As I paid for my gas, the cashier’s eyes glared at my wrist. His friend, who was not too happy that I interrupted their afternoon game of cards on the counter, met his gaze upon my wrist. With the precision of Olympic synchronized swimmers, they both looked outside to see what car I was driving. It was when they saw that I was with a group of scuba divers that their fleeting thoughts of robbing me evaporated. Being a minority in rural regions of Ontario always presents a set of challenges. From somehow seeing the same police car parked not too far from yours when you return to your vehicle from having dinner with friends, to passing glares that last a few seconds too long, wearing and driving luxury items simply adds to the complexity of navigating such regions.
A year later, I experienced nearly the same event at a small bar in Bonaire, except the two gentlemen working behind the bar had no vehicle to better gauge whether I was a target worth robbing. On the evenings of both nights, I thought about purchasing the Chronograph Search and Rescue by Marathon Watches simply for such occasions. The decidedly tool-like and anti-jewel appearance of the Marathon was extremely appealing for when I would dive in areas where my security was not optimal, when I was far from home, and where laws regarding self-defense could still see my doing time if I successfully thwarted an assault and robbery.
Ironically, the opportunity to purchase this watch came during the pandemic when diving all but stopped for me. After picking up the watch, it was love at first sight. The sheer amount of utility filled me with excitement, and the watch did not leave my left wrist for about four months, until it inevitably had to. More on this in the next section.
The Watch and Why it Exists in Today’s Marketplace
You would be forgiven to look at the spec sheet for this timepiece and scratch your head at the $5,200 CAD price tag for this watch. Enthusiasts have the tendency to have tunnel vision when it comes to judging items that fall within the realm of their passions. One aspect that they focus on is the movement used within a watch. On countless occasions I have heard in person and read within group chats someone proclaim that “I’d never pay that much for a watch with an ETA/Sellita/Miyota,” or in this case a Valjoux 7750 movement.
The 7750 was one of the deciding factors in my purchasing decision. Whereas my Omega Seamaster 300 (my daily driver and most-worn watch) needs to be sent to Swatch Group to see a co-axial specialist for servicing, this Marathon can be serviced by many talented, local, and accessible watchmakers, so the watch would be away for less time and more economical to run in the long term.
Another factor which may give a consumer pause is its price when compared to what may seem like its competition. Where modern chronographs that boast at least 200m water resistance from Breitling, Tudor and others are close in price, this bulky time-telling instrument may look like an overpriced relic in comparison. Though this actually became an issue for me as I wore this watch, this entirely misses the point of this watch.
Unlike the watch companies mentioned above, Marathon’s timepieces are primarily sold to militaries globally. These watches are not designed for the civilian with a desk job whose most rigorous activity seen this year is watching contractors renovate his or her basement. This watch is made for soldiers, paramedics, law enforcement officers, and even those in the medical field. As a result, holding it to the same standards of pieces of jewelry that happen to tell the time is incorrect.
Marathon has been making watches for the Allied Forces since 1941. When browsing their website, one can even select various government and military logos to be present either on the dial or bracelet clasps of the watches on offer. Though based slightly north of Toronto in Richmond Hill, all their watches are made and assembled in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. The quality of their search and rescue watches are phenomenal and would be right at home on the wrist of a bomb squad officer. All of this leads to a unique experience that when worn within the civilian setting presents a lot of charm, and as we’ll find out, some challenges as well.
On the Wrist
Even though I bought this watch for diving, it has never seen my drysuit due to the pandemic. Thus I wore this watch during the first stages of the pandemic where I wore suits from the waist up and yoga pants from the waist down, to casual wear, and back to full formal wear as the pandemic progressed and face-to-face client meetings (albeit at a distance of greater than 6-10 feet) started to happen once again. This watch dominates one’s outfits, and it does so with brute force.
Depending on your build and character, the 46mm wide, 55mm lug-to-lug, and 18mm thick/thicc dimensions of this watch can and will overwhelm your wrist. I have a 6.75” wrist and it looked and felt fine on my wrist, and it received many compliments from wristwatch enthusiasts and normal people alike.
The rubber strap supplied with the watch is of great quality and slowly fills its surroundings with a pleasant and soft vanilla smell. Personally I immediately swapped it for an IsoFrane for the thicker strap balanced out the 175 gram top-heavy watch better. Also, I already had multiple IsoFrane exposure suit extensions ready for diving.
