Ring Finders
You know those men walking the beach with metal detectors? Turns out some of them are really good guys.
By Kate Morgan

For Haddon Heights’ Dave Milsted, combing the beach for lost valuables isn’t some get-rich-quick scheme, it’s an act of goodwill.

RingfindersMilsted, 54, is a “ring finder,” and he routinely uses his metal detectors to locate and return lost valuables like necklaces, watches and rings – for free. As a paramedic, he says, it’s simply in his nature to help people. And as a member of the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club, he sticks to a clear code of ethics.

“There are some bad eggs out there who go down the beach, dig up a soda can and then leave both the soda can and the hole. Those are guys who give the hobby a bad name, and that’s why we’re considered nerds and gold-diggers and that’s it,” Milsted says.

“The code of ethics contains some basic rules we stick to. Like if you dig a hole, fill the hole. If you dig in grass, try to make sure the grass won’t die. Leave the property you’re on better than you found it, and if you find trash take it with you. Most importantly, if you find something that’s identifiable, you try to return it.”

Returning things to their rightful owners is the aspect of his hobby Milsted likes the most. He’s a member of a national online organization called Ring Finders, which helps those who’ve lost a valuable piece of metal connect with a member in their area.

“You’re their last hope when they start searching the internet,” Milsted says. “But then when you can get there and find the thing for them, it’s amazing.”

Milsted’s searches are often successful. He chronicles his finds, along with photos of the jewelry, on his Ring Finders blog.

“My favorite was the 1980 Eagles championship ring,” Milsted says. “The guy who lost it played for the team, and he wears it every day. He was outside doing yard work when he lost it. He was heartbroken. He tried to get it replaced, and it would’ve cost something like $35,000 to get a new one. It took me two days to find it. The ring was actually under a bush he had been trimming in a garden, and surrounding that garden were steel plates, so the weeds wouldn’t grow. They were constantly setting my metal detector off, which made it even more difficult to find – but I got it.”

Milsted does occasionally accept rewards for his work – or sometimes just gas money – but he never charges for his services. Sometimes, he says, the look on a person’s face is payment enough.

“It’s priceless when they see the ring,” he says. “There was one lady who lost her ring on the beach. I was out there for two hours and the tide was coming in and I said, ‘I’m going to go up and back one more time.’ I found it on that last sweep, but she didn’t see me scoop it up. I went back to her and she was so upset, and she said, ‘I guess it’s gone. Thank you for trying.’ That’s when I opened my hand, and she saw her ring.”

Cape May’s Jeff Laag lives just off the beach, so it’s a quick commute when he’s called out to find a ring lost in the sand or surf. The 36-year-old firefighter has been detecting for seven years, and in addition to being an official Ring Finder, he runs his own Lost Ring and Jewelry Recovery Service on Cape May and surrounding beaches. Like Milsted, Laag always offers his help free of charge.

“While out hunting, I occasionally would be approached by people and asked if I would help them with finding lost items,” Laag says. “I’d read about others who were helping people, and it didn’t seem like there was anyone around here who was offering that kind of service. Seeing an opportunity to make my hobby into a way of helping others, I began assisting people on a regular basis. I created the Lost Ring and Jewelry Recovery Service page on Facebook. I have been a firefighter for over 18 years and have always enjoyed helping others.”

Dave Milstead

Dave Milstead

People get very emotional about their recovered valuables, Laag says. He is often called in to find items that don’t necessarily have a high monetary value, but are irreplaceable to their owners.

“Seeing the reaction on someone’s face after being reunited with something that they believed was ‘lost forever’ is what has become, hands down, my favorite part of this hobby,” Laag says.

“I’m kind of these people’s last resort. These things are deeply meaningful, and they really think they’re never going to see them again. One man lost a ring his mother had given him on his 60th birthday. It was a gold band with a little diamond chip. It took me almost a month to find it, in chest-deep water, but when I called him and told him I’d found it, he cried.”

While most rings are lost in the usual ways – they slip off while swimming, beachgoers take them off to apply sunscreen and forget to put them back on – Laag says he’s also heard some unorthodox stories.

“Once, a woman was fighting with her fiancé and she was so mad, she took off her ring, this family heirloom, and just flung it as hard as she could into a sand dune,” he laughs. “Then, of course, she immediately realized what she’d just done, and they called me.”

Laag recovered the ring, and he says the couple eventually found the whole situation funny.

When something is lost on any terrain (but especially the beach), both Milsted and Laag say desperate or panicked owners can end up inadvertently making it more difficult to find their valuables.

“Sometimes they wander around trying to find it themselves, and by the time they call us they have a hard time telling us exactly where they were,” Milsted says. “I had a guy in Stone Harbor swear he knew where he was when he lost his ring. It was his great-great-grandfather’s ring, and he was so upset. I found it a block and a half farther away than he thought.”

According to Laag, the smartest thing you can do when you realize your ring is gone is take a deep breath and call the professionals.

“When you lose a piece of jewelry, just calm down and take in your surroundings,” he says. “As soon as you realize it’s gone, look at where you are in relation to the jetty or the Boardwalk. Get your bearings. Note the time of day and where the tide is. If you can, retrace your steps and try to mark off the area. If I have a clearly marked search area when I get there, it makes my job that much easier and can get your ring back to you that much faster.”

September 2016
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One Comment

  1. Saurabh Kumar says:

    Hello Sir,

    I have lost my ring on wild wood beach my best guess is it dropped when i went to the water (I have it on my hand in a pic before going to water and it i snot there in a pic after i came from water) , I can locate the exact location.

    Please let me know if you can help me in finding the ring.

    Thanks a lot.

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