A Visit to Marathon Watch Company 2023

An in-person adventure into La Chaux De Fonds where the magic happens

Date Published
Dec 23, 2023
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Insight
SponsoredAcme Inc.

I HAD ONLY TWO MISSIONS when I was sent to Geneva in April. One was to meet particular brands we worked closely with, catching up with them in person during the most buzzing period of the industry. The second was a little more personal. It was where the town organized the annual watch fairs (back again after the long halt during the pandemic), including the renowned Watches and Wonders, which I was attending. A Canadian watchmaker, who made purposeful timing instruments for several governments’ militaries for decades, had personally invited me to pay them a visit while in Switzerland.

A true military brand that still do commissions for military personnels

Of course, I couldn’t be happier to accept their warm invitation. In fact, deep down, I was much more eager to see Mitchell Wein and his elite team in La Chaux De Fonds than attend the leading fair. No offense to my company and the other brands, as I still enjoyed the fair, speaking to each team while checking out their latest novelties and then some. If you understand a Marathon watch, or you love the brand for supplying the top nations’ militaries, or if you just briefly came across the name Marathon when reading about field watches of yesteryears, you can understand how excited I was to visit Marathon’s House to check it out. 

Setting off from Geneva to La Chaux De Fonds in the early morning

Immediately after touching down in Geneva on a Tuesday following an approximately 14-hour flight, my first task was to attend the trade fairs. I had a tight schedule of meetings with several watch brands during the first three days. I managed to take a breath, grabbing some excellent baked goods and coffee. But most of the time, I attempted to take in the essence of what made Geneva, the land of horology, so unique as the “Mecca” city, where all watch enthusiasts were dying to go. Long story short, the number of watches and the people I had encountered since my touchdown reignited my deep love for timepieces. But the one that sealed the deal for me was on that Friday when my journey began by taking the Swiss Federal Railway from Geneva to La Chaux De Fonds. Here I come, Marathon Watches.

La Chaux De Fonds, Where The Magic Happens

I reminded myself that this visit was one I would die for as it’s not easy to get Marathon Watches to open its doors to anyone on any day. I knew I had to take everything in as much as possible while there later that day. “Good morning Sam; I’ll be waiting at the station to pick you up.” A pleasant morning greet from Mr. Martin Cohen, the Executive Vice President of Marathon Watch Company, to which I replied, “Good morning! I am already halfway there; see you in a short while.” I hoped he could sense my excitement about meeting everyone in person while absorbing the art of Marathon’s watchmaking. Gosh, that “halfway there” seemed like forever, reflecting my eagerness. I apologize for my whiny exhilaration; you get the point. 

The train journey seems to takes forever, but the view though

Once alighted after the “long” ride, I had a quick time-check on my “Maple Leaf” dial MSAR, making my way towards the exit of a relatively empty station. “Hello, Sam!” A sturdy voice was heard. It didn’t take long to grasp it as Martin in the not-so-crowded environment. I greeted him with excitement and shook his hand. “Meet Nathalie Huguenin, our lady boss at Marathon,” said Martin. “She will be driving us over to the headquarters today.” 

“Bonjour!” I attempted my French greeting, and the Swiss administrator acknowledged it by shaking my hand happily before we made our way to her car.

During the car ride, we had some casual exchanges, like discussing my Switzerland trip so far and realizing that Martin and Mitchell had just gotten into town too from Canada, where their main Headquarters was located. I looked out the window to enjoy the mighty mountains surrounding the Swiss village while avoiding being utterly oblivious to our conversations. The three of us were thrilled to finally meet in person.

A quiet town where the horology magic happens
Right near the top of the hill lies Marathon Watches in a heritage building

We drove past the center of La Chaux De Fonds and into the hills where Marathon headquarters was located. We went down a steep slope for a few more minutes before turning up at the front of a heritage building opposite the town’s zoo. I remembered the quiet I sensed upon arriving; the stillness of my surroundings made me assume the village to be the same. I told them it was the opposite of where I came from, even in Geneva, where everything buzzed with chatter and vehicles driving around. Nathalie agreed with me and shared that for the past 16 years since she’d been here at Marathon, it was in this zen state that the locals cherished. Though I admiringly enjoyed it, this was a totally different experience. We wasted no time outside in the cold, windy weather and headed into that multi-storied colonial building, with glass signage at the side of the front door stating “Marathon.”