Ergonomically, this watch is incredibly comfortable. However, it never lets you forget how heavy and thick it is. At first, I was enamoured with the extreme dimensions of this watch. It balanced my 51mm Garmin Descent Mk1 which I wore on my other wrist, and the extra real estate it occupied was seemingly all for good reasons. This was the case until the first couple of months into 2021, and the thickness of this watch became a serious problem.
In the past I chuckled when this behemoth struggled to pass under a cuff of a winter jacket, or even a highway overpass. When I had to carry humans who struggled with their mobility more than a dozen times a day, I essentially left this watch behind. Its extra thickness and gigantic grooved bezel caught on garments and even worse, caught on the flesh of those whom I carried.
Aside from presenting the possible challenges of putting on a buoyancy compensation device before a dive, all the charm of this watch evaporated and was replaced with frustration. Having been in touch with Marathon in the past regarding my photographs for their feed, I decided to ask Marathon about the various tests that it was subjected to, and why it needed to be as thick as it is. I never had any issues operating much thinner dive bezels with thick and wet exposure suit gloves, so out of pure annoyance I wanted to know in detail why the watch was designed as it was. Marathon never got back to me, which is understandable, but unfortunately as a result I can not give you a detailed reason for why the watch is as thick as it is. The thickness and overall ridiculous levels of robustness do have their benefits and we shall discuss them in the next section.
One of the quirks of using a case which resembles a small bank vault is how smooth the chronograph operation is. All of the jerkiness and distasteful thin-snapping quality of pressing the 7750’s chronograph pushers are so well damped, that one could be easily forgiven for thinking this tank of a watch housed a much more expensive and refined movement. When compared to my TAG Heuer Carrera, operating the chronograph on the CSAR is a much more refined and pleasant experience, even if one must unscrew the pushers and may miss timing the event desired.
Where this watch fared worse than my 7750-equipped Carrera was in its actual timekeeping. Where my Carrera ran +7 seconds a day for many years and consistently ran fast, this Marathon ran a consistent -4 seconds a day while on the wrist, and a lot slower if the chronograph was used on that given day. After speaking to many other owners of watches that use the 7750, I sent the Marathon to my talented and massively overqualified watchmaker. On his timing device, the CSAR ran +4 seconds a day, and -18 seconds a day if the chronograph ran for 24 hours. We decided to leave the watch as it was and it continued to preform admirably and consistently, albeit slowly, which is annoying.
Since I rely on my watches for work, I tend to be very picky when it comes to their accuracy, and here the 7750 unexpectedly threw an obstacle in my way frequently, but not always. When wearing this watch regularly, I would set this watch 40 seconds ahead to not have to reset it for a few days. The minute hand would not reliably set on the desired marker, and thus the watch would not tell the accurate time. This is frustrating for it does this randomly. I somewhat negated this by setting the minute hand slightly ahead of where it should have been, and the watch gradually caught up after the crown was set, and then told time correctly. This most likely will not be an issue for most, but if you plan on joining an online meeting on time without sitting there awkwardly (for instance), this will become an issue.
The Case and Bezel
One wonderful side effect of having a colossal case designed to withstand the levels of shock and potential electromagnetic bursts that one may encounter in the field is the famous rotor wobble of the 7750 is all but absent. The case is uniformly brushed and it gently reflects light which is desirable in a dive setting. When diving on a sunny day, the last thing a diver wants from his or her watch is for it to blind them with polished and reflective surfaces. All changes in surface direction are softened and smoothed out. This results in the watch being easier to handle which is appreciated and further removes it from the category of jewelry.
The tactile and refined knurling of the crown and screw-down chronograph pushers make them a joy to use, and are in line with the ultra-utilitarian character of this watch. The caseback is equally as no-nonsense as the rest of the piece. Instead of a logo or a piece of artwork engraved on the back, all one finds are details such as the specs and serial numbers for the watch.
When not getting caught on doorjambs, coats, small-to medium-sized pets, or low-flying aircraft, this mountainous 120-click bezel would fill any wristwatch enthusiast with euphoria upon operating it. Some prefer a 60-click bezel, but when timing events longer than an hour, a 120-click bezel allows you to measure down to 5 minutes. This could be one’s surface interval for instance, or any number of medical issues that I have had to track for others in the last couple of months. The bezel insert is simple and economical to replace. Its font, just like those found on the dial, is clear and direct.
