Among the pantheon of military watch suppliers, few have had the pedigree and longevity of the Marathon Watch Company. Founded in 1939, Marathon has been producing military watches—not military inspired, but real, government-issued military watches—since 1941. Today, their watches are being made for multiple nations’ armed forces including the United States, Canada, and Israel, and of course are available to members of the public looking to pick up solid sports watches with serious military provenance. One of the staples of Marathon’s lineup is the TSAR quartz diver, a tough and reliable 41mm beast originally designed for Canadian search and rescue operations.
Durable case and easy-to-use bezel
The TSAR’s tough and utilitarian vibe is evident at first glance. It’s got a 14mm thick, fully brushed, slab sided case that manages to feel heftier than it is with a very toothy 120-click bezel designed to be easy to operate even with gloves on in arctic waters. Its beefy 20mm lugs are drilled for easy strap and bracelet changes, and like the bezel, its oversized, knurled screw-down crown is designed to be very easy to use. The screw down steel caseback is etched with all sorts of information about the watch and can provide a bit of bathroom reading; otherwise there isn’t much more to say here.
High-visibility dial with tritium tubes
The black dial comes in two variations: one with just a Marathon word logo and one that includes the words “US GOVERNMENT” underneath. The use of red for the depth rating adds a nice splash of visual interest, as do the H3 and radiation markets that denote the tritium tubes on the hour markers and the hour and minute hands. The bezel pip and seconds hand use MaraGlo, Marathon’s own variant of Super-LumiNova that generally works really well. True to their military usage, the Tritium tubes give off just enough light in pitch darkness without being distracting and have a half life of about 25 years.
High-accuracy quartz movement
The date wheel at 4:30 is a high contrast white with black numbers to maximize legibility, but for everyday use it would be nice to swap the colours and let the date blend in. That said, like with the bezel, case, and crown, it makes sense that the TSAR makes no functional compromises for the sake of mere aesthetics. The movement powering this piece is similarly robust, a high-torque ETA F06. Accurate to -0.3/+0.5 seconds per day, this is far from the HAQ F06.412 accurate to within 10 seconds a year but is a solid movement with enough torque to power the hefty handset on the TSAR. Battery life should be about three years.
Strap and bracelet options
For strap and bracelet options, Marathon offers this piece on a steel bracelet or on a rubber strap. The steel bracelet is very nicely built, but lacks any fancy modern amenities like quick release or tool-free micro-adjust. Like everything else on the Marathon, it’s utilitarian, with a choice of a few stamped clasps from which the customer can choose upon ordering. The flip lock clasp feels pretty solid but again is nothing to write home about. The rubber strap like the one pictured above is a better option, made of pure rubber with that weird vanilla smell to match. The straps are thick and sturdy, but watch out—if you try to use the straps on other watches that don’t have drilled lugs, you’re going to want to swap to collared spring bars or you’ll have a heck of a time trying to get it off again.
For those of us whose use of this watch is likely to be limited to a quick dip in the pool, the Marathon TSAR is ridiculously over-engineered in the best possible way. It lacks the vintage-y elegance of CWC or the more luxurious touches from Sinn and others, and the chunkiness of the watch can make it tough to wear with everyday attire. However, it’s tough to think of another watch this side of G-Shock that offers as much military cred with very much the toughness to boot, and these pieces do feel more refined than even a high-end Casio.
At $1,200 MSRP on strap, it’s also pretty hard to claim as much of a value proposition at first glance. However, the TSAR can fairly frequently be found at 10-15% off from dealers or from Marathon directly, and the bulletproof (possibly literally, though we did not test this) nature of this watch means that pre-owned pieces are also likely to be in decent nick. Automatic versions of the watch are available for a few hundred bucks more, and dial variants, including a bright white arctic dial with red seconds hand, are also available. If you’d prefer more extreme sizing, Marathon also makes 36- and 46 mm divers in quartz and automatic. We’d love to see an upgrade to a HAQ movement like Marathon has included with the new steel navigator, but even as is the TSAR offers a unique blend of overbuilt durability, military-grade legibility, and utilitarian good looks that do make the hefty price a lot easier to understand.
Ever since his first watch, a talking Dick Tracy thing won in a local chicken impersonation contest at age five, Aggressive Timing Habits has been fascinated by all watches from Amphibias to Zeniths and the people who create and collect them. His contributions to TBWS represent a new outlet to discuss the miracle of drilled lugs and debate the virtues of balance bridges vs balance cocks, much to the relief of friends and loved ones.