Mary Broache was in a mild panic last Friday night. She'd been playing with her dog in her Missoula backyard when her white-gold wedding ring flew off her finger. Broache combed the grass in desperation. When the sun set, she retrieved a headlamp from the house and continued her search. She spent nearly an hour picking over her recently mowed lawn.
"I thought about getting shears and cutting the grass down even more," Broache says Saturday afternoon. She even considered digging up and sifting through the soil. "I was coming up with some crazy ideas. But then, I did have some wine."
The frantic mindset—and the wine—is understandable. Broache, a University of Montana student, had to be up early to take the Writing Proficiency Assessment. Compounding that stress was the fact that July 5 marks Broache's third wedding anniversary and she had plans to leave town in a few days. The thought of celebrating without her ring was simply unacceptable. So Saturday morning, her husband, Chris Belback, told her to call Missoula's Ring Finder.
"He'd seen Joe's name online," Broache says, referring to Joe Cavaliere, a registered member of the fledgling Ring Finders Network. "I think I'd actually heard of Ring Finders before, but I just didn't remember it. And I didn't think there'd be one in Montana, let alone Missoula."
Cavaliere rolls up on a motorcycle, quickly assembles his $900 White's MXT Pro metal detector and strolls to Broache's backyard. She walks him through the evening—where she and the dog were playing, where she thinks the ring landed, where she searched in vain—and Cavaliere begins scanning the grass. A digital readout on the metal detector's handle tells him roughly how deep a metallic object is and gives him an idea what it's made of. He kneels down several times when the beep seems right, running his fingers through thick clumps of grass. After about 15 minutes, he stands up, silently producing the lost ring. Broache leaps for it, slips it back into place on her left hand, and hands Cavaliere $100. They're both grinning.
Missoula's Ring Finder now has a 100-percent success rate. Granted Cavaliere has only received one call—from Broache—for his unusual metal detecting services since signing on with the international Ring Finders Network this spring. He's only advertised on Craigslist so far, after all. But with summer's recreation season finally kicking into high gear, Cavaliere says he anticipates more calls from distraught fiancés and spouses unable to find lost jewelry in yards, campsites, and lakes.
"Two days after I signed up, I typed in 'lost ring Missoula' on Google," Cavaliere says. "I showed up as number two."
Chris Turner of Vancouver founded the Ring Finders Network a year and a half ago. Turner had personally marketed his metal detecting expertise to those with lost jewelry for 16 years, and with backing from an investor in Illinois, he decided to start recruiting other ring finders. His online directory now includes 16 ring finders in Canada, 66 in the United States, and more than a dozen others scattered throughout South America, Europe, Africa, and the South Pacific. Montana has two: Cavaliere and Kalispell's Tim Berrow. In less than two years, Turner's Ring Finders have reported 230 found items. Turner hopes that as the network continues to grow in the next decade, that number reaches 10,000.
"Everybody's ring has this emotional story to it, and when that story ends we give them a second chance," Turner says. "That's why people join [the network]. The opportunity to make some extra income is there. It is a service, and it is a directory where people can charge, they can do anything they want. But I'd say 97 or 98 percent of our members have adopted my theory of working on a reward basis, and it's been working well."
When Turner started working as a private metal detecting contractor, he began by charging $40 per search plus a finder's fee. He quickly found that many of the folks calling him couldn't afford to pay. Now he takes whatever they can give, from a few bucks to a loaf of banana bread. He averages as many as 120 clients per year, with summer being his busiest season, he says. And 15 percent of his profit goes to charities.
Cavaliere, who got hooked up with the Ring Finders Network when he stumbled on Turner's YouTube video archive, took up the altruistic angle too. A portion of Broache's $100—and any future payments Cavaliere collects—will go to PetSmart Charities, he says.
Ring Finding "is not a full-time job by any means," Cavaliere says. But when he isn't working part-time on web design at Cooper Firearms, in Stevensville, he's out treasure hunting anyway.
"Basically I chase rumors," Cavaliere says. "If I hear about an outlaw camp or something, I'll go out looking for it...I'm not into the detecting itself as much as I'm into the puzzle, following clues and stuff."
His duties as a Ring Finder may bear some similarities to the hobby he's pursued for six years. But after recovering Broache's wedding ring, Cavaliere admits lost jewelry is a lot easier to find than the treasures he hunts for on his own dime. His interest "started off with an old outlaw camp I'd heard existed but nobody had found," he says.
"I'm still looking for that."