Marathon’s Desert Tan Pilot’s Navigator Is Made for the Military, but How Does It Adapt to Civilian Life?

While Marathon has been successful in selling to the civilian market, much of that success has been fueled by being a very well-established supplier to the military. While the brand has made some classy timepieces in the past, now their line-up consists entirely of purposely built watches that can take a beating and some more. There is something about being able to purchase gear that is good enough for different branches of the military, as you know that the performance requirements go beyond what is custom in the civilian market. This is also the case with the Desert Tan Pilot’s Navigator.

To see the true value of this Marathon, you need to switch to a different gear. Unlike the vast majority of watches we feature here on WatchTime, this is not a luxury item, nor was it intended to be. It’s a tool. See it as the original Willy’s Jeep, an amazing creation, fun to drive, but a far cry from a modern-day Jeep Wrangler. The Desert Tan Pilot’s Navigator is a watch created to get a job done. It was developed in 1985, in collaboration with Kelly Air Force Base and features a distinct asymmetrical case design in which the right side lobs out to form a crown protector. Why I wouldn’t call this watch beautiful, as that was most likely also not a design requirement, it has a very appealing character. The high-impact composite fibershell case in desert tan color is extremely tough and light. The crown side of the case is constructed in such a way that you have full movement of the wrist, and combined with the short lugs, it makes the 41mm large watch pleasant to wear.

Legibility is key, so the dial is kept in black with distinct markings in white. Underneath the sapphire crystal, the hour and minute hands, along with the hour markers, are fitted with tritium gas tubes, which provide a more consistent illumination in low-light conditions. They all emit the same color, except for the one at twelve o’clock, which is orange, making it easier to instantly orientate yourself when checking the time. The bezel turns rather stiffly, but is also designed to be operated with gloves on; once in position, it stays there. While it can be used for a variety of different functions, most civilians will appreciate it as it is an easy way to set a second timezone.

Marathon also offers a mechanical-powered version of the Pilot’s Navigator with a stainless steel case, though this one is equipped with a high-torque ETA quartz movement. It has an end-of-life battery indicator, and in the steel caseback, there is a battery hatch so that the battery can be switched when needed without getting dust, dirt, or sand in the movement itself. This version doesn’t have a date function, but Marathon also has one that does. 

I am normally not a fan of NATO straps, as I feel that they are often out of place and not that comfortable to wear. With this Marathon, I can hardly think of another watch where it is more appropriate to have such a strap fitted. It is also very comfortable, almost as if it was in the requirements brief that distractions from discomfort from wearing the watch were unacceptable. Marathon also paid attention to the hardware on the NATO strap, which is made of bead-blasted 316L stainless steel, and suits the watch perfectly. 

Marathon also offers the Pilot’s Navigator with a black and sage green high-impact composite fibershell case, but the desert tan is particularly appealing as there is more contrast between the case and the dial. While I write this, I also realize that this is a civilian speaking, living in a world where color is a matter of choice and preference, and not function and survival. That being said, there are not that many watches that feature a case in this color, making it all the more appealing. The only one that so quickly comes to mind it the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 Top Gun Mojave Desert, which is crafted from tan colored ceramic and aimed at a completely different market. It is also unlikely that that watch will ever be officially purchased by any military branch for active duty, as the Marathon Pilot’s Navigator is.

That also makes this Marathon a bit of a must-have for any serious watch collection, as it is the real deal. It is specifically made to meet the most stringent demands and serve in battle, as many also do. Granted, when I would buy one, it would be much like one of those dive watches that are water-resistant up to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but I don’t take it any further than neck down at the beach. I won’t come even close to testing this Marathon to its limits, and to have such a cool and capable watch around your wrist is quite as appealing as driving one of those Willy’s Jeeps to the beach. The prices for the Marathon Pilot’s Navigator start at $420.

For more info, visit Marathon, here

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  1. Dennis Mincin

    I’ve only seen Marathon watches from afar but as a fan & collector of the Hamilton Khaki series, this watch caught my eye, especially at that price point. Looks like a good value.

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