yellow, white, or rose gold or platinum.
As a petite ring, it also results in the diamond appearing larger compared to a thick ring.
Because there aren’t other diamonds on the band, there are fewer design options. But one variation is choosing between a high or low setting.
A high setting, like its name suggests, places the diamond far above the ring to maximize its brilliance.
A low setting on a solitaire setting offers better security but doesn’t allow light to hit the gem from as many angles.
What are the Differences Between Cluster and Solitaire Rings?
If you’re comparing cluster versus solitaire rings, you should understand how these settings affect its appearance and performance.
There are several differences noticeable to the naked eye, but let’s dive into the details of four of them to help you decide.
1. Solitaires are More Popular for Engagement Rings
Solitaires are the most popular setting for engagement rings. The center diamond is often the focal point of engagement rings, and solitaire settings maximize its aesthetic.
Buyers choose a high setting, with a large, eye-clean diamond. It sparkles when twirled, and a wedding ring can fit next to it.
By selecting a ring without additional diamonds, you can put the savings toward the center diamond instead of paying a higher price for accents along the band.
To demonstrate the differences, the price of this solitaire setting in 14K white gold is $240.
This setting is similar, except there are channel-set diamonds in the ring. It costs $1,550.
The extra 0.23 carats costs $1,310, which could buy you a higher clarity, cut, or color grade on a solitaire setting.
It’s rare to see a cluster setting as an engagement ring. Even though the illusion is it’s all one diamond, you often want to show off your engagement ring from close up.
At a short distance, it’s noticeable the total carat weight (CTTW) is spread across several gems.
If you decide on a cluster setting for an engagement ring, we recommend one where there’s a single diamond bigger than the rest.
It helps avoid the reputation of cluster rings as tacky.
You’ll still draw attention to the center diamond, and the surrounding ones play a supporting role.
2. Cluster Rings are Less Expensive
Cluster rings are less expensive than solitaires because the CTTW is spread across multiple diamonds.
An important principle to understand when buying a diamond ring is that higher carat weights disproportionately increase the price. A two-carat diamond doesn’t cost double a one-carat diamond.
For example, we compared prices for more than 200 diamonds from James Allen that had the following grades:
- Color: F
- Clarity: VVS2
- Cut: Ideal
Ones that weighted one carat cost an average of $11,840. Two-carat diamonds with those grades cost $40,044, which is almost four times the price for twice the weight.
The reason this is relevant to prices for cluster versus solitaire rings is you’ll pay more when the CTTW is contained in one diamond.
We’ll use examples from Jared to illustrate.
This ring includes small round-cut diamonds clustered in the middle, surrounded by a halo and pave.
The CTTW is 0.50, and it costs $1,499.99.
Jared also sells loose diamonds. We found ones that weighed 0.50 carats, with the same clarity and color grades as the cluster ring.
The average price was $1,135, which is only $365 less than the entire cluster ring. If you placed one of those loose diamonds on a solitaire setting, the price would likely reach more than $2,000.
Overall, cluster rings offer a higher CTTW for a lower price compared to solitaires.
3. Solitaire Settings are Easier to Clean and Maintain
With only a single diamond, solitaire settings trap less dirt and debris. This makes them easier to clean and maintain than cluster rings.
Fill a bowl with warm water and dishwashing soap. Soak the ring for about 20 minutes and gently brush it with a soft toothbrush.
Air dry the ring, or pat it with a soft cloth.
This should remove anything trapped under the prongs and give it a new shine.
Cluster rings may require a professional cleaning. There are far more crevices where debris can sit.
You can try to clean it the same way you do a solitaire ring, but it might not be as effective.
Avoid cleaning it in a way that could lodge any of the gems loose. They’re difficult to add back in because there’s only a small gap where it fits.
While the risk of a diamond falling out of your setting is minimal if you take proactive steps to protect it, it’s much more inconvenient to lose stones from a cluster ring.
With a solitaire setting, a jeweler can often easily place it back in the prongs.
4. Cluster Settings Can Form Alternate Shapes
There are a variety of designs to choose from with cluster settings.
You’re already familiar with the decision of whether to have all the stones the same size, but there are also alternate shapes for its outline.
For example, this cluster ring has a floral halo.
There’s a large diamond in the middle, surrounded by clustered marquise cuts. It’s also available with a cushion, princess, or emerald cut in the middle.
The clustered diamonds can also form unique shapes that mimic other cuts. This ring features round-cut diamonds in an oval shape.
From a distance, it appears there’s a single stone in the middle with a halo around it. But the center is nine diamonds pressed against each other.
Instead of a heart-cut diamond, you can find cluster settings that form the shape of a heart, like this 14K white gold piece.
There are four layers of round cut diamonds. Along with the pavé diamonds on the band, it totals 0.8 carats.
The design options for solitaire settings generally include the type of metal, how the diamond is held, and the thickness of the band.
Popular choices include a three-, four-, or six-prong setting, or a bezel.
If you’re interested in an alternative solitaire, check out this one.
The bypass design still holds the diamond with four prongs but wraps around the gem in a unique way.
Whether you’re choosing a cluster or solitaire setting, explore the many styles available instead of immediately opting for the traditional ones.
How to Decide Between Cluster and Solitaire Rings
Deciding between cluster and solitaire rings involves understanding how the two styles differ in their appearance and overall performance.
Each can make for a stunning piece of jewelry, so here are some tips to help you decide.
You should consider a cluster setting if:
- You want a higher CTTW for a lower price
- You’re interested in a ring that forms a unique shape
- A ring that creates the appearance of a larger stone is appealing to you
Opt for a solitaire setting if:
- You’re searching for a traditional engagement ring
- You’re willing to pay a higher price for a single diamond, as opposed to spreading its carat weight across multiple small ones
- You want a ring that’s easier to clean and doesn’t trap as much debris
By pairing diamonds with both solitaire and cluster settings, you can create the perfect piece of jewelry for you.