- Michael Oliver would hunt for lost metal as a hobby while working as a forklift driver.
- But when he started finding a lot more than metal, he realized he could make a living doing it.
- Now he works on Sydney’s beaches and surrounding oceans, recovering people’s precious items.
This essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Michael Oliver, who uses metal detection equipment to recover lost items in Sydney, Australia. It has been edited for length and clarity.
For my tenth birthday, I got a metal detector and a new hobby was born. I could never have imagined that two decades later it would be my full-time job.
Before, I was a forklift driver. I had back injuries and was tired of working for a place that didn’t seem to care about the employees or their efforts. I would do metal detecting in my spare time to keep my spirits up.
When the volume of jewelry I found started to pile up, I realized that I could make my passion my profession.
I’ve been doing this professionally for seven years. I called my business Lost Jewelry Recovery instead of naming it a metal detecting service because jewelry is the number one thing clients call me to retrieve.
I have a lot of equipment – not just land-based metal detection equipment, but also scuba equipment and underwater detectors.
That’s because searches aren’t just in the sand – they can also be done in the sea. I could be getting wet looking in shallow water or literally diving into the depths of the ocean – whatever it takes to retrieve the client’s lost treasure.
Where I start looking depends on where the customer remembers having the item, the tides and the weather.
The equipment tells me exactly where to dig and how deep
Sometimes I find lost jewelry in five minutes or less. Other times it can take two hours. It all depends on weather conditions, tides and whether the owner felt the item slipped – giving me an estimated radius of where the item might be. Every lifeguard in Sydney has my number.
A call costs A$150 for a two-hour search. I have a success rate of around 90%.
There are heaps of missing rings: engagement rings, wedding rings, family heirlooms, 21st birthday rings, grandma’s ring – the lot. All very sentimental, and sometimes also of very high monetary value. One guy said his wedding band cost AU$50,000, or about $35,000.
He lost it in an ocean dive. He called me in secret, hoping I’d find it before his wife noticed. I did – within an hour. I recently found the ring that a mother gave her daughter before she died.
I also get repeat visitors. A man called me twice to find his lost wedding ring.
A widow lost her late husband’s wedding ring while paddleboarding. They were married for 25 years, and since his death 19 years ago, she has never taken off her wedding ring, which is inscribed “always”. That one made a very tearful meeting.
Meetings are often emotional
Sometimes curious beachgoers who watched the nail-biting quest spontaneously applaud when I find the lost item. Other times, the owner just starts crying. I get a lot of relieved hugs.
It’s not just rings: I recovered a gold and diamond Rolex watch whose owner said it was worth AU$100,000. I remember one woman lost an expensive bracelet that had been a gift, which contained a very rare and precious stone. After the waves hit us and knocked us off a couple of times, I heard those magical beeps.
She described it as a miracle, and her partner was so excited that he grabbed me and hugged me so tightly that he immediately broke the bracelet – it snapped in half.
There are the much more unusual items that aren’t jewelry
I was once called upon to help a man who wore his father’s ashes on a crucifix around his neck, but lost it after getting involved in a fight at a house party.
It’s the height of summer in Sydney right now and everyone is out on the beaches, so I’m busier than ever – up to six calls a day, mostly to several busy beaches.
We are so busy that I take my mom on recovery missions with me. She also loves metal detecting. She will be on her knees for hours, determined to find the lost item. She works at a hospital 18 hours a day, so she’s on the beach at 4am. That’s how committed we are – and how busy we stay.
That’s summer, though. Winter is a different story. An entire month can go by without a single call. I love metal detecting so much that I will just go hunting as a hobby during my downtime and make videos of the interesting things I find.
Everything is locked, but not on my property, because many people know where I live now. There are thousands of unclaimed jewelry items there. I never sold any of that. I’m really proud of it. It’s not my jewelry – it’s theirs.
Fortunately, I found a related side hustle – posting videos of my recovery missions and emotional reunion on my YouTube channel. Now he has 309,000 subscribers and I earn money from ads. On rainy days, I take the opportunity to edit videos, which is time-consuming, but helps pay the bills.
The best part of my job is the rush I feel when an owner says, “You’ll never find it.” They think it was once taken to New Zealand but that is never the case. I have hundreds of videos repeatedly proving that your jewelry is salvageable, often to your great surprise.
I’m helping other people find their lost treasures. That’s why I get up in the morning: these meetings. I live for them.