In 1942, during World War II, US Navy pilots, and paratroopers, were given something called Life Barter kits (LB kits for short). Each kit was designed to enable the soldier to manage behind enemy lines by providing him with small valuables with which he could barter for food, information—or even his very life.
It wasn't until 2010, Swiss watch company Milus recently discovered that its own 1940s vintage watches had been part of these LB kits during World War II.
The discovery happened quite unexpectedly. “I got a call in 2010 from a collector of military artifacts who asked me if I was aware that there was a Milus watch inside some Life Barter kits he had recently acquired,” remembers Milus USA’s president and CEO Doron Basha. “I had never heard this term, but I began to learn about the kits, and then quickly purchased the two kits in his possession and requested his help in finding others.” Basha’s efforts to recapture a previously unknown part of his brand’s history were successful.
Conducting an exhaustive worldwide search, the collector located one more kit, for a total of three. Remarkably, each of the old Milus watches was still in working condition—after 70 years. “We are not sure how many Milus watches were used by the US Navy since the company archives were destroyed in a fire in the 1950s,” Basha continues. “What we could piece together from conversations with various members of the Junod family, which owned the company until 2002, is that the Navy most likely purchased 50 or so Milus Snow Star “Instant Date” watches directly from one of the brand’s authorized dealers in the US. The intended use by the Navy was confidential and was never disclosed at the time.
Milus Snow Star
Today, the Milus Snow Star fashions their cases in 904L stainless steel. This stainless steel configuration, which is the same as Rolex's “Oyster steel” combines molybdenum and copper with iron for enhanced resistance to such acids as sulphuric acid. It also stands up well to chlorides in the environment for low pitting and crevice corrosion, as well as stress corrosion cracking.
True to form, the strap is a military styled textile strap, with leather lining and a polished steel 904L clasp.
The case dimension is a universally fitting 39 mm with a water resistance of 10 ATM and curved sapphire glass with inner anti-reflective coating. It also has a screwed-down case back and both silver or black face with Dauphine hands which are diamond cut and rhodium-plated.
The Snow Star is powered by an automatic self-winding, ETA 2892A2 calibre with a 42-hour power reserve. The movement is nicely pearlized with snailed bridges, blue screws, and an oscillating wheel with the Milus logo open-worked. A small regret is the lack of an exhibition back with such a nicely finished movement.
The Milus cufflink
Years ago, I was fortunate to add a set of cufflinks to my acquisitions. Although I've always considered them a prized possession simply because they so nicely represented the quality and uniqueness of my horological interests, it wasn't until recently that I really recognized their manufacturing origin – Milus.
This is typical, I believe, of owning a particular watch, or in my case, simply their cufflinks, in that you almost instantly become part of the heritage of that brand.
Watches offer such unique opportunities to participate in this. It really is part of the lure of the obsession.