Marathon Watches - Pure and simple.

Marathon Tritium Technology

At Page and Cooper, we are dedicated to the sourcing of fine watches from specialist watchmakers, watches that any collector would love to own, and at affordable prices too. 

We are close to our manufacturers. We visit them and they visit us on a regular basis. Watches are all we do, we don’t sell jewellery. Watches for the discerning collector or avid fan, that’s us. Our knowledge about the brands we represent is second to none, this leads to the closest of relations between us, our chosen brands and our customers.

A case in point is Marathon, suppliers to Defence Contractors, Armies, Navies and Air Forces all over the world. Marathon is a Canadian family-owned company whose watches are all manufactured in their own factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland. Mitchell Wein, Vice President of Marathon Watches, took time out from his busy schedule to join us at our recent Off the Cuff event in Central London and subsequently wrote the following piece for us.

It makes for fascinating reading and explains the birth of tritium tube night illumination and its many uses. We were also lucky enough to receive a digital copy of the Saunders Roe Tritium Light catalogue from the 1980’s and a glimpse at the British Ministry of Defence specification for tritium tubes published back in September 1976 from Marathon. 

Beta Lights

For now, over to Mitchell:

“The discovery and first implementation of tritium tubes used for non-electronic constant lighting is due to the famous British Aircraft Manufacturer Saunders-Roe. In the early years of aviation, it was difficult, if not impossible, to supply uninterrupted power to instruments inside aircraft. Saunders-Roe solved this problem by putting tritium, which is an ionizing gas, into small glass tubes and sealing them.

Tritium, discovered in 1934 by Lord Rutherford, is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, also known as 3H or H-3.

For Marathon’s tritium watch lights, gas is contained in sealed glass tubes lined with a light-emitting phosphor compound. The tritium gives off low-energy beta radiation due to the release of electrons through beta decay which causes the lining to glow. The reaction of tritium and the phosphor material causes a fluorescent light to be created; this process is called “radio luminescence”. This radioactive process cannot penetrate a sheet of paper, clothing or skin. If inhaled, it leaves the body relatively quickly. Tritium gas is odourless, colourless and tasteless, and is lighter than air.

The tube lights ("Betalights" is the name that Saunders-Roe used to refer to the tubes) were used in many applications, such as to illuminate the flight instruments, exit signs and corridors of the aircraft produced by Saunders-Roe. The lights were also used in Arctic runways, helicopter pad landing lights and fire equipment signs.  

Beta Lights Original Guide

When Saunders-Roe was acquired by Westland Helicopters, production continued via Saunders-Roe Developments Ltd. of North Hyde Road, Hayes, Middlesex (the former Fairey Aviation Head office). The tritium light production then continued in Canada where the Betalight production was made under the Canadian Company named SRBT (Saunders-Roe Betalight Technology). 

The factory was established in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada, where tritium supplies such as tritium tubes for military landing lamps, tubes for illuminated signs, as well as instruments including wristwatches have been made.”

The latest Marathon timepiece to make use of the tritium watch light technology is the Large Bilingual Diver’s Auto Day/Date (also known as the “JDD”). Designed to satisfy the requirements of the bilingual (English and French) Canadian Forces, including the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force. 

Marathon JDD

The JDD is the largest search and rescue timepiece that Marathon have developed to fulfil the requirements of a dive watch that can be used by either English or French speaking personnel. The large diver’s watch features highly legible numbers and tritium gas tubes for illumination. This is the first watch to use two tritium tubes at 12 o’clock as well as a specially fitted tritium tube on the second-hand. 

The Marathon Navigator series, specifically the Military Navigator WW194001 and Military Navigator WW194013 with date window, are used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy for flight operations. The crystals on these watches are flexible and resistant to air pressure changes. The bi-directional bezel enables the watches to display two time zones. 

Marathon Navigator Watch

At the request of the Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, Marathon developed what would later become the WW194001 timepiece. The military’s Combat Pilots needed a bi-directional navigation watch with a quartz movement, a 12 hour time bezel, and a crystal that could tolerate air pressure changes in the event of an emergency ejection from an aircraft or freefall by paratroopers. Their other requirement was that the hand and dial markers would glow continuously without needing an external light source. 

In the 1980’s, Marathon were approached by the Canadian government to produce a diver’s watch that the Canadian Forces could use while undertaking their search and rescue operations. Due to the harsh Canadian climate they requested a watch with a bezel that was easy to turn even with the thick insulated diver’s gloves and had an easy to read dial and automatic mechanical movement. 

The Canadian government worked with the Marathon engineering department to create the functional design of the new watch. The Marathon Search and Rescue (SAR) Diver’s Automatic was born. The current generation of this watch uses maximum capacity tritium gas tubes for illumination. During joint training exercises between the Canadian and U.S. militaries, the Americans saw the Marathon timepieces and requested their own. They later requested a quartz version of the watch and the Marathon Diver’s Quartz TSAR piece was born.

Here at Page and Cooper we are big fans of Marathon, with their innovative technology and dedication to manufacturing timepieces for military personnel, whether they are deployed on land, air, or sea. If you want to find out more about Marathon, their tritium technology or any of the pieces mentioned then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, there’s nothing we love more than talking watches!