When a watch clicks for you, the details of it don’t really matter. It could be an inexpensive quartz watch or an epically expensive grand-complication. It could be plastic or it could be platinum. You just know when you strap it on your wrist, that it’s right for you. Ideally, it’s something you can afford, so you don’t have to stay awake at night dreaming about a 100k watch you’ll likely never own. More often than not, it’s something in between; not outrageously priced, but just out of reach. Well, recently I had such an experience with a watch that is quite affordable, quartz and plastic. That watch is the Marathon Military Navigator Quartz Date.
Marathon watches were born of a collaboration between a Canadian watch distributor, the Wein Brothers, and one of the oldest Swiss watch brands, Gallet, whose origins date back to the late 1400’s. In the mid 80’s the Wein Brothers contracted Gallet to create tough-as-nails watches for distribution to the US and Canadian Armed Forces, thus starting the brand as we know it. The name Marathon was an old name previously owned by Gallet that was revived for the project. Interestingly, early versions issued to the Canadian armed forces read “Adanac” on the dials, which is Canada backwards (yes, that had to be pointed out to me).
Both the original watches and those available today have a pure mil-spec simplicity that speaks directly to their government contract origins, which we break down in our reference article Time Spec: A Primer on Military Watches. A quick look at them will bring to mind military classics such as the Benrus Type II and 70’s British RAF chronographs, with their distinctive asymmetrical cases. For fans of both tool watches and military designs, the Marathons offer authentic styling in a modern package. Crisp, clean dials, rugged lightweight cases with integrated crown guards and tritium tubes for nighttime legibility make the new generation of Marathon Navigators easy to wear beaters with great looks and functionality. These also aren’t watches that claim to be one thing but in reality are another. For $230 (for the exact model shown) you are getting something built to mil-spec standards.
Marathon Military Navigator Quartz Date
Case: Black Resin
Movement: ETA F04 High-Torque Quartz
Lume: Tritium Tubes
Water Res.: 60m
Dimensions: 42 x 47mm
Lug Width: 20mm
Crown: 6 x 3.3 mm
Weight: 40g (our measure)
Warranty: 1 year
The Navigator sports a 42 x 47.7 x 12.7mm plastic case that is available in either black, green or tan. Black is perhaps the most classic of the colors, now that steel versions are no longer available, though the others are quite attractive. Its matte finish speaks to bead-blasted steel, providing a very unreflective surface. Since it’s plastic, it has a different presence than PVD steel, one that is somewhat more subtle. It also is significantly lighter, which when paired with a quartz movement, makes for a featherlight watch that can be worn all day.
The case dramatically bows out on the right side to protect the crown in the same way that can be seen on the classics mentioned before. It’s a great design that protects the crown without making any jagged points. By speaking to mid-century designs, it naturally feels a bit vintage too, which is part of what makes the watch aesthetically pleasing overall. Further emphasizing this is the box Hesalite (acrylic) crystal, which adds that tell-tale greasy sheen and a cool detail as it curves along the edge.
From the side, the watch has an interesting profile. The central case is quite thin, with a curving geometry that brings the slender lugs down over the wrist ever so slightly. The next layer is the thick-by-contrast bezel. Also made out of resin, the bezel has a 60-click bi-directional mechanism. Though it doesn’t have the same feel or sound of a metal mechanism it still works quite well, providing more than enough resistance to be strong and landing on the mark. The deep grooves on the side also make it very easy to grasp. Lastly, that gorgeous acrylic crystal stands a few millimeters above the bezel.
The case back is all business. It’s a snap-on steel plate with a substantial amount of text including the watch name, spec number (MIL-PRF-46374G) and various other details. As the watch is designed to be worn with a pass through strap, the case back will usually be obscured.
The dial of the Navigator has a tried and true mil-spec design that dates back to the early executions of this watch in the 90’s. The matte black surface has an hour index of big, crisp white numerals with a smaller 24-hour index printed within. On the outer edge your have an index consisting of green tritium tubes at each hour, save 12 which has an orange tube, and white lines in between for the individual minutes/seconds. At 4.5 is an angled square date window showing the black on white date wheel. Though a bit of a blunt execution, it fits with the matter-of-fact approach of all the dial’s design elements.