I was guided up to the third story to another big door which was opened by Martin himself. Within was a modern-looking facility that juxtaposed with its century-old exterior. I almost couldn’t control my joy at finally discovering where these military watches were and also the people who stood behind their timepieces. 

Caught some of the watchmakers at work from the entrance

“This way, Sam,” prompted Martin, disrupting my admiration of the space. He then guided me into their main office, where everything was neatly placed on their tables, distilling a sense of Marathon’s practice of having everything well-ordered. Also, several past photographs and advertisements of Marathon’s products hung on the walls. These had seemed to exude Marathon’s pride in its heritage – these purposeful watches were made for actual militants and used in actions.

While I placed my bag and gears at the side, Martin went into the meeting room hidden at the side of the office, speaking to the rest of the team about my arrival. “Mitchell and Mamun, our guest is here from Singapore,” said Martin, and with that, I knew the president of Marathon himself was behind the door.

Some old ads that were hanging on the walls of Marathon HQ

The meeting room’s door was swung open, and there stood Mr. Mitchell Wein in his semi-formal attire, smiling gratefully at me. That casual composure from the third generation of the founding member put me at ease as I shook his hand firmly, telling him that it was my honor to be here, getting to see Marathon myself. “Welcome, Samuel! Although not many people get to see what we do first-hand, I am excited to have you here,” he greeted me, leading me into his meeting room, where there lay a long glass table surrounded by tall windows and photo frames depicting the Weins’ lineage.

Everything Has A Story 

Martin chatting up with me before announcing my presence to Mitchell and the rest

Mitchell wasted no time going through each periodic frame on the wall to let me, a watch nut who digs many historical narratives, understand how Marathon got its start. His family’s business started with his grandfather Morris Wein, who began making stopwatches and clocks as early as the late thirties. “They were actually weren’t made solely for the US Military yet, but for the public in Canada. Back then, if you came to Canada, you could see Marathon clocks in public areas.” Mitchell added, “We designed special timers for specific purposes, not only for timing stuff like torpedos (military) but also for ice hockey (public) and such.”

Unsurprisingly, when he touched on those timing instruments in tandem with his family history, my memory recalled how each wristwatch they made until this day has a story behind it. Each of them was created to cater to the client’s specific needs. While reemphasizing that, Martin flipped over one of the GSAR divers, which he had on his hand, and pointed out the government’s military specs number engraved on the case back. Both of them had emphasized that each military commissioned watch, in the beginning, was required to meet those criteria set forth by the Canadian and US governments. 

The Wein family

“We adhered to their requirements, set by the US and Canadian governments. Whatever the military needed, we did our best to craft the perfect timing instruments for them to be used on the field.” Mitchell was earnest when he said that. “And that’s what we did. Gradually other nations’ governments approached us too. They often ordered the exact same criteria we made for their own states. Therefore we managed to supply our watches globally.” Just moments of being overly excited, I was trying to “absorb” and environ what Marathon was all about. I did this, listening to the current director sharing his family’s brand wholeheartedly. Every word from his mouth was pegged with passion, and I knew it when I heard it.

He continued his conversation, “My father was serious in every product he produced. He knew at the back of his head that every element in his product would fail during operations; things might be disastrous for the military person. It might even put them in a life-and-death situation. He wouldn’t ever want to let the two great nations down when they depended on Marathon.”

Mitchell Wein wasted no time to tell the story of Marathon
Everything were based off the US and Canadian governments specifications

After hearing him preaching in such a way about his family’s legacy, I knew his father, and he had put where their mouths were. Because even today, who could claim that they had to supply their watches to the militaries for actual use not merely a marketing gimmick? Every single piece commissioned by the government was to be put into action on a soldier’s wrist. This everlasting collegiality between Marathon and the world’s militaries was as genuine as possible. It goes to show one thing – that Marathon creates one of the most reliable tools watches on Earth, period.

There’s a Reason For Everything

The Navigator was made intentionally with Quartz movement and fibre-shell materials

Time was ticking away as we continued our conversations about the watch designs. I often wondered why certain watches used battery-operated movements, fiber-shell material instead of stainless steel, or different texts and emblems on the dials. Speaking of which, I knew some of you reading here agreed with me. Hence, my standing before the people who made those timepieces and throwing out those questions.

