These modern-day treasure hunters reunite people with lost heirlooms

Have metal detector, will travel.

Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Whether it’s a family heirloom that’s been passed down for generations or a brand new engagement ring, losing a treasured piece of jewelry can feel like losing a piece of yourself. That’s why former professional soccer player and lifelong metal detecting enthusiast, Christopher Turner, established The Ring Finders, a directory of like-minded altruistic treasure hunters from around the world who can help you recover it.

Back in 1972, a young Turner spotted an ad for metal detectors in a copy of his father’s Field & Stream magazine. “I asked my dad what it was,” Turner told Engadget. “He said, ‘It finds treasure.’ I said, ‘I want one.’ He said, ‘Get a job.’” So, Turner spent his summer working on a chicken farm to raise enough funds to purchase his first, but certainly not his last, metal detector.

“I just fell in love with the adventure of them,” Turner recalls. He has spent the past 40-plus years enjoying the hobby — less the seven years he spent playing pro soccer in the North American Soccer League. When a knee injury ended his goalkeeping career, Turner took up metal detecting again.

“I was just enjoying it and I lived in LA on a boat for a while, then I was approached by people who had lost rings asking for help,” he said. “It kind of evolved into a service where I realized there's a lot of people that need help. They were always pulling out their wallets to give me money and I'm like ‘I don't want your money’ but they’re like ‘You're taking it, you don't know what this means [to us].’”

When he moved back to his hometown of Vancouver, BC a few years later, Turner started a small ring finding company called Lost Jewelry. Then, 12 years ago, an angel investor reached out to Turner after finding his YouTube channel chronicling all of the people Turner had helped with an offer to fund a major expansion to his business. And thus, The Ring Finders directory was established.

While The Ring Finders is a full-time job for Turner, it remains mostly a side hustle for the 500 hundred independent Finders in 22 countries around the world — mostly because roughly 90 percent of them, according to Turner, operate solely on a reward basis. “We'll accept the reward of [what the client thinks the service is] worth and what they can afford,” Turner explained. “We just ask that they cover our gas.”

The equipment that the Finders use depends largely on what they’re tasked with looking for. “If you're a relic hunter, they have machines that are good for relic hunting,” Turner explained. “If you're going just for nuggets they have golden nugget machines. If you're a diver, they have machines submergible to around 150 feet.” And, just like cell phones, manufacturers are continually coming out with more capable detectors that can scan deeper and more accurately each year. However, the equipment does not make the Ring Finder.

“You have to be a good detective,” Turner said. “You have to know the questions to ask in order to get yourself in that area where you do have to find it. So many times myself and my members were told where somebody lost a ring and we find it like 80 yards away. So if you don't ask, if you don't go in there with a game plan, then you're not prepared to grid search and extend the area if you need to.”

One bit of tech that Turner would love to get his hands on would be a visualizer allowing treasure hunters at least a rough glimpse at what their detector is looking at — something akin to a fish finder. Current displays typically only provide a numerical score based on the detected object’s conductivity — high conductive metals like silver will return a higher score (and can be detected more deeply) than low conductive metals like lead or gold. So while these displays will give an idea of what the object is likely made of, it won’t provide any clues as to what it actually is. For example, gold items, bottle caps and aluminum pull tabs all have roughly the same conductivity so there will be a good chance that what the detector reads as the gold locket you’re looking for will actually be the top from a soda can.

“I want to see when you can actually see the shape, ‘okay, that looks like a ring and that's a bottle cap.’” Turner said. “That would be incredible. It’s 2021, we can go to Mars but we can't make a metal detector that sees into the ground?!”

But not just anybody can get themselves listed in The Ring Finders directory. Those interested will need at least a year or two of metal detecting experience as well as their own equipment. “I'll spend probably an hour on the phone talking to them and understanding their experience,” Turner added. “We don't want to send somebody who just bought a metal detector to go out and help somebody.” You’ll also need to pay an annual $65 fee to be listed, though that price does increase if you want to be listed in more than one city or wish to operate as the exclusive Ring Finder in a given area.

To date, The Ring Finders directory has grown largely through organic means, such as word of mouth recommendations from past clients, and that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon — especially when Turner has folks like Jon Cryer, star of CBS’ Two and a Half Men, extolling the directory’s virtues.

“The interesting thing is, what’s attached to these rings — their stories — and everyone has one,” Turner contemplated. “And when that ring is lost, that story ends. So what we do is we help continue it. It just, it blows me away.”

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