Almost all of the dial’s space is in use. Just below 12 is the brand name and above 6 it reads “U.S. GOVERNMENT”. There are also text/markings relating to the tritium tubes, with a radiation symbol at 3 and “H3” at 9, which refers to “hydrogen 3”, the molecular makeup of tritium. If this is too much text or clutter, Marathon also offers a sterile no-date version (retains the H3 and radiation symbol) which has a cleaner look.
Encircling the dial is 12hr bezel, which gives you an easy way to track a second timezone. The bezel index consist of bold, chunky numerals in bright white that have an aggressive presence. Form the origin to 4 are also white marks presumably for the minutes. The 0/12 numeral has been replaced with an inverted triangle with a small gap in it that houses a tritium tube. Between the dial and the bezel you have a nice balance of purposeful and bold elements for something that is as pleasing as it is legible.
The hour and minute hands are white syringe shapes that are easy to read, each containing a large tritium tube. The seconds hand is a white stick with a red tip and no lume. The red adds a point of interest and a drop of color in the light that works nicely. The best thing about the dial is without a doubt, the tritium tubes. I’m a recently converted fan of trit-tubes, and I can’t get enough.
Though they never glow as bright as fully charged C3 superluminova, their persistent glow makes them more legible in all situations. The times when they are perhaps most effective are when you don’t realize they are working at all, such as in a room that is not well-lit or out on a rainy day. They wont look like they are glowing, but you’ll be able to see them completely clearly. And if you’re in a dark room, like a movie theatre, they’ll be very noticeable.
Inside of the navigator is an ETA F04 high-torque quartz movement. I would assume the added torque is for lugging the tritium tubes around. It’s also low power consumption and feature end of life display. If you’re a regular to w&w you know I prefer a mechanical to a quartz, though sometimes quartz movements make sense and the Navigator is one of those circumstances. The sharp tick of the second’s hand seems meaningful on a military dial, like each second is meant to be observed in an exact way. Since it’s quartz, you know it’s very accurate (-0.3/+0.5 seconds per day… compare that to a mechanical chronometer that is -4/+6 seconds) and wont have to be set if you don’t wear it for a week. It also adds to the feeling that this watch can take a beating, while still being very light and comfortable.
That said, had this been a mechanical, I highly doubt I would have thought twice about the benefits above. For the same price, or even a bit less, you can get one of the Marathon General Purpose Mechanical watches, which have some no-name manual movement inside. The Navigator is arguably the cooler looking watch (also substantially larger) so, I do wish they had the option for a Navigator Mechanical, if even just for the general public. If this had some low-beat manual movement, it would really feel like a vintage watch.
Straps and Wearability
The Navigator comes on a 12″ long black nylon, single pass strap. It’s extra long in case it needs to go over a uniform. This is about as basic as a strap gets and while tough and totally functional, doesn’t exactly add character to the watch. So, I quickly threw it on some of my favorite NATOs in olive and khaki to liven it up. One thing I did notice is that although the watch is listed as a 20mm, the lugs measure closer to 19mm, so you do get some squeeze on your straps. Nothing too bad, but worth noting.
Anyway, the contrast from colored nylon really brought out the geometry of the case, making it more exciting to wear. The mix of olive or khaki with the matte black plastic has a very cool effect, working well with a variety of casual clothes. This is definitely a rugged and aggressive looking watch, so I think it should be worn with hearty fabrics, dark colors, etc. That said, it’s very lightweight and easy to wear, making it a great summer watch.
On the wrist, the Navigator wears very well. The asymmetrical case looks bigger than it feels and the added bulk of the bezel gives it a lot of mass. Yet, it’s also fairly thin and the lug-to-lug is relatively short, so it will fit smaller wrists. Aesthetically, it’s simply very cool. The classic military elements mixed with the vintage feel of the domed crystal, finished off with the modern resin case come together for a unique watch.
Once on the right strap, the Marathon Navigator Quartz Date quickly became a watch I wanted to wear all the time…as I said in the intro, it just clicked for me. Comfort, toughness, cool look and authentic design, what more is there really to ask for? In fact, I really wouldn’t change a thing on this watch, so much as add more versions of it to the line. Want to spend more? Here’s the automatic? More than that? Here’s the steel model. Since they can do colors, perhaps more experimentation in that direction (navy blue would look great).
Of course, Marathon makes plenty of mechanical watches with GSAR, TSAR and CSAR lines, so it’s not like they are against the idea. In fact they recently released a very cool limited edition that uses NOS Benrus ETA 2801 manual movements. We’ll be reviewing that one in the coming months, so keep an eye out.
by Zach Weiss