November 27, 2019
by Ariel Adams
As the last remaining official supplier of wristwatches to the U.S., Canadian, and some other military forces, Canada-based Marathon sells many of its military watches directly to consumers. One of them is the recently upgraded General Purpose Mechanical, or rather “GPM” watch that you see here. As a watch collector, it is actually quite easy for me to dismiss this relatively inexpensive, seemingly petite 34mm-wide wristwatch. But in person, and on the wrist, the GPM is an excellent tool watch with a unique personality that I’ve not experienced with other timepiece products. Let’s take a closer look.
Recall that this is meant to be a soldier’s watch, so it is all about function, durability, and, to a degree economy. One common (and legitimate) question people ask is, “Why does the military want mechanical versus quartz watches?” While mechanical watches are more popular with enthusiasts, quartz watches are generally cheaper and more accurate on a day-to-day basis. Indeed a lot of military watches are quartz. That said, mechanical watches offer two important qualities that quartz does not.
First is the fact that mechanical watches have a very long “shelf-life.” As they do not require a battery, a mechanical watch can, theoretically, be sitting in a box for a decade, picked up and wound, and then serve necessary timekeeping needs for a soldier. The second and equally important reason why an army would want a mechanical versus electronic watch is due to fear of EMPs (or rather electromagnetic pulses). Weaponized EMPs can affect electronics over a large area, rendering all sorts of equipment utterly useless. Soldiers in “all-analog” mode at the very least need to coordinate their ability to track time in order to operate as an army. So for that reason, mechanical watches are still preferred in a lot of military settings — especially when it comes to infantry.
Inside the Marathon GPM is Japanese Seiko Instrument automatic caliber NH35. This simple 3Hz, 41-hour power-reserve movement is durable and relatively reliable, making for a decent workhorse in a soldier’s watch. Marathon refers to the movement as “dual-wind,” which means it can be wound either automatically or via the crown. Even though the movement is Japanese, each Marathon GPM watch is assembled in La Chaux-de-Fonds at Marathon’s wholly-owned production facility. So in a lot of ways, this is a Swiss-made watch that doesn’t actually say “Swiss Made”.
The GPM is extremely legible with its clear and straightforward military-style dial. While it isn’t going for looks, the elegant symmetry and focus on purpose make for a rather handsome look. The deep dial features tritium gas tubes for darkness illumination in the hands and hour markers and can be ordered with or without the “U.S. Government” label on the dial.
Over the dial on this version of the GPM is a flat 3mm-thick sapphire crystal, which is uncommon at these price points. The case has a metal core and a “high-impact fiber shell” in black (other colors are available). The watch is water resistant to 30 meters, which isn’t that much, but Marathon does make more water-resistant models — 30 meters seems to satisfy mil-spec requirements.
The case design is its own form of beautiful, and I like that it is unique. Marathon is actually not credited for the attractiveness and distinctiveness of many of its case designs, with the GPM being only one of various models with cases that are worth taking a good look at. The 34mm-wide case wears larger than it is due to the tonneau shape of the case and its roughly 12mm thickness. Attached to the case is a nylon NATO-style strap, which is always very comfortable. A close inspection of the strap reveals very high-quality matte-finished metal hardware, as well as a special touch meant for wearing ergonomics. What I am referring to is the slightly “taller” metal loop near the buckle that is higher so that the excess strap can be neatly tucked in without the wearer having to shove very hard. I really appreciate these kinds of details in any watch, and it is great to see such a focus on wearability and utility from Marathon in even simple watches like the General Purpose Mechanical.
There are a lot of watch-lovers I think would find enjoyment in the GPM outside the typical military, tactical, weekend-warrior crowd that Marathon timepieces frequently appeal to. It isn’t just that it is a low-cost and effective tool watch, but rather that its combination of design refinement and functional appeal go to the heart of why many of us appreciate timepieces, to begin with. Price for the Marathon General Purpose Mechanical watch reference WW194003BK-NGM as reviewed here is $360 USD. Learn more at the Marathon Website here.
>Model: General Purpose Mechanical with Tritium (GPM) reference WW194003BK-NGM as tested.
>Price: $360 USD
>Size: 34mm-wide, ~12mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a petite tool/beater watch that is as useful as it is unpretentious.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Newer watch collector looking for value, interested in understanding what a good tool watch is. Also excellent for military watch collectors seeking a smaller, yet still masculine, design.
>Best characteristic of watch: Great value for the money in terms of components, build quality, and overall design. Excellent legibility and comfort.
>Worst characteristic of watch: 30 meters of water resistance is likely sufficient for most needs but tool watch collectors often like a bit more. Would likely have customers for a version with a Swiss Made movement, even if it would increase the price.