In certain circles Marathon watches are well known but you would struggle to find a retailer in a UK shopping mall...
They are not a high street name, however if you were to spend time with the men and women of US 1st Special Forces Group, you would see several of these unique timepieces. Many specialist brands of equipment used by elite operators never really filter into everyday civilian life. Marathon is one such brand.
Should it be more widely recognised as a watch manufacturer? They have, after all, been around for a long time and a major outdoor retailer sells them exclusively online in the UK. To help us explore the brand in more detail Marathon HQ in Canada kindly gave us hands on time with one of their highly specialised, and most recognised, military watches, The Navigator.
The Marathon Watch Company is located in Vaughan, Ontario in Canada and was founded in 1939. Now in a fourth generation of family operation they design bespoke military watches and have an additional portfolio of highly specialised timing and measuring equipment. Their products are currently in service with the military communities of the UK, Canada, and USA along with other well-known military units. They have major high-volume military contracts and have been officially recognised for their supply work to the US Government.
To most followers of the genre, the quintessential Marathon will always be the Navigator. Of course, the General Purpose Quartz (GPQ) model has an equally Spec Ops look but the Navigator harks back to military and intelligence watches of the 1970s and this homage gives it an edge. Of course, a homage is no good if it cannot perform so whilst the modern Navigator bares very close resemblance to the Vietnam War covert operations Benrus favoured by the CIA and SEAL Teams, it is, in its own right, a very functional piece of equipment. The original Benrus was designed to US military specification MIL-W-50717. This is now an out of date specification and the modern Navigator is built to the much stricter and more up to date 1999 requirement MIL-PRF-46374G.
Hands on with the Navigator
The box containing the Marathon was very small and “understated”, for the price, but perhaps stems from the fact that such containers are typically thrown away by soldiers on issue of a watch? Most of us have a collection of interesting watch boxes in a drawer, the Marathon box will not be residing there!
Armed beforehand with the knowledge that the navigator 41mm case was made from a composite fibre shell material the weight was still a surprise when the watch was first handled. No matter how much you prepare yourself for the lack of mass, and a weight of just over 40g, it still catches you out. We have recently reviewed several composite or reinforced polymer constructed watches and the Navigator was the lightest yet.
The watch itself was eye-catching on first reveal and most definitely challenges conventional design and symmetry. First impression is that the watch face is off centre but on closer examination this is not true. The illusion comes from the fact that the crown does not have standard shoulders integrated into the case to protect it, rather Marathon has built the entire right-hand side of the case outward to provide a full case length curved protector for a vital component. This is a really good idea as even well-made shoulders surrounding a crown can catch on equipment or clothing and leave that nasty “dent” we are all familiar with on the top of your left hand. None of this can happen with the Navigator, as the crown is recessed into this wider case. Equipment and fabrics simply sweep over the right side of the watch and do not catch on it. The flip side is that the watch does look off centre and that may challenge potential buyers.The case of the test model was listed as “sage” colour which looks different depending on the light. It is a quite hard colour to define but works well on a military watch. From different angles it can appear black, brown or even a US olive drab.
The dial is black and unambiguous and like other competitive watches within this US military specification low light viewing is provided by individually sealed tritium vials which last a lifetime and glow softly at night. Marathon has opted for a green and orange lume set which is highly legible in darkness. The test model states US Government on the dial showing its heritage, but a sanitized version is available without the Government markings.
The next surprise is the case back. This is steel and engraved with a plethora of military-speak technical details. It follows the odd US trend of stating the obvious on military equipment labels by beginning “Watch, Wrist….”. Very much in the same manner that the famous US Army Boonie hat begins its inside label with “Hat, Sun, Hot Weather...”! On the Navigator we are then given the full Milspec details, Millicurie level of radiation in the tritium (26 mCi), US Nuclear Regulatory Commission number and finally the watch model and serial numbers.
The case also has an easy access hatch for battery changes. Opened with a coin or any flat screwdriver this feature makes battery changes very quick and avoids the need to unscrew a case back or lose tiny screws. The trade off is that Marathon can only offer limited water resistance with the Navigator and this is listed on the case at 6ATM (60m). This is an odd designation which is not an industry standard. It is not clear why this depth rating has been quoted when the norm is 30, 50, 100, 200m etc.
The watch is powered by an ETA F04 High Torque movement which offers a clever mechanism to not only power the hands but deal with shocks more efficiently than a standard quartz. It also has a 4-second tick low battery indicator.
The uni-directional bezel is almost silent when it turns. Although there is a defined notch for each minute there is not the audible click one associates with bezels. It obviously does not use the same ratchet mechanism as other brands and perhaps the silence is intended to be a tactical element, but whatever the intention the result is that the bezel does not feel quite as precise as more traditional units. Saying that the test model worked fine but it would be interesting to note what longevity this mechanism has?
Unsurprisingly the watch wears exceptionally light and comfortable on the wrist. You could forget you have it on, especially if you are wearing it over clothing. Legibility is excellent and the user comfort brought by the unorthodox case design is most welcome. The OEM supplied US military specification 20mm nylon strap feels very robust and was well colour matched with the case.
Strap Suggestions for the Marathon Navigator
With a 20mm lug width there are countless options to change the strap on the Navigator. Had we been given the black model for testing then the obvious suggestions would have been a plain black ZULUDIVER Military strap with black metal work or even a Classic Bond. However, on request, we had the more unusual sage Navigator, so a little more thought was required.
Veryan Watch Strap in Green/Beige
The Veryan by ZULUDIVER is the epitome of both function and style. The timeless Military Nylon design with its military origins combined with modern day composite Nylon, perfectly reflecting the Navigator, ensures a comfortable and secure wear. With durable double pass nylon fitted with trademarked ZD hardware.
Genuine Vintage Bond US TypeThis strap is single piece construction only which feeds under the watch with no additional panel or tuck under. It is a remarkably close, screen accurate, replica of the strap worn by Bond on his Rolex in several 1960s movies.
This type of strap is the same design as the OEM straps issued with the Marathon so an alternate colour choice would be an asset to give the sage watch a different look.
If you are in the market for a dedicated composite military watch that comes with the provenance of passing genuine, up to date, US military specifications, there are not many brands to choose from. If you follow such watch development Traser and Luminox will naturally spring to mind but Marathon should be in that same thought process.
I am a real advocate of this style of watch and have worn one in the most hostile environments. However, I have never owned a Marathon and I have looked many times at the Navigator but confess that I have always been wary of the offset design. I owned other watches too similar to the GPQ for it to be a sensible purchase.
After a few days of wearing the Navigator in the thoroughly sedate Derbyshire hills, I have grown a new respect for the watch and can see why it is an excellent military choice. Perhaps it does not have the conventional aesthetics of the competition, but it most definitely has a charm of its own. The design has carefully been created to be highly functional and in a hostile environment it may well be a fine choice.
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