The Marathon JSAR is undoubtedly one serious tool divers watch.
Rated to 300 meters, ISO 6425 Certified, and with a High Torque Quartz movement, the JSAR is ready to handle whatever you can throw at it. Manufactured in accordance with US Government specification, this watch and others by Marathon have been worn by the US Military for training and battle. This is not marketing speak by Marathon, they are the real deal. But what about us regular civilians, why do we like the JSAR so much and why has it been so popular for the past decade?
Before we get into the function, allow me to discuss aesthetics. The Marathon JSAR is just a good looking, manly dive watch. I know, I shouldn’t use descriptors that are gender-based these days, but that is what this watch evokes, rugged manliness. Let’s face it, this watch is not small by any means, with a 46mm case and 55mm lug to lug, not to mention it is 17mm thick. Of course, anyone could wear any size watch they want to, but generally, it helps if you have a bigger wrist. Realistically, this watch is pretty much as big as I should go for my 7 1/2 inch wrist, at least that is how I feel. Many years ago, I wore watches even bigger than this, and I am glad I do not have any pictures to look back on to see how ridiculous they probably looked. I was young though, so what did I know.
When it comes to function though, one of the key features of the Marathon JSAR would be the massive bezel. This bezel is so large, someone with the meatiest paw should still be able to easily grip and rotate it, and if you have gloves on of any kind or are diving with it, it should be no problem as well. Adding to the useful function of the JSAR is the large knurled crown- I have medium-sized hands but I do show in the video above that even with winter gloves on I was able to unscrew the crown. Yes, both the bezel and crown are what most would consider oversized, but it is not just being large that allows them to be used in almost any situation, the grip of the bezel and crown helps a lot as well.
With any dive watch, you want an easy to read bezel and dial. As I have discussed many times and as you have probably read or experienced yourself, most divers do not use a watch to time a dive anymore, that is what dive computers are for. They are much more accurate and give far more information than a wristwatch can. Some will use a watch such as this though for a backup, or because they are a watch nut like all of us, and just like having a traditional wristwatch with them. If you were to use this for a dive of any kind, or to use in the field and need to time something, the massive hour and minute hand with orange tips would come in handy for sure, and because of how large and deep the dial is, along with more than sufficient lume, reading the time day or night should never be an issue.
Like most watches at this price, the Marathon JSAR has a sapphire crystal, but there are some old school elements of the JSAR that many new watch enthusiasts are not fond of. This is the JSAR II, though it is not called that anymore, and I can not remember when this version debuted, but it has to be about 10 years. 10 years ago, people didn’t seem to care that much if a watch like this had an aluminum bezel. These days everyone wants ceramic or sapphire. A bezel such as this would not work with a sapphire of course, though ceramic would, for a hard use watch like this, a watch that is actually used by military and professionals alike, aluminum just makes more sense. Yes, it can scratch or ding, and if you do any real work with it besides “desk diving”, it probably will. One thing it won’t do is crack. While ceramic is very hard to scratch, it can crack easily. Everyone has their preference, but I personally prefer the look of matte aluminum over glossy ceramic.
Other features of course are present, a screw-down case back, drilled lugs to allow for easy removal of the bracelet or strap, and a crooked date at 4:30 on the dial. Okay, that last one I would not consider a feature, and many of you reading know I hate the date here, and I do not like it here on the Marathon JSAR but it is better done than most others. The bracelet is overall great; solid end links, screw links, and overall a nice heft. Then you get to the claps, and things start to fall apart. The clasp is not actually falling apart, but it is an inexpensive stamped clasp, that reminds me of a clasp on a $100 Invicta. I know, that is a deep burn, but the truth is the truth. The flip-lock is also highly polished. The only part of this entire watch and bracelet that is highly polished and it makes no sense to me at all and makes it feel even cheaper. It has a few sizing holes and there is an extension, but this needs to be updated ASAP.
For those of you reading balking at the price of this watch with a quartz movement, I get it. You are used to seeing watches, especially watches at $1,000 with an automatic movement. Some can not even fathom owning a quartz watch at all, let alone dropping this kind of cheddar on one. Marathon does make automatic watches, and they even make an automatic JSAR, though it has tritium tubes and a very different dial overall, and just does not have the same look like this model. So why is it quartz? Well, some people prefer a quartz watch. This one is a High Torque Quartz and as good as automatic movements can be these days, a good quartz watch, especially one built like this one, is considered much more rugged and dependable than an automatic. What is high torque quartz though? It does not have anything to do with accuracy. It just means it has higher torque than normal, to move larger hands, which is why it is normally used in wall clocks with big hands.
It does bring up another question though. Why is this watch so damn expensive? Looking around, you can get the movement for around $25. On the other hand, you can get a Seiko NH35 for that price usually as well, and I have seen that in $600 watches, and they are not built anywhere as well as the Marathon JSAR and even though the NH35 is a dependable automatic, they are not very accurate at all. It comes down to build quality, the size of the company, the fact they are Swiss Made and probably a little bit of because they can. Face it, Marathon sells a lot of these watches, so even though the price can be hard to swallow for some, others see the value in this watch.
Beyond the clasp, which absolutely needs to be upgraded in my opinion, the Marathon JSAR has always been one of my favorite dive watches. Dive watches are everywhere and many are hard to tell the difference between one or the other, but the JSAR stands out. The massive case and bezel, the overall profile, and that signature hour and minute hand help this watch stand out. If the bracelet isn’t for you, this watch is available for about $200 less on a rubber strap, and you can also get a Maple Leaf version if you are from Canada, or just like maple leaves. At the time of this writing, Marathon is having a 15% off Fathers Day Sale, bringing the price down under $1000 for the bracelet version-which might make it more palatable for some.
I've been an avid watch lover since the age of 7. Watches are not only my hobby but a passion. My favorite style used to be dive watches, but field or non bezel watches have been growing on me. When I'm not reviewing watches I am either cooking or with family and friends.