One ring to bind them all

By Kristin Edge

5 comments
Vivienne and Jeff Ninnes on their wedding day. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Vivienne and Jeff Ninnes on their wedding day. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

It's a story of love lost and found. It's a story about a precious engagement ring lost in the surf on a Northland beach and found by an honest Metal detectorist six years later. Reporter Kristin Edge finds out if there is a romantic fairytale ending.

After months of designing, choosing diamonds and sapphires, Vivienne Hunter slipped on her precious engagement ring.

She and fiancee Jeff Ninnes had deliberated over the intricate one-off 18ct gold design incorporating a large first-class diamond.

They wanted a ring that symbolised their love and devotion.

Two years later they were married and 15 years on they are still together, living in Titirangi, Auckland, and have two children.

Jeff Ninnes said marriage wasn't something you entered into lightly and getting the engagement ring right was important.

"We took our time selecting the main stone. We looked at the cuts and clarity of the stones involved and we wanted to make sure that centre stone wouldn't fall out.

We never bargained on losing the whole ring.

"We wanted something unique. We spent a huge amount of time coming up with ideas and doing sketches and going back to the designer."

Phillip Greave, a cousin and a jewellery designer and manufacturer with Carats Design Jewellery in Auckland, was called upon to help.


The engagement ring with the special stamp.

"I was at the jewellers when I first tried it on. It was beautiful and very special to us," recalls Vivienne.

But six years ago on a summer holiday in Northland, the engagement ring, along with Vivienne's wedding ring, were accidently gifted to the sea at Long Beach, near Russell.

It was January 27, 2008, and Vivienne remembers sitting in the car deliberating whether to take off her rings and leave them in the car while she went for a swim with the kids and Jeff.

She opted to leave them on. The family splashed around in the water near a rock the locals know as Mussel Rock and returned to her parents' house near Russell.

"I didn't realise I lost both the engagement ring and wedding ring until we got back to the house. We went straight back to the beach and looked. It was a heart-stopping moment when I realised they were gone.

"We've tried so many times since to find them."

So determined was Jeff that he invested in a metal detector. He's found bottle tops and a collection of flotsam and jetsam. But no rings.

They made an insurance claim and had replica rings made.

That was six years ago and the couple never expected to see them again. Enter Bernard Patterson.

The Ring King

Bernard Patterson just loves finding things. His garage is crammed full with rocks and gems he's found. There are the kids toys, pocket knives, keys, a brass tap off a steam engine, spoons and even a cannonball. He's even got a container of rings.


Bernard Patterson. Photo / John Stone

For years he's been waving his metal detectors over the ground, beaches and parks, and recently he's taken to crossing the ditch to hunt out gold in Australia.

The 83-year-old has even been called upon by insurance companies to find jewellery.

Only a few years ago he helped a stressed-out, newly married husband find his platinum ring in the surf at Whananaki - one week after the wedding. Then there was the summer he helped a woman at Uretiti find her $2800 gold bracelet in the surf, and the time he returned a valuable watch to the owner who lost it at Kai Iwi Lakes.

"I've had 14 detectors since starting in 1979. I've found a good few things in that time," he says with a smile.

But it was a trip to Long Beach with a mate in February this year that turned up one of his best finds - a sparkling diamond ring.

It was also the first time he had tried out his latest state-of-the-art detector, a carbon fibre and wireless metal detector.

"I'd been to that beach before and found coins there. I'd actually gone over the ground where I found the ring two years before and never detected it."

But this day his luck was in.

As soon as the beeps started transmitting through his headphones he reached for his garden trowel and started digging.

Less than half a metre into the sand he uncovered the ring.

"I got quite a big surprise when I saw it to be honest."

The grandfather of five also knows the anguish of losing a wedding ring. A week after he was married he was fishing at Pataua and as he cast out his line his wedding ring went flying.

"I saw it go. I tried to chase it into the water but I never found it. So I know what it's like to lose something special.

"I really do like returning items to people, especially when there is an emotional attachment."

Bernard is an honest soul, plus he reckons there is a code of ethics for people finding such treasures.

"If you find something of value you have to hand it over to police, otherwise you can be charged with theft by finding."

He took the ring to a jeweller friend in Whangarei who valued it at between $4500 and $5000.

He had the ring polished and cleaned and delivered it to the Whangarei police station. Enter Joan Johnson and Amanda Beere.

Finding the owners

Thousands of lost items come to the Whangarei police station and become the responsibility of two women dedicated to reuniting people with their property, Joan Johnson and Amanda Beere.

When the 18 carat diamond ring was handed to them, Ms Beere immediately recognised it was very special. The ring could have been held in the storeroom waiting for someone to claim it. And after three months it could have been offered back to the finder, and if he had declined it would have gone to auction.

But the sharp eye of Ms Beere noted a special carrot-shaped stamp on the inside of the ring.

PRICELESS: The engagement ring with the special stamp that helped find the owner.
PRICELESS: The engagement ring with the special stamp that helped find the owner.

"I've learnt over time that when they are stamped with a symbol they are custom made or of high value."

A local jeweller traced the stamp to an Auckland designer who immediately recognised the ring and gave them the name of the owner.

Police records showed Vivienne, now Mrs Ninnes, reported the lost ring to Russell police on January 27, 2008.

"I knew if I lost something as special as this ring I'd hope someone would try their hardest to find me," Ms Beere said.

"I know what it's like to lose a piece of jewellery and think you are never going to see it again. It's just a heart sinking feeling. Reuniting people with precious items is the best part of this job."

But the insurance company had already paid out to the Ninnes. Enter the insurance company.

Hope for a reunion

Since they got the news last month the ring had been found, the Ninnes have been trying to make contact with someone at the insurance company to find out if they can buy the ring back. They have had no response.

For all those romantics out there wanting a fairytale ending, this story is not complete.

It seems the precious ring has now been lost - not in golden sands - but in the insurance system.

A spokesman for the insurance company said in general following a claim settlement, ownership of an item transfers to the insurance company. Then the company seeks to recover some of the cost incurred by selling off the items, usually by auction.

The spokesman was unable to say whether or not the ring had been sold yet.

"It's an amazing story, particularly because the couple desperately want the lost item back. We are working with a third party who is contracted to sell recovered items - this is routinely done to offset the cost of claims - to see if we can help to reunite the ring with its original owner.

"At this stage we are not sure if the ring has already been on-sold. We hope it hasn't slipped through our fingers, knowing now its very special significance and the journey it has had."

The Ninnes just want an opportunity to get the ring back. Watch this space.

- Northern Advocate

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