Marathon watches are distinctive in their appearance. They have a minimalist, tactical mien that is both an aesthetic, but also an extension of their intended function as military watches. Timepieces like the General Purpose Mechanical, for example, appear as though they are carved organically from a single piece of steel. Likewise, the Pilot Navigator, albeit a different shape and material, gives off the impression that it is molded, brutally, as a single slab and prepared to take a beating.
Essentially a riff on the Type I case, the Navigator exudes a purposeful demeanour, reminiscent of the Benrus. While the watch maintains the 70s vibe of that original design, it has been updated to meet with modern MIL-PRF-46374G requirements. And, it should be noted, the Navigator, as the name suggests, is a pilot’s watch and not a diver.
As a product of modern design, the Navigator has been rendered in a high impact composite fibre shell. It is 41mm in diameter and 48mm lug to lug–though its asymmetrical styling and small dial space mean that its wears much smaller than the specs suggest. It is just under 13mm in thickness, as well, but due to the material used in its construction, the watch is shockingly lightweight (40g!). Its lines are clean and crisp, and there is a fine pebbling to the case shell that provides a uniform matte finish.
Despite its good looks, the overall construction is purpose driven. The asymmetrical case, while visually interesting, has the natural benefit of integrated crown protection. The composite material is anti-magnetic, which is a concern for pilots, and the 12-hour bi-directional bezel allows the wearer to convert any hour to UTC time in a moment. The Navigator is topped with a flat sapphire crystal and will take a knock in the cockpit, or in the field, as required.
The dial, too–largely unchanged from model to model in the Marathon lineup–is a feature of milspec design. Much is accomplished in a small area without sacrificing legibility. There are no fewer than 3 indexes, for example. On the innermost portion, we find a 24-hour register, shadowed next by bold contemporary numerals for the hour markers, and last by a minute track in the chapter ring, punctuated by tritium tubes on the fives. The syringe-styled hands are also outfitted in tritium, with a MaraGlo pip at 12 on the bezel, as well. Tritium, while not as bright as some applications of LumiNova, has the benefit of glowing consistently without dissipating or the need for charging. Its presence accounts for the H3 and radioactive symbol at nine and three on the dial, respectively.
The Navigator is available in three colourways–black, sage, and desert tan–all of which are featured here and reflect the different arenas where they might be deployed.
The watch is powered by a High-Torque ETA FØ6. While quartz is not popular among all enthusiasts, its superior accuracy cannot be denied (-0.3/+0.5 seconds/day). The battery hatch is also designed for easy replacement during a long deployment and does not require special tools. The watch is water resistant to 60m.
One interesting aspect of the Navigator is its lug width. On paper, it is 20mm, but under my calipers, it is closer to 19.5mm. This is almost negligible, except that it makes popping a spring bar much less likely. It also pinches the NATO strap ever so slightly so as to hold it firmly in place along the band. Another case of form follows function? Maybe so.
|Case||High Impact Composite Fibre|
48mm Lug to Lug
20mm Lug Width
60m Water Resistance
|Dial & Crystal||Flat Sapphire Crystal|
Tritium Tube Markers & Hands
|Movement||ETA High-Torque FØ6|
96-Month Battery Life
|Strap||Nylon DEFSTAN NATO |
/w Stainless Steel Hardware
Marathon Pilot Navigator
Originally, the Navigator was designed in partnership with Kelly Air Force Base in 1986. Kelly Field–one of thirty-two air bases established during WWI–was in search of a watch that could undergo extreme pressure changes at high altitude. They were also looking for legibility and accuracy. The Pilot Navigator was developed to meet those needs. The US government issued it to troops in both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. In 2019, Marathon updated the watch with its current sapphire crystal, steel crown, and crystal retaining ring.
The DEFSTAN NATO is a fairly basic offering. I understand why it comes standard with the Navigator; however, on a high-quality aftermarket strap, this would look the business.
You don’t have to be a pilot or in the military service to appreciate the practicality of the Marathon Pilot Navigator. This lightweight beater would do you well on most weekend adventures you could dream up. Heck, you can wear it simply because it looks cool. It cuts an iconic silhouette, but in an affordable, contemporary package. It’s a design I would love to see Marathon do more with. I could easily imagine it in steel, but what about a titanium diver iteration? In all, it has the making of an excellent platform.
The Marathon Pilot Navigator retails for $450USD. For more information, please check out the brand website.
About the author
Brent Robillard is a writer, educator, craftsman, and watch enthusiast. He is the author of four novels. You can follow him on Instagram.
Off The Cuff articles are full-length, hands-on reviews of the watch in question and represent the opinion of the author only. All photos are original, unless specified otherwise. If you would like to have your watch reviewed on this site, contact us here.
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One thought on “Off the Cuff: Marathon Pilot Navigator”
This is Marthon’s most popular model. We’ve been supplying this model since 1997 as Marathon’s oldest authorized retailer in the US: windycitywatchcollector.com
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