The legendary 1990s Marathon Navigator pilots watch returns What makes a good pilots’ watch? Legibility is a key factor of course, as it needs to be read on the fly (sorry). But that’s not all. Back in the day, it would have needed to be operated with flight gloves on too, so grippy bezels and big crowns were a must. It also had to be the kind of rugged, durable timekeeper that could survive a less than soft landing and keep ticking.
As a whole, it’s a pretty demanding set of criteria, and one that watchmakers around the world have fulfilled aplenty across the decades. Mostly we talk about the ones from WWII, your Dirty Dozens and A-11s (more on that later in this issue), but that’s only scratching the largely scratch-resistant surface. One of the most iconic and much more recent pilots’ pieces in fact was the Marathon Navigator.
Originally designed in 1986 at the behest of Kelly Air Force Base (now Kelly Field in Texas), the Navigator wasn’t Marathon’s first run in the field. They’d already been building military watches since 1941 as the sole supplier of US Armed Forces timekeepers and the now-legendary GG-W-113 Vietnam service watch – a collaborative effort with Hamilton and Benrus that really put them on the map. So if you were the US Air Force in need of a watch, Marathon was where you turned.
The demands were high; along with the usual legibility, it needed to work in the low temperatures and low pressures of a few thousand feet up. So, in 1986, the Navigator was born courtesy of Marathon’s Leon Wein and (current chief watchmaker) Jean Maurice Huguenin. Defined by its asymmetrical case with an oversized crown guard, it embodies the kind of utilitarian tool watch vibe necessitated by a warzone. Unlike many pilots’ watches, it came with a bi-directional bezel for use as a second time zone and a quartz movement ensured it would keep ticking.
Perhaps more importantly to Marathon, it was also the first time the brand worked with eminent Swiss watchmaker Gallet. They worked with the Swiss manufacturer to meet urgent contracts, but it also began a tradition that saw them work later with Minerva and Nouvelle Lemania, before going fully in-house in La-Chaux-de-Fonds in 1992.
To call the Navigator a success is a severe understatement. Thousands of Navigators were ordered, and it saw a lot of action, especially in the Iraq War. The original design however was phased out a few years later in the late-1990s, leaving military collectors wanting more. And after two- and-a-half decades, more they are getting.
That’s because the original steel Marathon Navigator is back, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. The overall asymmetrical design is authentic to the 90s version, with some concessions to a modern wearer like more tapered lugs for a better fit on the wrist. The bezel size has been increased to further enhance usability and sapphire crystal means better performance at altitude alongside the materials usual scratch resistance.
The movement of course has also been updated, this time using an ETA F06.412 HeavyDrive and PreciDrive quartz movement, complete with a date function and phenomenal +/-10s a year accuracy. Other than that, this is the Navigator collectors have been clamouring for, horological proof that not everything from the 90s was awful, and a watch with a military legacy very few watches this side of WWII can match.
Price & Specs:
- Model: Marathon 41mm Steel Navigator w/ Date (SSNAV-D)
- Ref: WW194013SS-0103
- Case/dial: 41mm diameter x 13mm thickness, stainless steel case, black dial
- Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)
- Movement: Calibre ETA F06.412, quartz, 86-94 month battery life (with EOL indication), 3 jewels, ± 10 seconds per year accuracy, HeavyDrive and PreciDrive
- Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date
- Strap: Ballistic nylon or nylon DEFSTAN
- Price/availability: £720 (ballistic nylon strap) or £747 (nylon DEFSTAN strap)