Christopher Martin, a 43-year-old trumpet player in the New York Philharmonic, lost his wedding ring while playing baseball in Central Park. With help from the Ring Finders, he was paired with Jeronimo Barerra, who showed up to the park with two metal detectors—one for each of them. After about an hour of sleuthing and no sign of the ring, Martin was prepared to give up. But Barerra’s persistence paid off: When a family who had been having a picnic cleaned up and left, he swept his detector over the area and heard a beep—it was Martin’s ring.
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Martin and Rodriguez aren’t the lucky few exceptions who were able to recover their lost jewelry. The metal detectorists have a surprisingly good track record of finding missing rings. Barrera, a 45-year-old vice president of the video-game company behind the viral hit Grand Theft Auto, has recovered 20 of 30 rings he’s been tasked with locating. All the ring finders agreed that if the person knows roughly where the item was last seen, it will most likely be discovered. As Barrera put it, the success rate is “close to 90 percent on the ones where the calls are to a specific spot in Central Park, or to the beach, or a yard,” versus hazier locations such as somewhere in midtown Manhattan.
The metal detectorists run the gamut in age and background, but, like Barrera, they are mostly male. “The members are 90 percent men, 10 percent women, yet that is changing,” Turner says.
One reason the metal detectorists have such a surprisingly good track record is that, through practice, they’ve honed a strategy on how to find rings. “If I can’t find them, I’m not sure that they are where they think they are,” says Mike Fish, a ring hunter who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. The 71-year-old retired firefighter does request a small fee—chocolate-chip cookies.
“It’s a lot of work,” adds Steve Smith, a 63-year-old retired welder based in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. “People don’t understand. You find a lot of trash before you find treasure.” He says he’s found about 50 percent of the roughly 500 rings he’s searched for. Sometimes, he’ll spend hours searching for a ring only for the client to realize that it was in a pocket or at home all along.
The process of finding a ring starts, first of all, with figuring out exactly where it was lost. As all the metal detectorists told me, most of their ring-less clients are mistaken on the location—sometimes by a little, often by a a lot. “They are never where people think they are. They are off by 30, 60, 100 yards,” Turner says.
Smith laid out how the process works after that. “Once I decipher basically where the ring is from the questions I ask,” he says, “we arrange to meet in their yard or the beach or the park. They lead me to the area and we go over again how they lost their ring, which way they were facing, what happened at the moment. Kind of like a detective, I figure out where to start my search, being sure to cover the entire area, because if you missed it by an inch, you missed it by a mile.”