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Jewelry, Gems, & Minerals/ring head - botched job - to replace or not?


fishtail head
fishtail head  
fishtail head
fishtail head  
QUESTION: Hello:  I have a ring that got botched by a jewler.  It has a fishtail head.  I am thinking that probably the only really good fix for it would be to have a new head put on.  Is this even possible to do?

This is a ring from the 40's.  It was new old stock.  It originally had a slightly smaller stone in it (4.5 mm?) and I had a slightly larger stone (4.68) put in it.  The jeweler said he could do it but did an awful job. The bad result can be seen with the naked eye.  I took it to another jeweler and asked if he could fix the problem.  He declined saying he was afraid of doing anything at this point, that it may only make it worse.  Specifically, the raunchy jeweler added uneven blobs of white gold to the tops of the 3 prongs at each of the 4 corners of the setting.  They are visible to the naked eye and I am quite dissatisfied with the look.  The corners are no longer crisp as they were originally.  I am in a fight to get at least a partial refund on the ring.  I like the style of it and think that a good jeweler could either fix the problem with the prongs or put on a new head.  

I have attached pictures of the ring as it was originally (with the smaller stone in it) before the crappy work was done on it to give you an idea of what we are dealing with here.   I am not able to take a good close-up of the ring at this point because I don't have a macro lens for my camera.

ANSWER: Dear Lorri,

Opening the setting and strengthening prong ends by adding metal is not unusual in this sort of work. However, the metal added should be gold and not simply gold solder flowed on to increase thickness. I do not know which was used for your ring but regardless, the real key to an attractive fishtail setting is in the shaping and final finishing of the working and decorative prongs. This is not an easy job to do well but certainly should not be visibly blobbed.  

At this point, quite honestly I recommend a new setting. Your photos are nicely done but unfortunately I cannot ge a good view of the side of the band where it meets the setting. In the older rings, the connecting area if often somewhat thin. Even so, it should be possible for a good jeweler to remove the original setting and install a new one. Actual size needed should be determined from the diamond measured while out of the old setting. The jeweler will either heat the old setting to pull it from the original or in this style of ring use a very fine jewelry saw to cut through the metal at the bottom of the head to separate it from the band. It is at that base area that gold solder (white to match the setting) is flowed to install the new setting.

I would not have the jeweler who messed up the ring do the work! Check around and find a jeweler who is comfortable with the work.  You do have photographs to show how the ring looked in the first place. The new setting with diamond should look quite similar to the photos. Fishtail is not a style jewelers work with often and the finishing style may be very slightly different from the original but regardless, should be aesthetically executed and symmetrical in opposing prongs.  

Your photos are fine, in fact, clearer than most I see macro lens or not.

Lorrie, I wish you the best in having this setting properly done.

God Bless and Peace.  Thomas.    

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

side view of ring
side view of ring  
QUESTION: Thomas:  Thank you so much for your detailed explanation.  I have just one more question.  Do you know a good source for fishtail heads (findings)?  I have looked on-line and see that there seems to be only one style.  I realize that this type of setting is not popular now.  Perhaps you might know of a source for retro settings for repairs??????

ANSWER: Lorrie, the jeweler should have vendors to supply a fishtail head. I did find one:

My normal supplier no longer has this style, unfortunately.

For your information when talking about the parts used in jewelry, in the trade the word "findings" includes heads, ring shanks w/o settings, beads, clasps, fittings, etc.  Almost any part which is used to put with other parts to complete a jewelry item is a "finding".

