Now 83, he still remembers what the ring felt like the first time it slipped off. It was June 1959.
Gonzalez was splashing in the waves with his three children in the water behind the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
He dove down 5 feet with his snorkel to look for the ring. His friends ran over to help. They were all bobbing in the water and running their hands through the soft sand.
The class ring Gonzalez had worn since his 1949 graduation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was gone. Class rings don't mean as much to today's college students. But for Gonzalez, 31 at the time, it wasn't just a sparkling hunk of red garnet, it was like his diploma.
"A class ring at that time, it was a fulfillment of our work as a student," he said. "The fulfillment of our young ideals."
It was essentially a second wedding ring. It reminded him of the time he was courting his wife. Back then, he never took the ring off. It wasn't something he could ever replace.
But he never forgot it. He had three more children. A man went to the moon. Gonzalez took over his family's fertilizer business in Puerto Rico. The U.S. went to war, three times. Gonzalez became a grandfather, nine times over.
And, along the way, there were great technologic advances in the equipment that the average person can use to cultivate a hobby in underwater metal detection.
Bill Dobbretz. a FedEx pilot, invested in it. And in April 2009, he had an unexpected layover in San Juan, a place he didn't usually land. He rented a room at the Hilton, and waded into the water to his waist. He heard a beep and pulled out of the sea for the first time in half a century what looked like a red stone covered in coral.
Metal and stone to him. An old man's youth to Juan Gonzalez, whose name was inscribed inside.
Dobbretz contacted RPI's alumni relations office, who tracked down Gonzalez. The pilot cleaned the ring himself so it shone again. He sent it, via FedEx, to Gonzalez at his home in Miami.
Dobbretz said he was just grateful for the thanks. Other people he reunited with their lost rings never got back in touch.
Gonzalez's ring is fragile now, and it has cracks. He only wears it on special occasions, like when he's back at the school that shaped the course of his life. On Wednesday, Gonzalez wore his ring as he shared his story with RPI's class of 2012 during the Junior Ring Ceremony where they put on their own rings for the first time.
Be careful with the things you value.
What's easy to lose, after all, can be hard to find.
Reach Scott Waldman at 454-5080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.