We often assign greater value to watches that were issued to soldiers in days gone by, like the Rolex MilSub of the ‘80s, Marine National Tudor Submariners from the ‘60s, or the Omega SM300 examples ordered by the British Ministry of Defence during the same era. There’s something fascinating about a watch that was ordered for a purpose and field-tested by some of the hardest men and women on the planet.
The shadow cast by these legendary military watches is long, and it’s easy to forget the fact that these very watches—tool watches paid for by militaries and distributed to service members—still exist today. Marathon’s main business model is proof. Ninety percent of their business comes from militaries and governmental organizations all around the world.
Anonymous W.O.E. community submitted picture.
On October 30, 1964 the US Department of Defense issued MIL-W-46374, a specification calling for a general purpose wrist watch suitable for military applications. As the years went on and the needs of military timekeeping changed, the specs were updated–slowly. The most current iteration of the specification, MIL-W-46374G, was issued in 1999. This is known as the “performance standard”, and even though a number of companies answered the call and produced watches for MIL-W-46374 namely Benrus, Hamilton, Stocker & Yale, and Timex, it was only Marathon that produced watches to the “G” specification.
Mitchell Wein, the President of Marathon Watch company, and his father Leon Wein, and his grandfather Morris Wein before that, have been building watches to meet the needs of the US military, and select foreign forces around the world, for well over half a century.
Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) wearing Marathon TSAR (Identified by Benjamin Lowry aka @submersiblewrist)
“Sometimes the old specs need updating. The soldier has changed, what they need a watch for has changed, and how they use our watches has changed,” says Wein. And he works with various branches of the US Armed Forces to produce a watch that meets the needs of a modern service member. And as the times change, so do the watches, with the military providing insight into what they need. Wein then produces a watch that meets or exceeds their requirements. “There’s plenty that I’m not told–but after years in the business I can decipher coding on the purchase orders and make educated guesses as to some of the environments that our watches will be used in.”
And the needs of the future?
“We’re seeing that our watches may be exposed to radiation going forward,” Wein says.
A C-17 Globemaster III, sits at McMurdo Station in Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Tyler Boyd)
Marathon watches are truly used all over. Wein says that the “arctic” watches–Marathon models with a white dial– are seeing service at both poles. The US uses them at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and recently, forces that have been protecting the Northwest Passage–a joint cooperation between the US, Canada, and Denmark–have been using the watches in addition to Environment Canada. The idea is that the snow-grey color of the dial works to help the watch remain legible even if bright light is reflecting off snow-covered surroundings.
ARCTIC EDITION LARGE DIVER'S AUTOMATIC (GSAR) (Photo Credit: Marathon)
One of the most notable watches that Marathon has ever produced is the Navigator, it was created in 1986 to meet the needs of USAF aviators. With a 12-hour rotatable bezel, an symmetrical case that doubles as a crown guard, and of course Marathon’s signature tritium gas tubes that continually glow, the watch has seen decades of service aiding airmen and airwomen in cockpit duties. Over the years the watch case switched from stainless steel to composite fibershel. Why? To save the US government money; defense budgets are taxpayer-funded. But in the very near future it’s probable we’ll see the return of a stainless steel Navigator, and this time, with a raised bezel that makes it easy for aviators wearing flight gloves to grip, a design feature that Marathon utilizes on MSAR, GSAR, JSAR, and TSAR models. At long last, the Navigator is returning to its roots–but even better.
Canadian Diver wearing Marathon (Photo: Leading Seaman Valerie LeClair, Task Force Imagery Technician - Identified by Benjamin Lowry aka @submersiblewrist)
In The Field
Various watches are issued by forces around the world. It’s up to both the needs of the force at large, and the nature of the specific unit to determine what watch is suitable for issue. However, Marathon remains the singular constant among all government-issued brands throughout the free world. Sure there are plenty of digital watches like Garmin, Casio, and Suunto issued to service members, but when it comes to analog watches, you’re more likely to see a Marathon issued to a service member than any other watch.
