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Archaeologists, Your New Jewellers

Anyone buying jewelry for the first time (or the second, or the third), is bound to experience sticker shock. Walk into any major jeweler and even the most nondescript silver bauble can cost thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, astronomical prices don't always mean exclusivity--there's a chance you'll see the necklace you bought on two other people before you've left the store.

Those odds become a lot longer when your necklace is 3,000 years old. Sometimes the best jewelry store isn't a store but an auction house .

How are antiquities like this available to the public and not behind lucite in a museum? Start with provenance. While experts can definitively date an object, sometimes they're unable to verify where--and how--the piece made it into private hands. This is especially true with something as small and easily smuggled as jewelry.

It's also a question of demand. If you're shelling out $3,000 or more--much more--on a piece of jewelry, the recipient had better love it, and wearable antiquities aren't for everyone. There's a reason a girl's best friends aren't carnelian intaglios.

Finally, not everyone has the time to stay abreast of the latest auction house deals. It's a lot easier to walk into Tiffany's and pluck something from the counter as easily as you buy a Snickers bar.

After looking at this slideshow , though, you might be convinced that a little extra legwork is worth it. Especially if you want to avoid a moment when the same piece of jewelry looks a lot better on the person next to you.

James Tarmy is reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse , the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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