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Survival Currency: The Milus Snow Star Instant Date

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Many watch companies have engaged at various times in a quest to connect with their history and traditions, leading to the introduction of watches that reach back into the archives and pay homage to particular historical models or milestones. One of these companies is Milus, and the watch we are looking at here is the Snow Star; the Snow Star Instant Date and the new Snow Star re-edition wristwatch.

The Milus watch company was founded in 1919 by Paul William Junod and in 1930, the company started using a stylized crown logo relating to the Greek God, Hermes. After a long history, the firm, based in Biel/Bienne, has recently undergone a revival, with some fresh ideas as well as a neat remake of the Snow Star, whose interesting history I relate below. Currently, the firm is owned by a member of the Tissot family, and a period during the early 2000s when Milus focussed on high-end watches with expensive complications has come to an end - the firm is now concentrating on practicality, good value and classically styled watches.

 The original Snow Star model dates to the late 1930s-early 1940s, and it wasn’t until about 2011 that Doron Basha, president and CEO of Milus discovered that the company and the Snow Star had played an unusual and important part in the lives of US Navy pilots flying over the Pacific during World War Two - a piece of the firm’s history that had passed into obscurity over the years.

 

 

 

A Milus Snow Star Instant Date taken from a life barter kit that had been scrapped for its gold content (pic from omegaforums.net):

258362-36f1cca63d1b5addb1aef40d9a556ef3.

 

 

 

 During the War, certain fighter and bomber pilots assigned to this theatre of conflict were supplied from 1942 with “life barter kits” - wax-sealed packages carried in their backpacks which contained 24-carat gold pieces and a Milus watch. The idea behind these kits is that should the pilots crash-land or be forced to parachute into enemy or otherwise unfriendly territory, they would be provided with bargaining materials. These life barter kits contained two small gold rings, a segment of gold chain, a small gold pendant, and lastly but not least a Milus Snow Star wrist watch together with a rolled up black fabric strap. The contents were sealed in a rubber block, and each item was wrapped in tissue paper; identification was by a two or three digit serial number on the outside.

 

 

 

View of an original World War Two US Navy pilot's "life barter kit" (pic from omegaforums.net):

258039-4b669a98e48d95202e6c7172b1c65e29.

 

 

The new Snow Star re-edition alongside an original US Navy pilot's "life barter kit" (see text) (Pic from Monochrome Watches at k8q7r7az.stackpathcdn.com):

Milus-Snow-Star-Re-Edition-8.jpg

 

 

 

 It is not known exactly why the US Navy chose the Milus “Snow Star Instant Date” to be included in these kits but it seems that they were looking for a suitably reliable and well-made watch that would be sufficiently valuable as an article of exchange. It is also not known exactly how the Navy acquired the watches for use in the life barter kits, they may have commissioned the watches from Milus themselves or  entered into secret negotiations with a US retailer of Milus watches to supply them. Or did they just buy a number of Snow Star watches from a local jeweller? In/from 1980, the US government sold off its remaining stock of life barter kits, most of them still unopened since the early 1940s and accompanied by an X-ray of the contents; this sell-off seems to have passed the Milus company by and they remained ignorant of the kits until some thirty years later.

 As soon as the Milus company learned of its World War Two role as provider of a “bargaining chip” for downed navy pilots, it launched a mission to collect as many World War Two life barter kits as it could, and connect them with the pilots themselves or members of their families. By June 2012, three kits had been found and in all three, the Milus watch was still working. Also by that time, in early-mid 2011, Milus had launched a limited-edition "Heritage" version of the Snow Star, sold with a pair of cufflinks and commemorative dog tags. This watch had a 40mm case, a magnified date feature, a sweep hand, and was powered by an original-yet-overhauled mechanical movement from the 1940s. The watch was made in two runs; 99 in 18 carat red gold and 1,940 in steel. Note that I have not illustrated this particular Snow Star model, but it is well-illustrated online.

 Moving on in time to the present day, the latest iteration of the Milus Snow Star Instant Date is a respectable homage timepiece with a 39 mm 904L polished stainless steel case (904L steel being the grade that is used by Rolex) and screw-on solid steel caseback. Other specifications include dauphine hands, a slightly domed AR-coated sapphire crystal, screw-down crown with 100 metres water resistance, and the watch is powered by an ETA 2892A2 automatic movement which runs at 4 Hz and has a power reserve of 42 hours. Note that there is no lume on the watch which, in my personal opinion, is a good thing and allows the polished hands to really show themselves off. A minor niggle is that apparently the small quick-release levers on the supplied strap are visible when wearing the watch. The model is available in two colourways - black (with a black leather and khaki green fabric strap) or silver dial (with a black fabric and leather strap). I prefer the silver dial, which is in keeping with the original Snow Star, and I should just mention that this dial has a pale champagne tone in some lights. Price is 1598 Euros.