“You see, every element of our watches was made for various reasons. They were designed based on what the government requested. Like the use of battery movement and lightweight fiber-shell cases in the Navigator collection, they specifically requested these. We complied with their requirements and made them the best we could.” Mitchell shared effortlessly. Things were starting to make sense for us.

“How about the Sterile dial and such?” I asked.

The reason of using Quartz was requested by the government
Same goes for the “sterile”/non-labeled dials

Once again, he took no time to ponder what I asked and replied. It was, too, by their spontaneous requests for the troopers to be worn on the field or training. The sterile dial was made to keep their identities safe and anonymous during operations overseas. Vice versa for those printed with individual “government” texts or emblems, some nation wants their supplied tools labeled for “military use.”

I’d realized how Marathon had dutifully kept these strict specifications since its inception. Still, in continuation today, I could see the exact timepieces made for those troopers back then, built and designed impeccably with the exact same specifications for both me and you, the ordinaries. Therefore I could conclude here that the manufacturer adhered to the criteria set by those who commissioned from them and then fabricated each specification to an imposing level thanks to Marathon’s know-how. This is what I would call “No bullshit, just business.”

“No bullshit, just business.”

Consequently, Mitchell Wein was loquacious in a good way. He didn’t stop at my questions and asserted that they had already supplied tens of thousands of watches, every single round of their orders from the respective military departments. That shows the government’s trust and reliance on Marathon as a Canadian watchmaker. Thus assuring certainty had given Marathon some serious credentials of which his grandfather and father were very proud.

Mitchell added, “Long story short, during the nineties, when the US troops were immediately dispatched and deployed to the Persian Gulf, they sought us to produce tools and equipment which we hitherto supplied of numerous watches to them. And we delivered them with what they needed in such a short period. For that, we received a medal from the US government directly during an award ceremony. I remember it was a huge ceremony for my parents and me as we would be on stage to receive the award. We felt honored, even more so than the other American entities and troopers, as we were the first Canadian watch company to do so.” 

I could tell their passions from the discussions we had

From The Troopers To Civilians 

Amid his sharing, I curiously interrupted and asked, “How did you guys start selling these watches to commercial retailers?” 

This was where Mitchell paused with an intense stare into my face as if I had asked the wrong question. “At the beginning, when I was still young, my father had already started working with retailers, which were jewelry shops back then, but he was often disappointed in them. I remember he flipped through a stack of unpaid invoices with those retailers’ names, passing them ferociously to me at his office table, and then mentioned, “This would not happen if the watches were ordered from our government. Either they don’t pay up on time, or they don’t pay at all.” That was something we learned, which caused my old man to stay focused on producing the best stuff for the ones who truly need them,” he explained with a sigh.

They once did not fully trust the partnership between retailers on their true military watches

“But what made you guys change your mind?” I stubbornly prompted once again, trying to find out what happened to the latter part of Marathon Watches. “Why did you choose a handful of us to be your current partners these days?” 

I thought both of them would give me a lukewarm answer as they did not show signs of joy after that response. But to my surprise, they told me it was when Mitchell was more involved with the company. And during the period when the internet was prevailing, the watch forums were born. He mentioned, “I was amazed to find forum threads that spoke about us and our watches, and therefore I got curious by joining them later in person to discuss our watches. They were obviously overjoyed to see someone who runs Marathon within their discussions, so they started sharing their pieces with me, and I was flabbergasted by their passion.” 

“At that point, I knew we needed to re-enter the watch market as I saw the embracement of our watches by these fervent collectors. However, it took much convincing and scolding from my father to change his mind once again.” Mitchell laughed when stating the revival of commercializing their timepieces. And I knew he succeeded in changing his strict dad’s mind. Well, the rest was history.

Mitchell can be seen serious on watchmaking, but extremely pleasant too to his team and me

I knew their collection was well received once they started selling to enthusiasts like those in the forums, gradually growing their customer base. It was only a matter of time before them to have several partners worldwide who had the same love for no-nonsense tool watches from a company with its legacy that depended on them and distributed globally.

