The best luminous watch? Bringing the Marathon General Purpose with MaraGlo into the spotlight
We recently published an in-depth guide to Marathon watches. Their military and outdoor credentials are without reproach however WatchGecko is thorough in its analysis, so a decision was made to take a watch on a field test and see if it did, indeed, live up to the brand reputation.
The test was conceived with high expectations as some Marathons have been accepted into military service and fall within current US military Spec MIL-PRF-46374E 1989. To do so, amongst other technical requirements, they employ tritium vials on the indices and hands which deliver intense light with no higher than a 25 millicurie radiation level.
However, Marathon’s entry level model, the mid-size 34mm General Purpose (GP) MaraGlo, does not technically fall within these specs. The reason being, it contains no tritium but rather a photo-luminescent lume Marathon has developed called MaraGlo. Once charged with an external light source, Marathon claims that this new chemical will glow solidly for 8 hours. As this model is the first step on the ladder of Marathon ownership, we deemed it would be ideal for the test. If this model performs then the more expensive models will certainly deliver.
The General Purpose MaraGlo comes in the small regulation issue Marathon cardboard box which serves no value in retaining. High-end large watch boxes are beautiful, but they soon clutter drawers and in a rapidly changing world where what was once luxurious is now judged wasteful and excessive, this cheap matchbox size container is a sound idea and can be recycled guilt free.
First impression of the General Purpose MaraGlo is that it is small at 34mm. All GPs are around 34mm but for a military watch this is definitely a smaller unit. The size in no way affects the legibility or operational value, but when it is placed alongside the more popular Marathon Pilot Navigator or principal competitors such as Traser and Luminox the MaraGlo appears rather “compact”. When I was wearing it for the first day and considering whether I could live with an outdoor watch this size, my wife immediately took the watch off me, strapped it on, and voiced her delight to finally see a survival watch that did not look like a monster on her tiny wrist. In a lightbulb moment I realised that Marathon were on to something here. Anyone can wear this watch, male, female, or youth. First point to Marathon.
The watch is very light weighing only 27g. In effect you do not know you have it on. This feat is achieved by Marathon making the case from their proprietary fibre shell material with only the case back being steel. The strap is nylon so weight is also negligible.
Legibility is a USP for Marathon and daylight reading was exceptionally clear through the sapphire crystal. Purposeful hands are backed up by equally purposeful numerals and a spear point second hand. There is not much latitude in design freedom if you want your product to meet US military spec but thankfully those criteria have been well thought out and the MaraGlo is a gem in daytime. It would be impossible to misread the time in either 12 or 24 hour reading.
It is traditionally in low light where Marathon shines (literally). The real test for this new model was how would the MaraGlo lume perform? At £200 this entry level model is low cost by Marathon standards but nevertheless for this amount it was reasonable to expect decent night vision.
First 24 hours with the Marathon General Purpose
The General Purpose MaraGlo proved to be excellent as an alternative to standard lume and the watch was clearly visible at 0400hrs. The green and orange colours were not the same intensity as tritium, but they worked well and if this technical change shaves over £100 off the price of this watch, compared to an identical GP with Tritium, then this is a smart commercial move which will have little or no bearing on civilian users.
Day 2 with the Marathon: How it holds up
Day 2 with the Marathon comprised of a 10k hike into the Derbyshire Dales in (sadly) nice weather. A better test would have been heavy rain, freezing sleet, or snow but nature let me down and I had to settle for a sunny 20 degrees. This did however present the chance to test the watch as an emergency solar compass. You can see how to do this here: How to use your watch as a compass
Due to excellent legibility the watch was easy to use in this role and the super bold hands facilitated the process. Several kilometres later the watch was still very comfortable, and I had become accustomed to the smaller 34mm case. The blocky militaristic design of the case will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, but it does give the watch a stark functionality and allows the dial to stand proud of the wrist. It looks like the whole watch has been hewn from a single ingot of some space-age polymer which greatly enhances the impression that you have a very modern machine marking your minutes and seconds. Kudos again to this pocket size watch which was beginning to punch above its weight.
The crown looks oversize next to the case, but styling works well for the inevitable demographic of user who will naturally wear gloves. The 16mm nylon strap is relatively short but there was enough to spare on my larger wrists. It was very comfortable, waterproof, and I could see no reason to change it.
Is the Marathon water resistant?
Water resistance of the watch itself is 30m. First impression is that this is not fantastic and means that the General Purpose MaraGlo cannot be your single go-to watch if you plan to swim. However, it is important to stress that this low level of resistance is there for a good reason, not through a lack of quality or careless design. Within the case back of the watch is a rubber hatch which allows speedy and easy battery change. This function is not new, but it is most welcome on more complex expeditions where tiny screws and delicate case back removal is unwise, for example, halfway up a mountain. It would be impossible to incorporate this hatch into the design and guarantee any greater water resistance, so it is to Marathon’s credit that they did not try. The system is reminiscent of the case back of the versatile Sunnto Vector which offers a very similar concept and is also 30m. With this basic level of protection, you can safely get your watch wet in rain and it should deal with humidity. Don’t hold us to this observation but it is likely that 30m from Marathon is probably as good, if not better, that some lesser manufacturers 50m.
The battery powers a Swiss made, high torque, 3 jewel ETA F06 Quartz movement, guaranteeing a good level of accuracy. This calibre is part of ETA’s Trendline series and has only been available since 2019. It is equipped with ETA’s “HeavyDrive” which is a sophisticated anti-shock technology for quartz. In ETA’s own words: “HeavyDrive technology enables intelligent shock management for the second hand.” A low battery indicator causes the second hand to jump every 4 seconds when the battery is low on power and battery life is an impressive 94 months which far outclasses common competitor movements.
Test conclusion and what would we change:
Living with the General Purpose MaraGlo for two days was an interesting experience. The little watch really grew on my wife and I, and we both really embraced the superb legibility and all-day comfort. For the afore mentioned price of £200 this is a bargain watch given the full milspec design, unique proprietary lume and sophisticated movement you are buying into.
For explorers with larger wrists the 34mm case may be just too small, in truth it was for me, but thankfully the next Marathon in the range is 41mm so needs are catered for. It would however be nice to see a General Purpose around the 38-39mm size. For those with smaller wrists the 34mm will be almost perfect. We also eagerly wait to see if Marathon makes the bold decision to transition MaraGlo over to other models in the range as this would make them super competitive.
The General Purpose MaraGlo should not be looked on as a “cheap” Marathon. Yes, it is their entry level watch, but it is by no means a technical compromise. It does however throw up some interesting analysis. If this level of watch from the Marathon portfolio presents such a competent package what do the higher spec models deliver? There is only one way to find this out. Look out for more tests – hopefully next time battling the elements!
The General Purpose MaraGlo and full range of Marathon watches is available from WatchGecko.