Ring maintenance: prongs

Next in our series on ring maintenance and common ring repairs is prongs! Sooooo important. And something we always check at Grimball Jewelers.

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Oftentimes a customer will bring in a ring for simple cleaning or re-sizing, only to hear the news that they are in need of prong repairs. Although it seems like bad news, it's really good news since the problem was caught before any precious stones or diamonds fell out. Imagine looking down at your beloved engagement ring and noticing that the diamond was missing.

Heart. Attack.

So first things first. Let's talk about checking our prongs! Check each prong on your ring using a loupe or a magnifying glass. Look at the ring from a variety of angles, making sure each prong is in full contact with your diamond or gemstone. There should be no space between the stone and the prong.

Problematic prongs

The prongs on this ring are all in their proper places. A prong that is bent might be just slightly lifted or pulled quite a distance away from its gemstone.

The prongs on this ring are all in their proper places. A prong that is bent might be just slightly lifted or pulled quite a distance away from its gemstone.

Bent prongs. Have a ring that is constantly catching on things and snagging your sweaters? Chances are you have a bent prong. In the course of our crazy lives, a ring prong can occasionally get bent out of alignment either from catching on something or from bumping against a hard object.

The best thing to do is take the ring to a jeweler for repair before it gets worse. The prong may only need to be straightened out and buffed up.

Broken prongs. The fact of the matter is: prongs can break. Sometimes just at the tip. Sometimes the whole darn thing breaks off. In many cases your jeweler will either re-tip the prong or replace it. In either case, the ring should be repaired right away. (Don’t even think about wearing it!! :)

Just plain worn. So we've talked a bit about how prongs can break off, entirely or just at the tip. How they can get bent out of shape. They can also get worn down and flattened out over time and through the various trials our ring must endure. (I know how that feels...)

Worn prongs are not usually an emergency situation but something that should be addressed and fixed very soon. Take your ring into a good jeweler and have them look at the prongs under the microscope. They will usually be able to tell you if you have a few months to plan or if you should stop wearing your ring until you can get it fixed.

The process of prong surgery

So what happens when you leave your ring with a jeweler to be re-tipped?

This picture shows a ring with custom single trellis prongs. It has no stone. And that is the danger you face if you wear your ring with a missing prong: no stone.

This picture shows a ring with custom single trellis prongs. It has no stone. And that is the danger you face if you wear your ring with a missing prong: no stone.

Retipping is the process of rebuilding prongs that are worn but not completely worn out. In most cases, the bench jeweler, while keeping the stone in place, will use a high melting solder to affix a wire or metal bead over the top of the worn prong and fashion a new one. The solder matches the prong's metal and alloy. This technique is generally used on the harder gemstones, like sapphires and diamonds. The softer, more sensitive the stone and the jeweler may have to use different techniques.

But what about replacing an entire prong? Here's what happens:

If a prong is worn so badly that re-tipping the top is inadequate, the entire prong must be replaced. Just like re-tipping, individual prong replacement is often done while keeping the stone in place. (Remember this might not be possible with more delicate stones.) The bench jeweler saws off the worn prong and then solders on a wire (a slender strip of the appropriate precious metal) and shapes it into a new prong.

Off with the head...

In situations where two or more prongs are very worn and in need of replacement, it may be more suitable and more cost effective to replace the component in your ring known as the head or prong system. The head is commonly a separate component that was added to support the stone. Very often the head is a piece that we order from one of our vendors but there are times when it must be made by hand.

These are custom prongs! If this ring was worn every day, it is likely the prongs would eventually wear and loose their details.

These are custom prongs! If this ring was worn every day, it is likely the prongs would eventually wear and loose their details.

When a head is replaced the bench jeweler will first remove the stone and then release the existing setting from the ring with a torch or by cutting it free. Then she will solder or weld it in position before resetting the stone.