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Marathon GSAR Watch Review

by The Review CrewJuly 27, 2010

The Marathon Watch Company is a supplier of watches to the Canadian military, but their products are also available for use by the U.S. military, law enforcement, and other government agencies. Luckily, they are also available to the general public. The Marathon GSAR (meaning “Government-issued, Search And Rescue”), is a stainless steel dive watch water-resistant to 300 meters, or 1,000 feet. This is a special edition watch that uses the ETA 2824 Swiss automatic movement.

Let’s start with the specifications:

•ETA 2824-A2 automatic movement with 25 jewels.
•316L grade stainless steel case.
•Water resistant to 30 ATM, 300 meters, or about 1,000 feet.
•Case diameter of 39.5mm (excluding crown and crown guard), or 46mm including the crown.
•Case height of 13.55mm.
•2.8mm thick sapphire crystal.
•105g (with the rubber strap).
•Screw-down caseback and crown.
•Date display between the 4 and 5 o’clock markers.
There are two versions of the GSAR: the standard, meaning that the phrase “U.S. Government” is printed under the Marathon logo (which is what I have), and the “Sterile Version” without “U.S. Government” on the dial (as requested by some government departments). The bad news here is that obtaining one of these is a hit or miss experience. They frequently sell out, so you will have to be patient enough to wait for stock to be replenished. The GSAR “Sterile Version” has been out of stock ever since I bought my standard version.

The hands and dial markers are accented with Tritium capsules — an illumination technology that is self-powered and glows for up to 25 years without batteries or external light sources for charging. Tritium tubes are tiny sealed glass vials that contain gas Tritium which is an isotope of Hydrogen. The inside surface of the capsules is coated with a phosphor that glows as the Tritium gas decays. Several different colors can be generated depending on the type of phosphor used. (For more information, see Tritium Illumination on Wikipedia.)

How often do you find a watch as unique as the Marathon GSAR? Here is an industrial, machine-tooled case with a gear-like bezel twice as thick as most others bezels. Inside the near bomb-proof case is the renowned ETA 2824 Swiss automatic movement providing timekeeping on par with many very high-end COSC certified Swiss watches.

I have several watches with the swiss ETA 2824 movement, and it is quite superb in accuracy and reliability. It is a mechanical automatic (self-winding) movement featuring a sweeping second hand due to the escapement frequency of 28,800 cycles per hour, or 4 hertz. (This is same frequency as the Rolex 3135 movement.) The effect of the second hand is very elegant as it smoothly sweeps around the dial. Automatic watches have a winding rotor that winds the mainspring with the movement of the wearer’s wrist. That means if the watch is worn every day, it will remain wound and will not require manual winding. It can therefore run pretty much indefinitely.

Now there is no mistaking the Marathon GSAR for anything but a tool watch. It is large, heavy, and very chunky looking. In other words, this is one serious piece of equipment. The thick, chunky shape of the GSAR tends to make it snag and catch on things as the wearer moves around. Mine already has a few battle scars and is usually too large to fit under the cuff of dress shirts. But no matter — while it sits out in the open, it begs to be stared at.

This watch comes with a standard rubber strap, which is perfectly adequate, but if you have the cash, you just gotta get the stainless steel bracelet. Besides looking fabulous, it is a very nice piece of workmanship. Bracelets are available with either a Canadian Maple Leaf, or a U.S. Great Seal insignia embossed into the clasp. NICE! It is solid stainless steel with a dive extension, and the links held together with a unique system of two-piece floating screws that act as strong pivot bars — unlike the more common system of threaded screws that fit into links with matching tapped holes. The addition of such a solidly-built bracelet certainly maximizes the equipment. I find the elegant but subdued look of the GSAR makes it a great daily wearer.

If you do order the steel bracelet, it should be installed and adjusted by an experienced watchmaker with appropriate tools. This bracelet is precision made, and fits very precisely to the watch, so it would be very easy to damage if not done properly. (Many retailers will install and adjust the bracelet for you free of charge if purchased together.)

The Marathon GSAR generally goes for $700, and the optional bracelet, for $170.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.