I quickly realized how much trust and faith Marathon had in Gnomon as a retailer, which made me feel exceptionally honored to be part of the bond. I was floating into my wonderland, hearing such stories. Again, I never thought I would stand in front of a member of the Wein family, in his HQ in Switzerland, hearing about all things Marathon as if listening to a father sharing his vibrant life with his pre-teens son. I hastily replied that it was my honor to represent a trustworthy military watchmaking brand in Singapore, as it was for Anders (Founder of Gnomon Watches) and his whole team. I could see the genuine smiles back at my reply from Martin and Mitchell himself. I knew we had an authentic relationship and felt we had achieved that beyond just watches.

A quick wrist check in the HQ

On To The New Rubber Straps Over Lunch

The conversation continued for another few minutes until Nathalie interrupted us politely. She entered the meeting room and told us it was time for a lunch break, but we continued our business talks. Of course, I knew Martin and Mitchell couldn’t let anything stop us from our discussions. 

We stepped outside the office room and into the open-concept room beside me, where I noticed all the watchmakers were also having their lunch break. I could tell they felt a little odd – though they wore smiles on their faces – with a visitor like me there. That made me presume that Marathon does not simply open its doors to anyone who wants to walk in and check things out. 

We carried on our conversations over lunch time

On the table next to the watchmakers lay a tray of different flavored pastries, and we made our way there and helped ourselves to each one. They were nice enough to give me some hot coffee to go with them and to keep me awake for the second half of our talks and tour.

I threw him more questions while at that, and we zoned in on their latest 3-piece rubber strap kit for their GSAR dive watches. I wanted to dig deeper into the whys than just seeing it as an upgrade with high-quality FKM rubber. Well, I’m glad I asked.

Martin wasted no time and sprang to the office to pick up one of the rubber straps for Mitchell to elaborate on its birth. Handed over to him, he moved his thumbs through the texture of the black rubber strap on both front and back and then passed it to me to do the same. “You feel the texture? This perfect texture and quality match our professional dive watches,” he said proudly.

Marathon remade a brand new rubber strap simply to match up with their watch quality

“I have handled them in person before, and I am just curious what made you want to start from the bottom, remaking a black rubber strap when the previous black ones were already good enough,” I went on. He replied, “We wanted one that was fully Swiss-made in a true Marathon manner. We have been getting these rubber straps from suppliers in Italy, which we felt were one of the best in the market, but I wanted to push ourselves to the next level. I wanted them to be Swiss-made in La Chaux De Fonds, with better quality and ergonomics.”

The Idea

Everything was made from scratch

“We have been supplied with different colors and varieties of straps from our friends in Italy since my parents’ days, but I realized there’s no consistency in the pairing. I learned from my mother, who used to drive a Toyota Camry for several decades, where the chassis and engine were still going strong, but not the rest of the car. This could also be said for our watches. I realized that the rubber straps must be as good as our watch cases and movements,” Mitchell stated. 

He continued, “Sometimes even military people give feedback to me that some of their wrists are so big that they need to punch an extra hole near the strap tail to wear it, and I’m like, this is a major issue. I don’t know who will be wearing our watches on the battlefield, and I do not want them to waste time punching any holes in the rubber strap when they have to pick it up and go.”

The Design

Underneath the rubber is Marathon’s monogram which helps with perforation

Firstly, Mitchell mentioned that he initially came out with the idea to revamp new rubber straps with different lengths to meet all wrist sizes. Be it for the troopers or civilians, the rubber straps, when delivered along with the watch to the end users, had to be readily wearable without compromising comfortability and durability.

Since Marathon was a household name in La Chaux De Fonds, a canton for different manufacturers who supported each other like a family, they sought their neighbor Valiance to work on a new rubber mold design. They sat down and worked out the amount of tapering, the monogram inner-backing, and a holder to hold the keeper in place for the wearer to strap it on and off without much hassle. 

They then picked the best material currently available, the FKM, an abbreviation of Fluorine Kautschuk Material, which was superior in quality. However, it had a nice pliable texture without picking up lines and marks. Once they settled upon the design, they concluded in two different sizing at the tail end, packaging them like a ready-to-go kit.

The Execution

Even the buckle is so well executed

You might think this was as easy as said, but Mitchell and Martin convinced me it was otherwise. They had spent several years trying to perfectly nail this sleek “plain black” rubber strap. The veritable design was only half the battle won, as getting the right amount of mixture for the strap was yet another challenge. But their partner Valiance in town met Marathon’s improbable demands. 

