It isn’t too common for me to review watch straps, but that’s only because I don’t have unlimited time to cover the things I am interested in. Buying a good watch strap can be tough with all the confusing options out there, and getting a new watch strap for an existing watch can be a really rewarding experience to bring new life into something that is already in your collection. Canada-based military and sports watchmaker Marathon recently debuted a new rubber watch strap that I think merits some discussion. Mostly because in addition to being available on many of its core timepieces such as the famed GSAR (which I wear in this article today), you can buy these rubber straps (currently available in three width sizes) for any number of other watches.
They aren’t cheap, though. Each “3-Piece Rubber Strap Kit” costs $200 USD. Is that too expensive? No, it isn’t. But it is much more money than a lot of other rubber straps out there. What people who have a lot of experience with straps know is that you can’t select them based on “tech specs” alone. Not all rubber is created equal (hardly), and the difference between a high- and low-quality rubber strap encompasses comfort and durability. This should be obvious to anyone who has experienced older rubber straps of low quality literally disintegrating in their hands. Not fun.
Marathon spent years trying to get these new rubber straps right. Until recently, the brand sourced straps from a variety of suppliers, and none of them were particularly bad, but Marathon didn’t like that the straps were not always a perfect visual fit with its cases and that different watches in its catalog had rubber straps from different suppliers. At worst, the rubber straps previously used by Marathon were “generic,” but now, Marathon has entered into a new era of quality with Marathon-branded straps.
Aren’t rubber straps easy to manufacture? Once everything is set up, yes, they aren’t too complicated. The issue with rubber straps is that anyone wanting a bespoke solution needs to invest in proper tooling and molds, as well as the long process of testing materials, textures, shapes, etc. In other words, coming out with a new rubber strap is actually a long and expensive ordeal. Thisis why so many watch brands simply source existing rubber straps from various suppliers. Now Marathon didn’t do all of this alone. To develop and produce its rubber straps, the brand worked with a company in Switzerland called Valiance. The company is set up near the Swiss headquarters of Marathon (where its watches are assembled) in the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds. The straps themselves are proudly stamped with a “Swiss Made” label, not something you see very often with straps.
Marathon’s rubber straps have a modern, edgy design that I happen to like a lot. In fact, the straps make the otherwise timeless GSAR watch cases feel that much more contemporary. I also feel that these straps have a design that isn’t meant to only complement Marathon’s watches, and the company does seem to suggest the new straps are ideal for Marathon and other finely made sports watches.
The high-quality FKM rubber straps are precisely the right texture for a strap, and they don’t pick up marks by things like fingerprints. The straps are smooth to the touch but also textured enough not to slip around on the wrist. Getting this mixture right is challenging, and a lot of high-quality straps fail by being too sticky. That means things like putting the strap-ends through the strap rings can be annoying — but that isn’t an issue with the new Marathon straps. Even on much more expensive luxury watches, I can’t recall rubber straps that are better than this. Marathon aimed for the top, and the result was a really fine rubber strap that is probably “too good” given the comparative cost of the watches themselves. That said, there is not an easier way to make a watch feel “pricier” than to match it with a great strap.
One of my favorite details on the strap is the custom Marathon-signed logo buckle. Tactical in their design, the buckles are distinctive so that you know you are dealing with Marathon but also not overly large or meant for flourish like a Panerai buckle. So what comes in the kit? Marathon certainly worked hard on the packaging, which includes a great manual and set of accessories. The strap comes with two lengths for smaller or larger wrists. Sometimes you can buy straps of different sizes but it is uncommon for a kit to simply come with both sizes, so that’s pretty cool. Marathon also includes a selection of spring bars that secure the straps to the case. This includes shouldered spring bars (which are more common and easy to remove with tools) and shoulderless spring bars that are a bit more durable and designed for watches like the GSAR that have drilled spring bar holes in the lugs. Without these holes, the shoulderless spring bars would not be easily removable, so make sure to use the right spring bars with your case. All of these parts also help explain the higher price point of the “strap kit” compared to other straps that sometimes don’t come with spring bars or even (sometimes) with a buckle.
Currently, Marathon offers its new rubber straps in three sizes (18mm, 20mm, and 22mm-wide styles) and only in black color with a natural steel buckle. I fully anticipate that Marathon will continue to supplement its strap selection with additional colors and sizes, as well as black-colored buckles. These are true military-grade rubber watch straps but also actual luxury straps. That’s a hard thing to pull off, and Marathon did it quite well. Price for Marathon 3-Piece Rubber Strap Kit is $200 USD per set. Learn more at the Marathon watches website here.