Military Issued Marathon Navigator (Photo Courtesy of DC Vintage Watches)
W.O.E. Community Submitted Photos:
In order to demonstrate the varied uses of issued Marathon watches, W.O.E. put out a call for submissions from the community. We asked you to tell the story of your issued Marathon. Where it’s been, what it’s seen, and how you came into possession of one of these watches (and in one case, it happened twice.)
Then the stories came pouring in. You all answered the call and the mailbox was full of incredible accounts from members of our community demonstrating how a watch is used as a tool by forces around the world, proving that a Marathon is part of a uniform.
Garand Thumb Issued Marathon “US Government”
Like W.O.E., Garand Thumb, aka Mike Jones, is a social media influencer and Air Force veteran. This issued Marathon US Government was used for training CONUS and has the scars to prove it. We will note that we have recently recruited Mike to the watch nerd family and he has a Sangin Instruments and a Rolex Submariner 5513 with stories to tell. More on that later.
Marathon TSAR “US Government”
“Issued in 2010, back in those good old GWOT days, allegedly the company commander wanted to reward the company for another hard deployment and ordered these through supply. The watch is an absolute tank, very thick case but wears easily and the quartz movement is accurate. The tritium in the dial is fading after all these years but is still bright enough that I can tell the time easily in the dark without being so bright it's noticeable in the distance.
In the end I had no idea how much the watch ran until meeting up with a fellow paratrooper who asked so we looked it up, MSRP was about 1000 USD and I was wearing that watch like it was a 100 dollar piece. But that's a testament of the durability and strength of it I suppose.”
Marathon GSAR “US Government”
“This was in Afghanistan in 2012; but I was issued the watch in Iraq in 2007/8 when I was a rifle platoon leader. No special guy, but we got all kinds of stuff back then like the automatic Benchmade knives, etc. (Afghanistan was even better with Arc’teryx and OR cold weather gear I still wear to this day sometimes.) I ditched the rubber strap and put it on two piece nylon (heresy I know, but the single nylons made it stick up way too high). I do remember being told at the time it was the “Army Rolex” because it supposedly was the most expensive watch you could get in Army inventory (no idea if that was true). Most of the other watches getting issued out at the time were Suuntos and eventually Garmins.
One of the times I got blown up, it cracked the crystal and knocked loose some of the tritium lume tubes. I sent it into Marathon and they replaced it for free (I wish they had fixed it, so I could have kept the original), but I used it on every single deployment. It was great because it glowed just bright enough to read, but not as bright as a Suunto or Garmin that bad dudes could see from a ridge line away to initiate an ambush (which has happened).
It definitely was the watch that bit me and gave me the “watch bug”, and I think was my first mechanical watch that was an automatic and didn’t need a battery. I also loved that since it was mechanical I didn’t have to take it off going into a SCIF. I’ve never had it serviced, but it’s still in the rotation and keeps great time. Now that I’m out my collection has grown quite a bit, but the GSAR was the one that started it all!”
“Marathon stopwatches were issued to WSOs only, as a way to time takeoff and have a mechanical timing device in the event of the big show. These specific Marathon stopwatches are not always issued anymore, due to availability and price, but I was adamant I get this one. The idea was that a mechanical stopwatch will be most resistant to an EMP. Most crewdogs just use their iPads now to time takeoff, but I like having a timing device in hand.
Us being very old, we do things a little differently. We have to hit certain speeds by certain times before we can unstick for the takeoff roll. The navigator is primarily responsible for this, getting timing and telling the pilots when we’ve hit our specific time, they then cross check to make sure we’re fast enough to continue.
I also like to fly with a Marathon Navigator in my flight bag. I don’t wear it but I keep it hacked and ready to go, just in case. It’s been that way through training and 4 different airframes now, so maybe it’s more of a good luck charm than anything.”
*Submissions were lightly edited for readability and anonymity.