Newport Beach retiree Stan Ross, aka the Metal Detector Man, finds O.C.’s lost riches
Newport Beach on Wednesday afternoon is a crush of people, and the air is riotous with sound — the joyful shrieks of children at play, warnings from cautious parents, the relentless pounding of surf upon sand — but Stan Ross is oblivious.
His world is nearly silent as he listens through padded headphones to a sequence of intermittent blips, waiting for them to be interrupted by a shrill beep that could point the way to trash or treasure.
A retired electrician with a yen for adventure, Ross spends up to 30 hours each week walking beaches from Malibu to San Clemente and has the sun-lined skin to prove it. But while others enjoy the delights that play out above the sand, Ross is more interested in what lies beneath.
Below his gray Croc sandals, which easily transport him from dry beach to knee-deep water and back again, a universe of objects buried by time and tides are waiting to be discovered by anyone with the patience, training and tools to find them.
“It’s a lot of work, but eventually you’re going to find gold,” he says of a pursuit that has netted some significant finds. “It’s just math.”
This is the life of the Metal Detector Man.
In more than 50 years, Ross has located gold and diamonds, watches and bracelets. In 2012, he added his name to the Ring Finders, an online directory of detectors searchable by geographic area.
Today, he pretty much owns the Orange County beat; if you Google “I lost my ring in Newport Beach,” his name and number pop up. That online presence has helped him transform a hobby into a way to help others.
Ross has performed some 2,000 searches and retrieved nearly 600 rings from the ocean, beaches, wastebaskets and houses, mostly for clients (although he’s loath to call them that). He’s been summoned to the Mojave Desert, where a SpaceX employee lost a piece of jewelry in a dry lakebed, and to Big Bear, where a client on a clothing-optional retreat lost a ring in the hot springs.
He once helped find a diamond-studded Cartier bracelet near the Newport Pier for a woman who’d misplaced it after a long walk along the shoreline. Ross found it right by the pier where she’d corralled her bicycle. Valued at thousands of dollars, it was under a pile of sand.
“Everybody had told her it was impossible,” he recalled.
Despite the value of his finds, Ross doesn’t detect for the money. He likes helping people recover precious items and posts found jewelry on Craigslist to locate owners.
“It really feels good to find something and return it to somebody,” he said. “I love the challenge, too.”
In exchange, Ross usually asks for a gratuity or enough to cover the cost of gas and maybe, over time, fund some new equipment. His dedication to the craft and speedy response to client calls, day or night, has earned him a 5-star rating on Yelp.
One happy customer is Lily Rogers, a Laguna Beach resident who was at Shaw’s Cove with her boyfriend on June 18 when she misplaced his gold bracelet, which held a lot of sentimental value. They went back to the spot hours later and searched to no avail.
Rogers remembered reading about a local Ring Finder on social media, so placed a call to Ross.
“I texted him a bunch of detailed pictures of where I thought it could be. When I didn’t hear back from him, I thought it was a lost cause,” she recalled. “Then he got in touch with me at, like, 10:30 at night. He said he found it — we were in shock. I was so grateful for that.”
A passion grows
Before he ever held a metal detector, Ross was a treasure seeker.
“I used to beachcomb and pick up coins out of the surf during storms,” he recalled of his early interest. “Then the metal detector people came out, and I couldn’t find [the coins] anymore. So, I joined them.”
He became so enamored with the hobby he missed the birth of his daughter in 1971 because he was shopping for equipment. The day after she was born, he got his first detector. It cost $160 and weighed nearly 8 pounds.
Recouping his investment was slow at first, because detection doesn’t usually offer immediate satisfaction but rather rewards patience, experience and those with an extremely high tolerance for disappointment.
“The average person doesn’t find more than 2 to 3 dollars’ worth of coins in the dry sand,” Ross said. “It took me a year to find my first ring. Now, I find a ring every day.”
One of those is a family signet ring belonging to Newport Beach resident Robert Leigh, who was visiting a friend in Laguna in mid-June when he placed the ring in the cup holder of a beach chair for safekeeping. Hours later, he packed up the chair and didn’t realize until the next morning the ring had fallen out.
“I combed the area we were sitting on for two hours,” he said. “I thought the only way I’ll find it is if I get a metal detector. So, I Googled ‘metal detector’ and the first thing that comes up is Stan the Metal Detector Man.”
Leigh placed a call and, later that night, got the good news — the ring had been recovered.
Not for everyone
Ross advises against people getting detectors unless they are serious about the endeavor. Not understanding the settings, how they need to be adjusted for different metals, and handling interference from car alarms and other ambient electrical influences can frustrate even the most earnest seeker.
“A lot of metal detectors end up in the closet. People know they work; it just takes so much time, and they have other things to do,” the retiree said. “What I do is just get rid of the other things.”
San Francisco resident Sarah Smith was visiting family in Laguna Beach the day before Father’s Day when her husband lost his palladium wedding ring in the ocean. After fruitless searching, they’d figured it was a lost cause.
Then, she remembered a friend had told her once about using Ring Finders. Although Smith was heading back home, she dialed Ross, who looked up the tides on a smartphone app to determine the ideal time to conduct a search.
“Lo and behold, we get a call the next day that he’s found it,” she said. “He promptly mailed it back, and my husband had it back on his finger by Wednesday. He’s good.”
“I’d love to let people know there are guys like Stan out there, who will help people find things they think they’d lost forever,” he said. “He is a great resource.”
During Wednesday’s interview, the Metal Detector Man gets a call from a girl who lost a house key somewhere on Venice Beach. He explains he can’t help her, as he needs to help a client in La Palma find a ring, and the call ends.
But in a matter of minutes, perhaps thinking of the girl locked out of her house or rental, Ross heaves a sigh.
“I’ll probably give her a call later,” he says.
All the latest on Orange County from Orange County.
Get our free TimesOC newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Daily Pilot.