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Marathon watch review: the emergency and military service watch heading to main street retailers

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Marathon is one of the biggest watch brands in the world you have probably never heard of.

That is unless you are in the military, in which case you may have been trusting one of their ultra-rugged timepieces with your life for decades.

Designed in Canada and made in Switzerland, Marathon makes around 20,000 watches per year, around the same total as Breguet or Blancpain and far more than the likes of Zenith or Bremont, but the business has focused on making indestructible watches by the thousands for military or emergency service procurement in North America and beyond.

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So successful is the brand with watches for armed forces personnel, that its annual production has been known to double if there is a significant war being fought by western forces. The 1991 Gulf War was a record year.

Given today’s trend for steel on steel sports watches that will survive to the bottom of the Pacific ocean but might only get wet in the shower, Marathon’s push into wider distribution with retail partners looks timely.

And the watches are incredibly well made.

I have been wearing a 41mm Marathon Search & Rescue Diver’s Automatic for the past fortnight and feel I have a friend for life.

Everything about the watch says it will get your through a Desert Storm or amphibious landing.

The screw-in crown sits tight between crown guards but it chunky enough to be used even with gloves on. The bezel is also designed to be operable in the harshest conditions thanks to deep grooves on the outside that might have been modeled on a monster truck tyre.

It stands tall on the wrist at around 1.3mm, which gives the watch heft, but comes in a 36mm case that is 32mm across at the crystal glass, and it tapers to a few millimetres smaller by the time you get to the black dial.

It makes me think of a portal on a ship where keeping out the elements rather than panoramic views are fundamental to the design.

Not that the smallish dial is hard to read. There are bright luminous gas tube hour markers along with printed numbers for hours from 1 to 12 and 12 to 24 in smaller type.

Dropper shaped hours and minutes hands are also lit up, as is the tip of a slender seconds hand. The unidirectional bezel has lume as well so soldiers and frogmen can count down to zero during night time or deep water forays.

It has a closed steel case back, of course, and a chunky steel bracelet.

This is a proper tool watch and its only frippery is the Canadian maple leaf on the dial and the bracelet deployant clasp. Even this is often replaced with a military seal for a certain regiment.

All Marathon watches are made in La Chaux-de-Fonds and tested to ISO 6425 military standards. The Search & Rescue Diver’s Automatic uses the work horse ETA 2824-2 automatic movement, which is designed for shock protection and will keep running for 38 hours unattended.

The watch retails for $1,130 on the steel bracelet or $900 on a rubber strap.

There are also quartz versions of the same watch priced at $700.

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