the ring finder: saving vacations and honeymoons

Michelle Liu
April 11, 2024

In 2019, an 18K gold ring with 152 diamonds fell to the bottom of the lagoon at Aulani. The owner never thought she’d see it again and made peace with that. But Joe Au-Franz couldn’t stop thinking about it. The owner had called him for help when she first lost it, but four unsuccessful dives later, he had to call the search off.

Joe Au-Franz searching for treasure.

“Every dive in the lagoon after that, I wondered what happened to it,” says Au-Franz, a metal detecting specialist. “Three years later, I was back for a scuba hunt. Since I was already out there, I decided to see what my metal detector would find over some coral rubble. I couldn’t believe what came into view – the sparkler! The owners were over the moon.”

The ring that was found three years later.

That’s just one of hundreds of success stories since Au-Franz decided to turn his metal detecting hobby into a side job in 2014. His adventure began two years prior when his friend invited him on a beach hunt.

“I was hooked from that day forward,” says Au-Franz. “Living so close to Waikiki and being an avid scuba diver, I wondered about the possibilities, so I purchased my first metal detector.”

Not all hope is lost
Au-Franz soon became known as “The Ring Finder” after starting his website, Metal Detecting Oahu. He’s often the first point of contact when people lose their treasures.

Au-Franz with his equipment and car – notice the license plate! 

“I always ask a few key questions: Did they lose it on dry sand or in the water? If it’s in the water, how deep and what type of bottom is it – coral or sand? Sand is the easiest,” explains Au-Franz.

He also needs to know the general vicinity of the search area, though that may not always help in the water. He has what he calls “the fish theory” – when a fish goes after a sparkling ring because it looks like food. That’s what came to mind in the case of the 18K ring. The initial search area in the lagoon was quite far from where the ring was found.

Red marks general search zone of the lagoon; green is narrowed down; white is where the ring was found.

“I can’t explain the disparity in the lost to recovery locations, but the fish theory certainly seems legit,” says Au-Franz.

Determination, patience, and a little luck
Rings are the most common jewelry to lose, but Au-Franz has also recovered necklaces, medallions, and family heirlooms.

“Not all are precious metals, but sentimental value can trump monetary value,” says Au-Franz.

One of his favorite and most challenging recoveries involved a Rolex watch that fell off during a jet ski ride in the murky waters of Maunalua Bay.

Photos captured the Rolex falling off the woman's wrist.

“Visibility was only about 6 to 8 feet,” says Au-Franz. “Any movement near the bottom stirred up silt to the point of blindness.”

He sought help from Jordan, an employee at H2O Sports Hawaii, the company where the woman rented a jet ski. They reviewed photo stills from the woman’s ride, which captured her wipe out and the watch falling off her wrist, as well as buoys and landmarks of where it happened.

After three dives, Au-Franz spotted the golden treasure wedged between a chunk of coral and leafy sea growth.

Au-Franz found the missing Rolex watch in the murky waters of Maunalua Bay.

“It was within 10 feet of the dive flag that Jordan had triangulated where the watch should be,” says Au-Franz. “Persistence and Jordan’s navigation made my most difficult hunt to date successful.”

Treasuring connections
While Au-Franz enjoys the challenge of the search and getting in some exercise while doing it, it’s the reactions that make the treasure hunt worth it.

“The most rewarding part is the smile you can put on someone’s face when they thought their cherished item was lost forever,” says Au-Franz. “I’ve had some ladies burst into tears upon showing them their recovered rings.”

Au-Franz with some happy customers.

He’s even built a community with the couples and families who lost their prized possessions.

“Many folks have asked me to stop by their homes if I’m ever in the area,” says Au-Franz. “So not only do you revive a vacation or honeymoon, but you also become friends for life.”

Photos courtesy Joe Au-Franz

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