Both companies spent several years getting these rubber straps to their liking. They conceived an edgy design unlike those we have seen on their watches, and they definitely are well-suited to the company’s watches. Trust me, I held and scrutinized it with Mitchell, confirming that it was to their standards. That sealed the deal for me, at least, reminding me of how Marathon was always serious about what they put out for everyone. 

The New Navigator Tease

Trying on the new SS Navigator from scratch

“Let’s talk about our all-new Navigator while we’re at it,” he said excitedly, and our conversation continued at the dining area. Martin then got up and said, “I’ll bring over the assembled piece so you can look.” Mitchell was handed a finished piece of the latest (at the time, it wasn’t launched to the public yet) Navigator pilot watch in uncommon stainless steel. You might wonder why a generic case material in the watch world seems unique here. That’s because it was never re-issued until 2022, when they wanted to bring back the original ethos without compromising its purpose yet clad with today’s reliability. 

Over and above that, when Mitchell put the new Navigator on the table for everyone to see, I knew something was different from those that were made in fiber shells previously. “You might think we did nothing much other than its material, but we had it upgraded significantly without losing its DNA.” Bingo, Mitchell had confirmed my assumptions.

“Let’s start from the beginning a little, shall we? The Pilot Navigator started from a request from Kelley Air Force Base in the US. In 1986, Texan’s Air Force base needed watches that could endure extreme changes in pressure when used at high altitudes while remaining legible and accurate. There were approximately 50000 pieces of these made for them,” mentioned Mitchell. “These were, in fact, the first ever quartz pilot watch made by my father, and it was pioneered specifically for the Air Force. Though they were made with the fiber-shell material you see today, my father had previously manufactured them in stainless steel with his ‘ANADAC’ branding. Since its inauguration, we have been the sole supplier to the US government, even when we are from Canada.” 

A tray of the new SS Navigator
And Mitchell explaining its inauguration right beside it

He diverted the topic and scope on how the “ANADAC” sobriquet came about. We then shifted to the assembling ground, where all the magic happened. I was guided to the big middle table where all the stocks and accessories were placed uniformly, and there Mitchell put the new Navigator right next to the original piece sitting on the corner. I took a closer look, and bingo again! There was a vintage “ANADAC” piece that the new Navigator was based on today. It felt like my current favorite NBA star finally got to sit side by side with his “Idol” NBA great from the past that he inspired his achievements.

He studiously mentioned that his father had created the palindrome moniker for “Canada.” The name was found on the US and Canadian Air Forces pilot’s watches produced under Marathon Watch’s government contracts. Little did I know that his father intended to remind these Air Forces that the watches came from a proudly Canadian company that wanted them to have a piece of the country. Oh, Mitchell also shared that it was supposed to also be a lucky charm kind of stuff for the pilots when they go for their missions. 

The original ANADAC piece beside the latest stainless steel one

Once he finished his digression, he updated us that this new launch was more than meets the eye. At first glance, when I finally held it in my hand, the overall aesthetics felt so “be like Mike,” where I couldn’t truly differentiate what was being replaced from the original. “Although we kept the look, we redesigned the new one significantly,” Martin proudly replied – just like what I would expect from his boss. 

Mitchell continued to explain that since the watch was still manufactured to be used professionally by the Air Force pilots, they had significantly upgraded its durability. Of course, they had used the latest ETA Quartz caliber to be longer-lasting than ever before. For instance, as the watch embraces high G-force and air pressure in the sky, they redesigned the grooves to be in an “L” shape for the sapphire crystal to be secured onto the case. There were other minor yet crucial details, like upgrading the rotating bezel’s grooves and the efficient battery lid at the back of the watch. 

Mitchell explaining every single details

Besides the perks mentioned above, I was emotionally moved by the innovative implementation of their signature tritium gas tubes. This luminous product, usually used for the hour markers and hands, was now securely (and safely) placed in the small bezel pip. “We could implement this effectively because all of our tritium gas tubes were developed and tested in-house in our US facility. We can check them before and after casing the watches up over there, ensuring that all single gas tube functions as they should. Even for that small little pip at the top of this Navigator,” Mitchell answered, awing me. I had always thought that they curated their tritium gas tubes from other suppliers, but little did I know that Marathon took its incredible luminous technology to the next level. 

