Canada’s Marathon has been working on a remake of the famed military aviation-focused Navigator watch for quite a quite now. Marathon has a long history of supplying timepieces to Western armed forces and is the last company to still do so today. The remake of the steel-cased Navigator project was very important to Mitchell Wein from Marathon largely because his father, Leon Wein, designed it in the early 1980s at the behest of the military. It was first produced for pilots at the Kelly Air Force Base (now called Kelly Field) in San Antonio, Texas. More interesting for watch enthusiasts is that the original Navigator was never available for purchase by the general public. More so, the original pieces in circulation all began life as government-issue instruments. According to Marathon, production of the original Navigator watches ended in the mid-1900s. Now, the Navigator is back, better than ever, and, of course, available for purchase by anyone.
I got a chance to view some of the original Marathon Navigator watches when visiting the company’s Toronto headquarters a few years back. Pictures of two of the original pieces I saw are contained in this review so that you can compare and contrast them to the reference WW194013SS-0103 SSNAV-D watch that I am reviewing today. Note that the very first Navigator had the “ADANAC” brand, which was part of Marathon and is the name “Canada” spelled backward. I believe Marathon continues to use the ADANAC brand name on some items, including the brand’s digital stopwatches. You can also see how the original Navigator watches used traditional luminant, later to be replaced by self-illuminating tritium gas tubes, which are a staple feature on most Marathon watches today.
One of the most distinctive features of the Navigator case is the visual asymmetry. I actually jested with Marathon that if the brand were to make the left flank the same thickness as the right flank, then it would be more in trend with current aesthetic preferences. I may have been right, but the fact remains that the asymmetrical case is functional, comfortable, and offers some visual distinction in a watch that is, for the most part, all business. Marathon was correct to maintain this visual quirkiness and I think it benefits the personality of the modern-day SSNAV Navigator watches.
The first thing I will mention about the 2023 Marathon stainless steel Navigator date (what “SSNAV-D” stands for), is that it is a high-end quartz watch. This is a wristwatch product category that until recently has been mostly overlooked by traditional enthusiasts, but that is quickly changing. High-end quartz is finally coming back into vogue, and I think that is great news for watch lovers. I define high-end quartz as any watch that has both an excellent case and dial, as well as a high-quality quartz movement designed to give the watch maximum functional appeal. Rather than being equipped with a standard quartz movement, Marathon opted for a Swiss Made ETA caliber F06.412 Heavy-Drive PreciDrive quartz movement. Let’s talk a bit about it since we don’t spend too much time discussing some of the latest movements developed by Swatch Group’s ETA.
The F06.412 is a relative of more expensive high-accuracy quartz movements that ETA originally produced mainly in the 1990s, and we saw them (for example) in high-end quartz watches produced by Breitling and a small number of other brands. Those movements were very expensive and never really hit their mark because at the time most people buying expensive watches wanted a mechanical movement even though quartz movements are typically more reliable and accurate. Then about 20 years later ETA decided to revisit high-end quartz and improve upon some of its historic movements while offering even more performance. I think it is safe to say that in large ways, these were inspired by the Japanese, who have been advancing quartz movement technology much more so than the Swiss have been doing for a long time. A great example is the HeavyDrive technology, which sounds a lot like what Casio developed for its “Tough” analog movements. HeavyDrive does two important things here. First, it makes possible the use of “heavy” hands that most traditional quartz movements cannot handle. The Navigator and other Marathon watch hands have tritium gas tubes mounted on them, which would have been impossible for most basic quartz movements to handle. Second, HeavyDrive incorporates a hand position correction system (similar to how Casio does it) to realign the hands if they are moved out of place thanks to shock or serious vibration.
As important is the PreciDrive technology which is all about accuracy. Most standard quartz movements are accurate to about 10-15 seconds per month. PreciDrive movements are accurate to about 10 seconds a year. This is thanks to thermo-compensation in the integrated circuit of the movement which allows the mechanism to make on-the-fly adjustments if the watch experiences changes in temperature. Such changes are typically among the only environmental things which can affect the accuracy of a quartz movement. Being able to compensate for changes in current temperature, has the effect of greatly increasing the accuracy of quartz movements. It is worth noting that while the Navigator SSNAV-D watch isn’t officially COSC Chronometer certified, it would easily pass this test (which is different and more demanding for quartz versus mechanical movements). Aside from Marathon, the small number of companies that use this F06.412 quartz movement include Swatch Group’s Tissot and Certina, as well as some quartz watches produced by TAG Heuer.
