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Marathon - The 3 Best Military Watches (Canadian Designed and Swiss-Made)

Posted on August 23 2021

Marathon Military Watches

The Godfather author Mario Puzo once compared the strength of a family to that of an army. The strength of each comes from loyalty.

It's an interesting concept and one that I remembered when I first came across Marathon. They're a family-run business that makes watches for the military.

The company is unusual.

They're Canadian, but have their own Swiss factory. They boast that their watches are designed in Canada and made in Switzerland.

They also have eighty years of history. And they're still family-owned.

I like the personal touch that the brand has. The current vice-president is the third generation of the family to run the business.

And the company website features the Marathon team. It's a small team, with a very specific mission. To make military specification watches.

I love military watches, so I wanted to show you this watch brand. I'll give you a little bit of their history and then show you the best three watches currently available.

A Brief History of Marathon Watches


Marathon watches is over 80 years old and is now run by Mitchell Wein, grandson of the company's founder Morris Wein. Morris launched the company in 1939. By 1941 Maraton was supplying clocks and watches to the Allied forces.

That has remained the core business of Marathon watches.

A version of Marathon watches existed in Switzerland. But when Wein founded the Canadian company in 1939 the focus changed.

Housed in the same building as a restaurant frequented by military staff, Marathon was perfectly placed to supply Canadian troops with watches.

Initially, only servicemen could wear Marathon watches. Later the brand began to sell watches to the civilian market. But it's for their military contracts that the brand is best known. As much as 90% of their sales are still to governments.

Marathon clocks for example can be seen in Canada's Customs offices.

I've mentioned the process of creating military watches before. Two elements are worth pointing out.

Firstly, governments specify exactly what features and specifications that they require. Brands compete to win the contract to build watches that meet those needs.

Secondly, and most importantly, a brand like Marathon is audited by the Canadian government. The government confirms that the watches that they're buying are fairly priced.

So Marathon has a transparency you may not see with other watch manufacturers. I like that.

Despite being founded in Canada, Marathon has historic links to Switzerland. The brand now has its own Swiss factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

That meant Marathon was able to present governments with a compelling offer. Watches designed in Canada and built in an independent factory in Switzerland. With full transparency.

By the 1970s they had began supplying the US military with watches.

Both American and Canadian troops wore Marathon watches - the new General Purpose and Navigator models - during the invasion of Iraq in 1991.

Since then Marathon has also supplied other military units. This has included the Israel Defense Forces and the Taiwanese Navy.



What are Marathon watches like?

The Marathon range is made up of three distinct collections.

For the sea they have SAR dive watches - it means Search and Rescue. For the land-based military they have their General Service watches. The final collection, the Navigator series, is designed for aviation use.

Although most of their watches are built and purchased for military contracts, you can still buy them online. So let's take a closer look.

Where are Marathon Watches Made?


Marathon watches are Swiss-Made.

Marathon has its own factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. You can see on the dial of a Marathon watch two important words - Swiss-Made.

While the company is Canadian, they have a long-established history of Swiss watchmaking.

Are Marathon Watches Good Quality?


It goes without saying that Marathon watches are of good quality. As much as 90% of their watches are produced for government contracts. This means that Marathon watches have to meet very specific criteria. Watches built for the military have to be of very high quality and reliable.

To achieve this Marathon watches are hand-assembled in their own Swiss factory. Their watches are highly legible and both anti-magnetic and shockproof.

One feature I'd point out is the GTLS illumination that Marathon equips its watches with. This ensures 24-hour illumination for 25 years.

Another question would be to ask if Marathon watches are good value for money?

I'd suggest that they are. One important factor is that as a supplier to the Canadian government the brand is very transparent. They're audited by the government to ensure that the Canadian taxpayer gets a fair deal.

If Marathon supplied poor quality or overpriced watches then their government customers would look elsewhere.

The Best Marathon Watches


Marathon only produces three collections. These cover land, sea and air. I've taken one watch from each line to highlight the best of the brand.

Marathon Gsar Military Watch

For me, the Government Search and Rescue watch from Marathon best encapsulates the brand. It's tough, military-styled and looks like a tool rather than a piece of jewellery.

It's available in two sizes, with this 41mm version being my favourite.