Flipping over to the back of the watch, I saw the Canadian maple leaf in the middle of the battery lid, and I cheekily asked if it was supposed to be acting as a “lucky charm” like those before. Guess what? Both Mitchell and Martin nodded their heads with bright smiles on their faces. 

An iconic pilot watch backed by a crazy story

The Assembly Room Tour

Catching watchmakers in action

After talking about the Navigator, Nathalie called Mitchell back into the office for a quick meeting, and I was left with Martin at the assembly ground. At this time, Martin told me I could have my time to tour around myself the watchmaking station while allowing me to take as many photos and ask as many questions as possible. Finally, I could see how each Marathon watch was cased up. Boy, I was over the moon when this moment arrived.

It was the golden hour for me as the watchmakers returned from their lunch and to their tasks at the workbench. There were three of them, to be exact, and each of their work-desk was placed right in front of the tall windows in which they were looking across a beautiful view of the hillside. This position was vital, as the natural lighting was crucial to assist them in their work. Of course, they had their office lights that worked just fine. However, Martin told me nothing beats the natural sunlight from outside. The old-school ways worked best here. 

Nothing beats the feeling of your watches being assembled by hands
The natural light from the window together with the room light are like tradition with technology

I started taking photos of them in action, beginning with the veteran who spent his whole watchmaking journey in Marathon. Jean-Maurice Huguenin is the man right here. He worked for the Wein family for two generations, assisting them in designing, assembling, and repairing watches. His requisite skills were much needed to provide the best quality control for Marathon, and that was evidently shown. Despite being serious at work, he was friendly to everyone in the space, including me, and I quickly felt he had a kind heart and treated everyone like his family. And that goes in tandem with Marathon’s spirit. 

Senior Jean-Maurice Huguenin at work

When I was shooting some photos of him at work, he was kind enough to explain what he was working on too. He was placing the luminous pip of the new Navigator and executing it swiftly. There was a whole box of them, and he explained to me in French that each of these pips would be placed and checked by me before another watchmaker inspected them again. Martin was kind enough to translate it for me, and I couldn’t thank them both enough for this underserved intimate conversation. 

Hes placing the tritium pip onto the new SS Navigator
Maria Lei Dos Santos thoroughly checking on the Navigators 

After taking a few more photos, I moved on to what the next watchmaker was doing besides Jean Maurice. It was Maria Lei Dos Santos. She was quiet, focusing on casing up several fiber-shell Navigator watches when I turned to her table to take some shots. Although there was no conversation between us (likely due to me not knowing French), I could tell she was alright with me doing my stuff, and I did my best not to disturb her, too, as a sign of courtesy. Before placing each watch and dial into the case, every empty case was thoroughly checked to ensure there were no defects or smudges on them. By the time I finished taking those photos, which took me around 15 minutes, she had managed to check through around 5 casings. That was the meticulous effort she put into ensuring things were verified correctly.

Caroline fitting on the spring bars onto the rubber straps

Moving on to the last watchmaker beside her, I found myself at the desk of Caroline Piaget, one of the younger ones in Marathon. I captured photos of her diligently fitting those spring bars into some rubber straps before placing them onto the designated watches. It might seem like a mundane, easy task, but after spending some time observing, it might just be as challenging as those tasks that the other two watchmakers were doing. But her consistency in placing those spring bars into the straps distilled a sense of zen on top of the required skill, and I kid you not. 

Trays and trays of watch parts in order
A row full of refined military timepieces

Lastly, I took some time to take some shots of what else around the whole premise, where every single element just adds up to the horology picture of the company. There were stacks of watch heads without straps being placed neatly on the big table, and they were arranged in a way that I could infer each of those stacks was to be completed by the watchmakers accordingly at a later time. Many watch machines are lying around too, but they were also placed orderly, like individual workstations for them to utilize. Throughout my “free” time in the workshop, Martin was kind enough to tag along quietly and assist me with any inquiries or help I needed. I could not feel cosier in what might seem like the strictest watchmaker in the market.

A tray full of just-assembled hands on the GSAR dials.
A traditional case-back opener
An empty watchmaker’s desk

GSAR For The Finale

“Alright, I’m done with my meetings, and I came to know that you are about to head back and board your train to Geneva soon, I suppose.” Suddenly, I heard Mitchell’s voice from the other room entrance. I turned my back and checked the time. He was right! I quickly stopped my shoot and thanked all the watchmakers for the opportunity to capture them at work before I headed over to Mitchell to ask him some final questions. And right then, I only had one in my mind. Yes, a big one since I am a fan of dive watches.

