Reviewed: The Marathon TSAR

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Tool watch seems to describe a category of watches these days more so than the job a watch was designed to do. Dive watches, field watches, GMT watches, and chronographs all fit into the broader category of tool watch. Given the vast array of watches that fit into this category it seems to lose some of its purpose. How many of these watches are actually up to the task? I can say, with abundant enthusiasm (as heard on episode 34 of the podcast) the Marathon TSAR is a tool watch that is, most definitely, up to the task.

The first thing that I noticed taking the TSAR out of the box was the initial heft of the watch. The TSAR came on a leather nato strap, not a bracelet, so the heft was all the watch itself. Measuring at 41mm in diameter and 14mm in thickness, the watch has a commanding presence in the hand. I have several watches with these general dimensions (Omega Seamaster 300m, Tudor Black Bay Steel, Rolex Submariner, Seiko SPB 149, a bit dive watch heavy) and nothing has the same feel of the Marathon in the hand. That is not to question the quality of any of the pieces I have in my collection, but to point out the density of the materials packed into the 41mm TSAR. Lined up in this bunch, it quickly becomes obvious which piece is a purpose built tool.


Given the heft of the watch, I was initially concerned that it might wear a bit top heavy and slide around on the wrist. The watch was supplied on a leather nato strap. In my initial wear, it made the watch fit a bit awkwardly and added additional height. Also, it is nowhere near leather strap season in Cincinnati yet, and I also didn’t want to send back a sweat-stained leather strap back to Marathon. I can see how this would break in nicely, like a baseball glove, with wear, but given our limited time with the piece, I switched it to a 2 piece nato from CincyStrapCo. Once on the 2 piece nato the TSAR fit amazingly well on my wrist. The 20mm lug width, slim lugs, and shorter lug to lug length allow the TSAR to wear smaller than its dimensions would suggest. Despite being nearly identical in diameter and height to the Black Bay, the TSAR wears smaller. This is mainly due to the height being split at about 65% case and 35% bezel. The caseback is nearly flush to the case, adding next to no height at all on wrist.

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Speaking of the bezel, the large square grip on the bezel is one of the easiest to manipulate I have tried. The combination of height and the large grips are purposefully done to make the watch usable in cold water, diving with gloves. It is so easy to get a good grip that my three year old son is constantly reaching over at mealtime to spin the bezel. The bezel action is also top notch, with a solid and loud click through all 120 detents with little play. The insert is fully graduated making timing a dive, or in my case when to flip the chicken on the grill, a cinch.

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The dial of the TSAR manages to accomplish a great amount without seeming busy. This is important, because a tool watch has one job: to tell the time. This must be accomplished in all scenarios out in the field where these watches are designed to perform their task. The dial is matte black with white printed numerals, larger ones for the primary hour indicators, smaller ones for the PM versions allowing for quick military time reference. The white minute track allows for precision measurement, and includes tritium vials for each hour marker. Tritium vials are also located on the hour and minute hand, with MaraGlo paint on the running seconds hand and lume pip on the bezel. This was my first experience with tritium vials. The glow is constant, never needing a charge. For this application it makes perfect sense. In combat zones, the ability to ensure charged lume might be compromised. The tritium vials make this a moot point. While the glow is much more subtle than the bright superluminova of my seikos, it is consistent and very legible. I had no issues determining how long I had been rocking my 1 year old to sleep in low-light conditions! 

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The TSAR is equipped with a 3 jewel, Swiss quartz movement supplied by Rhonda. In my time with the watch, it kept time accurately without issue. I never had to adjust the time after its initial setting. Should one need to set the watch or change the date, the large, knurled crown is easy to manipulate. It also has a nice “pop” when it comes unscrewed and provides excellent resistance when screwing it in. There is no doubt the crown position, which is key on a dive watch with 300m of water resistance.

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To paraphrase from one of my favorite James Bond movies, there are tool watches and there are tool watches, this is the latter. While other brands have histories supplying watches for military use, Marathon has made a business out of it since WWII, consistently providing watches for the US and Canadian armed forces and snagging a few contracts from larger brands along the way. In my interview with him, Mitchell Wein referenced the versions of these watches with the Canadian Maple Leaf depicted on them, stating that it gives the wearer a sense of pride and gratitude for those serving in the armed forces. It is this sentiment that I have shared wearing the TSAR. Like the men and women in the armed forces who are issued these timepieces, it is up to the challenge. The TSAR conveys the time in all conditions, fulfilling its mission no matter what your mission is. I cannot think of a better definition of a Tool Watch.

By: Michael


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