Functionally the F06.412 quartz movement features the time with central seconds and a date indicator window. Battery life is between 68 and 94 months depending on the size of the battery used (I am not clear on which battery Marathon uses). The movement is also comparatively thin to mechanical movements, which means that the SSNAV-D is a modestly sized timepiece at 41mm wide and 11mm thick.
Marathon really wanted to make sure that this timepiece instrument is made as well as possible and with a vigilant focus on detailing. Tool watch fans will admire the excellent detailing and crisp construction of the case and dial parts. Even though Marathon is based in Toronto, its watchmaking facility is in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Thus, the SSNAV-D is a thoroughly “Swiss Made” watch. The sandblasted steel case has been changed a bit from the original Navigator watches with better-curved lugs and a more grippable bi-directional turning bezel. I will stop here to note that the bezel-turning action is excellent and produces a nice clicking sound. The bezel has a tritium lume pip at the 60-minute mark and is designed as a hybrid given the presence of a 60-minute counting scale, as well as a 12-hour second time zone indicator.
The SSNAV-D case is water-resistant to 100 meters with a screw-down crown, and for this new version has a sapphire crystal over the dial (as opposed to acrylic for previous generation models). The dial is typical of Marathon products in no-nonsense black with high-contrast white markers and hands. Marathon uses a different color of tritium gas tube for the 12 o’clock hour marker which makes orienting the dial with your brain a bit easier in the dark and allows for enhanced legibility. The seconds hand is given a red-colored tip which also helps with legibility and offers a nice color accent to this otherwise monochromatic dial display. Note as well the drilled lug holes on the case making it easier to change straps.
Marathon produces a number of simple-style military watches that aren’t too large, which can easily serve as daily wears in both mechanical and quartz styles. The Navigator is the only one that I know of to contain a high-accuracy quartz movement and does indeed have a distinct look and personality when compared to other Marathon products. It makes a lot of sense for Marathon to return this classic to their current product catalog, and for fans of the brand, it is great that this once military-only watch can be owned by anyone. The updates that Marathon made to the Navigator for the WW194013SS collection are intelligent and appreciated, and help make a modern tool watch that faithfully evokes the spirit of the original.
Marathon currently offers three different versions of the SSNAV-D Navigator watch. The one I am reviewing is the reference WW194013SS-0103 which is equipped with the fancier 20mm wide black ballistic nylon DEFSTAN (Defence Standard) strap which has matching Marathon hardware and is apparently the military-preferred strap. What I don’t really understand is why Marathon offers a slightly less expensive but also black-colored ballistic nylon strap as well. The price difference between the two is only $30 USD, and the less expensive straps come in two sizes, the slightly shorter WW194013SS-0101 and the slightly longer (by only an inch, apparently) WW194013SS-0102. Each of those watches cost $800 USD. My choice is for the DEFSTAN strap given its nicer wear and of course matching steel hardware. Price for the as-tested reference WW194013SS-0103 Marathon SSNAV-D Navigator 41mm wide watch is $830 USD. It’s a good value for such a versatile high-end quartz timepiece meant to last for many years. Learn more at the Marathon website here.
>Model: 41mm Steel Navigator w/ Date SSNAV-D reference WW194013SS-0103 (as tested)
>Price: $830 USD (as tested)
>Size: 41mm diameter, ~48mm lug-to-lug, 11mm thickness, 20mm lug width.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Comfortable and reliable daily-wear tool watch with a fun personality and loads of utility.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Military-style watch lover keen on a historic design with an excellent high-accuracy Swiss Made quartz movement.
>Best characteristic of watch: Excellent overall construction quality. Comfortable to wear and use. High-performance quartz movement. Fair pricing.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Asymmetric case not to everyone’s taste. Slightly confusing choice of straps.