Mitchell sat down once again with me to discuss more

I was guided back by Martin into the meeting room, together with Mitchell, and we sat back down for the last discussion. I told them, “First thing first. I would like to know how the GSAR dive watches came about. And lastly, some partnerships that we would like to propose.” 

Martin wasted no time and quickly went to take hold of a GSAR on its rubber for Mitchell, and it felt like he just went to grab the best storybook for the man to tell the best stories within. Mitchell, too, was happy to get straight into the discussion.

The classic of classics within Marathon Watches – the GSAR Diver

“So, for three generations, some of our watch cases were manufactured by another supplier working together since my grandparent’s time. It’s like a family helping another family business once again, but things started to turn sideways during my time. When I was traveling for watch exhibitions, I realized some of our watch designs were found on other emerging brands, knowing that they could only come from this particular supplier – the one we had been working with. Therefore we decided to cut ties with them, and I was on a mission to find a new partner,” he explained. “Simultaneously, I was venturing to create a new mold and design for our dive watch collections.”

“One day, I was catching up with my old pal Andrew from the Canadian Navy department in whom we have been in business too. We grabbed a beer, and I told him I wanted to build a new design with a new partner for Marathon’s dive watch collection. He had not only assisted me with a new contract which he trusted for producing fine watches in Switzerland and also gave me a few critical points on what the current dive watches should improve on.” Mitchell told the story.

His friend Andrew told him that the current dive watch bezel was an issue, where the grooves were not easy to rotate with fingers, even during summer, when the Navy divers have to remove their mesh gloves to adjust the bezel before putting back on and head down for their dives. Furthermore, Mitchell recalled that he came out with the idea of the pronounced knurling on the GSAR’s screw-down crown, where he took inspiration from those Naval Clocks’ knobs that they were already supplying to the Canadian Navy.

A blacked-out version of the GSAR. Just how cool is that

“At that point in time, I simply wanted the most functional dive watch for them, and I didn’t bother much about the look. I jotted down the ideas of the first draft, and our beloved watchmaker Jean Maurice helped us tidy up the specifications before making the new mold from our new supplier.” He continued in a firm tone, “At first, my father and the new supplier disliked my design and called it ugly. They sometimes called it a “potato” due to the thick bezel grooves and crowns, but I chose to ignore them. Why? Because my main focus was to make the most utilitarian dive watches solely for the Canadian army. This was before I started selling to collectors on forums and then to exclusive retailers like Gnomon.” 

So there we go, the birth of the GSAR collection. I was greatly astounded by this personal story and admired how much Mitchell zoning in to create, to himself, the best Swiss-made, Canadian-designed dive watch for the army. He then told me that he had increased the water-resistant to more than 200m for the sole reason of catering to the depth of the Navy. The Canadian military divers shared with him that they strap the GSAR onto a drone that goes deeper than 200m for Search and Rescue missions. It all made sense to me as I found much beauty in the GSAR because it was made with actual purposes.

As I thought the story was over, Mitchell teased me with a second part. “During every Christmas, our company would send calendars to our respective nation’s military with photographs of our products shown alongside the months and dates. And one day, a senior veteran from the US military department rang us up on our phone and wanted to speak to me. I was surprised as this was rare to have high-ranking personnel calling up our office personally. One thing to note was that at that point, we had been supplying only the field and pilot watches for the US military, and his reason for calling was to ask why we didn’t supply them the dive watches like the one he saw on our Christmas calendar. I was stunned by his words and answered him politely as his department never asked for the GSAR series, and he replied to me with two words, ‘Why not?’ And from there, the rest was history.”

The latest white-dial variation of the MSAR next to Marathon’s digital clock. Yes, they supply an array of precision instruments other than wristwatches

I totally agree that the rest was history. The man told me he flew down to meet the veteran in the US as he sat down to discuss creating the GSAR for the US Navy. He also shared the precious contracts that Marathon had with the Canadian, and then the US side decided that they would tweak the watch to have tritium gas tubes and s quartz movement. At this point, I realized that the GSAR was initially created with only the conventional Maraglow (Superluminova) instead of the current tritium gas tubes I was familiar with. Martin then explained that when Mitchell came out with the GSAR, the Canadian government had not passed the rule on applying tritium gas tubes on those watches yet, but for the US side was fine. But once the Canadian side approved the usage of tritium gas tubes, all the GSAR divers were paired with them, just like the ones for the US Navy.