 

 

The new Milus Snow Star re-edition - black dial colourway with the khaki fabric strap, and below, silver-dial colourway with black fabric strap (pics from Monochrome Watches at k8q7r7a2stackpathcdn.com):

Milus-Snow-Star-Re-Edition-4.jpg

Milus-Snow-Star-Re-Edition-1.jpg

 

Rear view of the new Milus Snow Star (pic from Monochrome Watches at k8q7r7a2.stackpathcdn.com):

Milus-Snow-Star-Re-Edition-6.jpg

 

 

Silver dial colourway of the latest Snow Star with Khaki fabric strap usually provided with the black dial version (pics from ablogtowatch.com):

Milus-Snow-Star-Watch-19.jpg

Milus-Snow-Star-Watch-12.jpg

 

 

 

As an aside, here is a rather beautiful 1970s automatic 18 carat gold Milus Snow Star with 34 mm (excl. crown) case and mineral glass crystal (pic from assets.catawiki.nl):

283de847-1d3c-41a4-8977-b4f46725e1c8.jpg

65ba556e-75d0-4dfe-8aa2-367845a284d7.jpg

a3b4dba7-f3d5-4b9a-afc8-3c78855c6721.jpg

 

 

And now, the finale to this story has to be told ... When I myself looked critically at the pictures of the Milus Snow Star Instant Date as included in the World War Two life barter kits, I did wonder about the actual date of these watches. Everything about them seemed to indicate that they might be later than suggested - later 1950s into the early 1960s. I am not alone in thinking that there might be a problem in date attribution; indeed, a thread on the Omegaforums (omegaforums.net/threads/time-capsule.42389/) discussed this matter quite thoroughly and also shows an interesting piece from the New York Times of  13 January 1980 (attachment on omegaforums.net):

 

ene009-jpg.258363

 

 

Given the evidence discussed on the Omegaforums thread, I feel that at least some of the life barter kits were produced/issued at a date later than the Second World War, and thus featured a model of the Milus Snow Star that dates to the post-War period. The New York Times piece mentions that these kits were also issued during the Korean War and it may be that the surviving kits sold off by the US Government were even later than that, actually put together as late as the early 1960s. At this stage, I just do not have enough information to make conclusive statements about this controversy, and I leave the matter as a tantalising historical question for others to solve; I note that the Milus records from the 1940s were apparently destroyed in a fire.

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That bit about the life barter kits was something i didnt know about, it does make sense though, quite an interesting bit of info.

Those modern day milus watches look quite nice.

Edited by sabailand
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What an interesting topic Honour, particularly the association with the 'Life barter kit' :thumbsup:

Their reissue of the Snow Star Instant Date I find, along with it's 2892-A2 ('Top Grade') for around £1500 rather appealing. :hmmm9uh:

 

Have been aware of the brand for some time but rarely come across many examples in the flesh.

Did manage to pick up a hand winder in very good condition...

Circa 1970, Cal: Peseux 320, 17 jewel.

JROTvIv.jpg

V5ggfmp.jpg

 

Thanks for posting.

 

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Firstly, I think its an attractive dress watch - and do like it.

Secondly, it just doesn't come across as being a pilots watch - they look non-lumed indices for one thing?

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40 minutes ago, KAS118 said:

 it just doesn't come across as being a pilots watch - they look non-lumed indices for one thing?


Think you will find it was not intended as an operational services timepiece, but as an item for barter.

Along with the other items in the “Life Barter Kit”

:thumbsup:

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Just now, Karrusel said:


Think you will find it was not intended as an operational services timepiece, but as an item for barter.

Along with the other items in the “Life Barter Kit”

:thumbsup:

Ahhhh.....I guess that does add an 'interest' factor to it - shame about the approx £1,500 price tag 

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13 minutes ago, KAS118 said:

Ahhhh.....I guess that does add an 'interest' factor to it - shame about the approx £1,500 price tag 

Happen to think the asking price is very reasonable, IMHO.

As Luc Tissot (last surviving member of the Tissot dynasty) is now owner of the company, having purchased the company ‘back’ from a Chinese consortium in 2016. :biggrin:

:thumbsup:

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8 minutes ago, Karrusel said:

Happen to think the asking price is very reasonable, IMHO.

As Luc Tissot (last surviving member of the Tissot dynasty) is now owner of the company, having purchased the company ‘back’ from a Chinese consortium in 2016. :biggrin:

:thumbsup:

LOL - I guess it may well be - but apparently up until the end of last month you could order it with a 20% discount - what would make it even more reasonable.

I note all taxes and shipping is included in the price. 

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