There you go! Again best wishes and God Bless.  Thomas.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks Thomas.  I found that one too.  Seems like that's pretty much the only style now.  It's different than what I have, I think.  It seems the fishtails on my ring are 3 longer pieces with 2 shorter pieces in in between. Does this make sense?  Perhaps I could find a scrap ring on eBay with a similar head.  Trouble with that is, I wouldn't know what size stone the head would accommodate.  I seem to be a magnet for this type of trouble.  It's always something.  I did manage to get a $150.00 partial refund from the seller.  I doubt this will go very far as far as fixing the ring is concerned. I had been looking for 2 years for a ring for my mother's engagement diamond.  My dad was an Air Force B-24 pilot during WW II and bought her an engagement ring while in training in Texas.  She wore it for years then had the stone removed and the gold melted down to make a new, glitzier, 3-stone ring.  The original stone became a side stone in that ring.  I really wish she had just kept the original ring in tact.  I gave my half sister (not my father's natural child) the 3 stone ring with the caveat that I get the original stone, then have been on this quest to find a ring that was from that era.  This ring that I just bought, the botched one, is a new old stock ring from the 40's.  My aim was to somewhat replicate the look of her original ring.  This one is different but has that vintage, 40's look and feel.  And now, I've got all this mess with it.  But, like I said, I seem to be a magnet for this sort of thing.  

Thanks again so much for your help.  I gave you a rating tonight (all 10's) and a review.  It is wonderful to have people like you who are willing to take time out to help others with your expertise. Lorri Mechem

P.S.  I will send pictures of the ring as it is now so you can see what I am dealing with.  Perhaps there could be a simpler fix that would allow me to retain the original head.   Still have not received the diopter (magnifying) lenses from Amazon yet.  The pictures that I sent were taken by the eBay seller.  He obviously has a macro lens.

Lorrie, the statement I made in the answer originally applies to your concern about the look of the setting:

"Fishtail is not a style jewelers work with often and the finishing style may be very slightly different from the original but regardless, should be aesthetically executed and symmetrical in opposing prongs."  

The side prongs are actually formed by the jeweler as the stone is set. The setting is cut out to take the stone snugly and cuts are made on either side of the real "decorative" prong from the outside rear toward the gemstone. This separates the side sections visually from the rear prong and allows the two forward(toward stone) prongs to be tightened on the stone. Then the tops of those prongs are shaped with a fine file, engraving tool, small rotating abrasive tool or other tool of the jeweler's preference. When all is finished, there are two prongs on the stone and one in the rear. As for the side of the setting, the jeweler may cut two lines down from the rear prong, one on either side to the base. Then, using a fine abrasive wheel this may be shaped to show very similar to your original ring.

All this work takes skill and experience to make a fishtail look like it should. That is one reason a number of jewelers have little or no desire to do this sort of work. It is quite labor intensive.  Much of what is decorative and formed in jewelry today is straight from the dies of the manufacturer then finished by the jeweler. One example is cluster settings with multiple stones set in a domed round shape. The setting is die struck today and was hand cut from a domed solid piece of metal in the past. In vintage jewelry, many shapes and forms were the result of hand work which in many cases is not needed or applied in modern styles.

I am glad you had at least some refund.

Get back anytime.  I am having computer repairs done and may have intermittent Internet connection for about a week to two weeks, starting yesterday, March 11, 2013.  If I am slow to respond or show on "vacation" from allexperts, that is why.

God Bless and Peace.  Thomas.

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Have a question about jewelry repair or working with precious metal jewelry and gemstones? For many years up to December 31, 2010, I was a working professional bench jeweler, involved everyday with setting stones in mountings, designing and making jewelry, repairing and limited custom manufacture. If you work with jewelry as a hobby or as a profession, I might be able to help. I deal with the retail business, not mass production. Ask privately if you wish. See the box for that: It keeps your question between us. Please DO NOT ask MAKER'S MARKS, but metal quality marks are fine to ask. Please DO NOT ask diamond prices. See a gemologist for that.


I have extensive experience in design, service and making of jewelry. I deal mostly with precious metals and gemstones but work with many materials as needed and usable to create an artistic design. My experience also includes freelance photography and photographer of jewelry and similar items for a former employer and individuals. Design of custom items requires reading the desires of the client and being clear on what can be done within that framework...then fulfilling the transition of idea to reality. Effective communications is essential in a working designer/producer and customer relationship.

Education is English/Physics! Started in human resources, to advertising, to, what a road. I have had formal training in jewelry work and many shared experiences with top grade jewelers. We just never know were we will go or be. Follow your best, your dreams, with some discretion! Don't let the work tear up your body along the way as it has mine.

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