A vault full of their divers, ready to be attached with straps and bracelets

The machismo GSAR served its purpose for both nations and that particular “potato” design had stuck with time on what we can still see today. A fun fact was that Mitchell ended the conversation by telling me that the GSAR was also a sort of “lucky charm” for the US Navy, with which his dad was delighted. It was due to the case-back being precisely engraved with essentials stating that the watch was designed straight out of Canada; while flipping it over, there lies a “US Government” text on the dial. These double-signed themes also bestowed a sense of close connection between both nations. What an extraordinary story behind the emblematic GSAR watches.

Final Thoughts

Before I summed up my day at Marathon HQ, we closely discussed several collaborations between Gnomon and their company. I couldn’t leak any news now, but all I could reveal was that we were excited to bring some refreshing surprises to our communities. So stay tuned, and I digress.

After those discussions, I bid farewell to all the staff and Mitchell before we parted ways. As I was about to step out of the office, the team gathered together, and it was where Mitchell singlehandedly gifted me a brand new MSAR Arctic on the new rubber strap. I was in awe and taken by surprise when he strapped the watch on my wrist and said this would be my “lucky charm” wherever I went with it. I was speechless but thanked him with my utmost sincerity; then, Nathalie and Martin guided me back to my train station. I said my final farewells to them, assuring them we would meet again soon.

A blessed-by-the-Wein MSAR Arctic gifted and strapped onto my wrist

As the Swiss train always came on time (duh), I hopped on and found myself a seat. During the journey back, all I could think of was what a fantastic experience I’d had with one of the most skillful watchmakers who had received numerous accolades from the US and Canadian governments, respectively, as Marathon continued to provide decades worth of timing instruments to soldiers worldwide.

I removed my camera from the bag and reviewed the shots and videos I had taken a few hours before. I was once again amazed by them, learning how the Wein family had kept the brand going in today’s time. Yes, the watches were still mostly made for the military departments, but the bosses behind them didn’t neglect their fans. Despite being “commercialized” by selling to civilians like us, I knew that Mitchell and his team were voracious in crafting every instrument coming out of Marathon. They managed to keep the brand in check by scrutinizing every detail and whetting their watchmaking skills, ensuring that whatever we got would work the same way as those soldiers who wore them when protecting their nations.

The man himself sharing his life passion oh-so-deeply with me
Mitchell with his designer/watchmaker/mentor Jean-Maurice

Several encounters earlier showed the watchmaker its heartwarming characteristics towards its own team and suppliers, while also to its partners like Gnomon Watches. The brand won my heart and mind, though it’s been winning hearts and minds for nearly three generations, in its passion and closeness with the partners they are working with. I never felt any snobbish or unfriendly gestures from a single staff member there. They even personally gifted me a proudly-made timepiece for my wrist. But their businesses, Marathon Watches, across the board, were committed to ensuring they brought the best products for their customers. Even the loquacious Mitchell Wein revealed his deep passion, from explaining the families’ three generations of watchmaking pedigree to being determined to improve and excel better for Marathon’s future to come. 

Each watchmaker takes care of Marathon timepieces, as Marathon takes care of them

The military watchmaking vanguard could be seen as a modernist as they had acquired all the visions and skills to accommodate our current environs. The current rubber strap and Navigator series were exemplary on this point. Although they both can be seen as almost identical to their predecessors at first sight, they genuinely want their stuff to be better after reading the stories behind them. Thus, I anticipate Marathon will continue to surprise us with purposeful watches and gears where each creation is of the highest Swiss-made quality that is no-nonsense in its designs and pricing.

Through this intimate experience with Marathon Watches, I am now a stronger believer that they will pursue, with time, what they do best – making exceptional watches and other instruments for the militaries based on what they need specifically – and we, as watch enthusiasts are just lucky enough to partake the ride along with them. My experience will be compelling in making more of you fall in love with this genuine watchmaking brand.

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Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.

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