Dial and hands
One could consider the dial of the Chronograph Search and Rescue cluttered. In reality, the vast dial perfectly balances the hours, 24-hour markers, the day-date window, the logo, and the radiation sign. That radiation logo is there to indicate that this watch uses tritium tubes for the hour markers, hour hand and minute hand. One of the factors that aids this watch in not being a jumbled mess of markers and information is how deep the dial is recessed from the crystal. It has been said that this depth is to make room for the tritium tubes, but I suspect it is to make room for that substantial bezel.
The quality of the markers helps as well. The Arabic hour markers are painted with a precision that stands up to inspection under a loupe. The paint is also applied substantially and the thickness of the paint changes in proportion to how large the numbers are. As a result, the balance between the aforementioned hour markers, 24-hours markers, logo, radiation sign, and even the characters on the date is in perfect unison. The depth of the dial is further pronounced with the sub-registers being slightly recessed. Lastly, the hour, minute and central chronograph seconds hands have generous room to gracefully float above the dial. The height differences between the hands even further aids this watch’s great legibility.
The syringe hands used here have been used on many military pilot watches in the past. Their thin profile ensures maximum legibility of the chronograph sub-registers and is highly appreciated. The “big-block” Tudor hour hand on their chronographs for instance is downright stupid in practice.
The bezel pip, seconds hand in the sub-register, chronograph second hand tip, and the 12 hour and 30 minute chronograph sub-registers use the proprietary MaraGlo for luminescence while in dark environments. The only splash of colour is a dash of red on the chronograph second hand triangular tip. The running seconds hand in the sub-register being lumed is appreciated, as on night dives the diver will be able to quickly assess whether the watch is running or not. This could also be said in a dark cockpit of an airplane which is arguably the primary intended workplace for this watch.
The MaraGlo will glow reliably for about 4-6 hours before needing to be recharged. The tritium hands never need recharging as they always give off a soft glow. Marathon opted to use the isotope known as H3 for its tritium tubes for good reason. Their soft glow does not give away one’s position at night, and they are easier on the eyes upon waking up in between night shifts. This last point makes Marathon watches a very practical choice for doctors in hospitals who work 26-hour shifts. The 12 marker uses an orange pigment to orient one’s eyes to the top of the dial while in dark environments.
The day-date window is perfectly placed and is highly appreciated on hectic days. What I did not foresee was how useful the decimal scale on the chapter ring would be. By dividing the hour and minutes into 100 parts, this scale came in handy for invoicing. At first I thought a pulsometer would have been more useful, but this decimal scale is a lot more useful for those who need to invoice or make detailed reports on an hourly basis.
Over the last couple of years I have seen a very distinct type of person who owns a Marathon CSAR: collectors. Though I have seen many other Marathons in the wild, I have never encountered another CSAR owner in public who is not an avid collector. In fact, this is a relatively low volume watch for Marathon, and could be found to be sold out at a higher frequency than other models. Only one of these collectors is a pilot, and the rest are avid collectors of tool watches such as those from Sinn, Damasko, and Fortis, just to name a few.
Collectors will collect the watches that they are passionate about, but would I recommend this watch to other people? If they are a professional scuba divers who make their living off their fins, then I resolutely would recommend this watch. Its level of toughness is unrivalled when compared to other mechanical chronographs. This comes in handy when loading a truck or boat with heavy scuba equipment. The thickness of the timepiece won’t be an issue after a week for the diver can adjust his or her movements and decide to wear the watch after he or she has put on his or her buoyancy compensation device.
I would have a harder time recommending this watch for someone who just wants a tough-looking watch, or at worst, someone who wants to play soldier and exude a certain level of masculinity. The weight and thickness of this watch will become a factor over time and it will be left in a drawer, especially when this watch’s natural competitor for this particular type of consumer is a large and much lighter G-Shock.
My ownership experience with the Marathon Jumbo Chronograph Search and Rescue has been a wonderful one thus far and I do not see myself ever parting with it. Due to its thickness it has been relegated to diving and travel duties, but I can not think of another watch that I would want to accompany me in uncertain waters and regions where security is suspect at best.
Check out more Chronograph reviews at The Watch Clicker
Check out the Marathon website
Marathon CSAR Specs