Aesthetically, there is nothing groundbreaking here. The GSAR is fairly typical in appearance. That makes sense. It's built to military specifications, so a black dial, clear numerals and a divers bezel are all dictated by the spec sheet.

But it's the other details that make this watch so successful. The crown, for example, is large, knurled and very practical. The lume - small gas-filled tubes - has a life of 25 years. And it glows, without charge, all day and night.

Taken together, they give the impression of a well-designed and functional watch.

In the dark, in bad weather and wearing gloves, you can still operate this watch. The heavy crown and bezel can be gripped with gloves. The black dial, with luminous hands and hour markers, can be read no matter the light.

And this watch can go in water. It has 300M of water resistance and a durable rubber strap.

It's neither colourful nor ornate. Instead, the colour palette works with a simple contrast of black and white. And the design takes elements from tried and tested previous dive and military watches.

And the movement?

I'll always go with mechanical over quartz. This model features a Swiss-made automatic movement.

It's a great watch if you want authenticity. This isn't a military-style watch. This is a watch that is issued to the military now.

Marathon GSAR Automatic WW194006NGM

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

 


Marathon Navigator Watch

The Navigator is a lightweight model that takes inspiration from vintage military watches. It's a fun, everyday piece that still has military-grade functionality.

There's more to take in with this watch than is obvious at a first glance.

It's a military watch. That much is clear.

And the design is familiar. It's reminiscent of older Marathon and Benrus models. The asymmetrical case is something you'll have seen before. It's a good idea. Instead of crown guards to protect the crown from knocks, the whole side of the case is extended as protection.

I'm a big fan of reissues and heritage models. So from the off, I liked those model.

But when you look closer the smaller details become apparent.

The case is the first. It's a composite case rather than stainless steel. It makes for a very light and comfortable watch. Particularly, when you consider that this is a quartz model.

The canvas strap also helps reduces the weight. It's practical and very simple to replace.

Again, this model has tritium tubes for illumination. And again, the dial is neat and legible, with both 12 and 24-hour tracks.

This is more militaristic than the GSAR. It's also lighter and less pricey. It would be a great option if you want to go all-in with the military aesthetic or would prefer a lighter watch.

Marathon Pilot’s Navigator WW194013-S-DT-B

  • 41mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Composite Case
  • Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 60M Water Resistance


Marathon General Purpose Watch

Marathon's General Purpose watch is a reworking of their military issue GG-W-113 watches from the 1980s. It's a simple field watch that resembles the British Army's G10.

Once more, this watch won't win any awards for style or innovation. It's another model built around real a mil-spec. Like the previous two models, this is what the military actually wear.

With that in mind, this is a straightforward watch. The case, the colouring and the complications are all conservative. But the spartan aesthetic has its own appeal. Particularly to those interested in military history.

It's a touch smaller than the previous two models.

At 39mm wide it's nearer to Bulova's Hack reissue. But at 16mm the strap is smaller than the Hack's. But like the Bulova, the case is quite deep negating some of the other small dimensions.

The General Purpose is a pleasing mix of eras. The Swiss movement is hand-winding. That gives a real feeling of age. But the illumination? That's cutting edge tritium.

The glass is sapphire crystal and there's no date window, meaning that the dial has a nice symmetry.

It ends up being a quirky piece.

The design and the hand-winding movement gives the watch a vintage charm. But it's a very practical everyday watch.

If the size isn't a dealbreaker this could be a lovely daily beater.

Marathon General Purpose Mechanical WW194003SS-NGM

  • 39mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 16mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Mechanical Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Conclusion


Some watch companies keep things simple.

Marathon isn't part of a stable of brands swallowed up by a holding company. And they're not a modern brand reaching a young demographic through social media.

Instead, they're a family-owned and family-run business that works mainly with governments. Their watch designs are informed more by military specifications than current fashions.

It means that Marathon watches are familiar. You'll recognise a lot of their designs. That's because they've been tested in the field and are known to perform well.

It also means that a Marathon watch will perform well on your wrist too.

I like this strategy. Build watches for government contracts and if civilians like them too? That's a bonus.

And you're not paying for extras. You're not paying for celebrity endorsements or for Instagram influencers. You're paying for a set of features and Swiss watchmaking skills.

That's got to be worth a closer look.


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