Reader Mail | Sub $1200 Watch

Reader Mail seeks to answer life’s sartorial curiosities and other perplexing material issues.

Dear ACL,

Some a-hole stole my watch last week that my brother gave me for graduation; if I want a military/classic-looking watch for under 1200, I could really use some ideas, assuming you have the time to respond.

-Andrew H.

Nothing churns up the comment fervor like a posts on watches and beer. When Andrew asked about military watches the first thing that popped into my head was this Swiss made automatic G-Sar dive watch that is designed for the U.S. and Canadian military. The G-Sar retails for $700, pretty good for an automatic dive watch that will most likely last a lifetime. The G-Sar was developed by the Montreal Ontario based Marathon Watch Company who has been making precision timepieces since 1904.


In my book, $700 for a really well made military time piece is money well spent. In 2005 the U.S. government ordered 200 G-Sar watches under a GSA contract for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, there was a “production overrun” of watches that were put up for sale to the general public. Don’t worry though, the watches are still stamped with “U.S. Government,” making you feel like you are special forces.


In addition to buying the G-Sar, I recommend you upgrade the watch strap to a nylon Zulu strap as pictured below.


Another option for a good military watch would be the Marathon J-Sar. This watch is so badass the County Comm product page carries the warning, “BEWARE: This watch is VERY Large.” The J-Sar is less expensive (retails for $475) than the G-Sar and is Quartz, but it still looks nice and will will hold up over time. So there you have it. Now the only question is, what kind of beer to buy with all of that left over money. Everything on this page can be purchased through County Comm.


More Reader Mail posts can be seen here.

Comments on “Reader Mail | Sub $1200 Watch

    Tucker on May 5, 2009 12:41 PM:

    Great choice. Rock solid. I sold my 2004 SAR (w/bracelet) a while ago and have regretted it ever since.

    Comfortably Smug on May 5, 2009 12:42 PM:

    If only your taste in beer was as good as yours in watches

    josh on May 5, 2009 12:56 PM:

    where did you get that great canvas band for the j-sar? i’ve been looking for a band like that for a while.

    josh on May 5, 2009 12:58 PM:

    d’oh. question withdrawn due to obviousness.

    Nic on May 5, 2009 1:28 PM:

    Hamilton makes a few nice watches in this style and price range as well.

    Todd on May 5, 2009 1:41 PM:

    I’ve had a TSAR (quartz not auto) for a couple years now. Such a solid watch it looks brand new even though it’s large and I often whack it accidentally on door frames. Best dive watch you can buy for the price. I also agree on upgrading the band although I prefer the Maratac Nato bands CountyComm carries. Thinner nylon and more comfortable. I’ve ordered multiple times from CountyComm. Solid people.

    Jason on May 5, 2009 1:41 PM:

    Although a smaller company, MKII makes some excellent looking military style watches that can be ordered with custom features.

    Johnny B on May 5, 2009 2:06 PM:

    If the SAR floats your boat (I have one and highly recommend it!!) , this should really blow you away…
    It’s a new company started by a vintage watch collector who is building new watches using a US Military watch specifications (MIL-SHIPS- W-22176A) from 1963.

    The best of old and new….. and with some authentic roots, and i’ve got one on order myself..

    the nylon straps in the the pics are readily available on ebay for decent prices.

    Kevin on May 5, 2009 2:20 PM:

    I second what Jason posted about MKII. This is the watch I have on right now and wear every day.

    Martin on May 5, 2009 2:41 PM:

    Last time I checked, Marathon was in Richmond Hill, Ontario, not Quebec. But I can wholeheartedly recommend their watches, as well as Bill Yao’s MkII products. Haven’t yet seen a Corvus in hand, but I know the pedigree and the hand behind it. Also good.

    Dry Goods and Gear on May 5, 2009 2:45 PM:

    Excellent recommendation. Anything from Marathon is going to be a keeper. And you cant get more authentic than buying the exact watches that are being issued!

    Johnny Slims on May 5, 2009 3:11 PM:

    +1 on Hamilton in this price range. More classic, better fit and finish, better pedigree.

    Michael on May 5, 2009 3:13 PM:

    I am a big fan of both the Bill Yao watches and the Marathon watches, but I really love Ollech & Wajs, a small Swiss company that became popular in the 1960’s supplying GIs with mailorder Swiss Military watches that held up better than their DofD issue timepieces. In the States, the best outlet for them, and Marathon, is West Coast Time. Howard Marx is a real watch guy, and they have a variety of the NATO bands you seek too.

    austinite on May 5, 2009 3:25 PM:

    not military, but a classic bauhaus design.

    scott on May 5, 2009 3:50 PM:

    Check out Timefactors for great military watches and reproductions, similar to Corvuswatch, except specializing in European brands.
    I have the Presicta PRS-10, and the quality is excellent.

    Sam Jacobs on May 5, 2009 4:01 PM:

    I’m a big fan of Tissot. Many of their styles are available in a similar price range, and can be purchased through I’m not sure if any are considered specifically military, but regardless, they’re nice looking and functional.

    bobs your uncle on May 5, 2009 4:51 PM:

    mkii are fantastic watches…i actually contemplated scooping one of these earlier in the year. you can “custom build” these…its essentially modified stock, but there are such tasty ways these can be assembled…google images of mkii blackwater…seriously awesome stuff…swiss ETA movements…if you customize, they are made in switzerland, if you order stock (they may be sold out) i believe they are made in (read assembled in) USA. for the money, this thing is rock solid, affordably fixable if you bonk it, and a conversation starter for watch geeks. with no logos on it whatsoever, you can also let people who sweat your watch just suffer in their ignorance.

    Andrew H on May 5, 2009 5:25 PM:

    Thanks folks…
    All good suggestions- I’m going to hold off for a week and keep trying to find the jerk that swiped my Tag, but I’m leaning towards the G-Sar. It may be a bit big for my wrist, but I think I’m sold unless you think that’s a deal breaker.

    Kevin on May 5, 2009 5:27 PM:

    I have a time factors PRS-3. Picked it up used for cheap several years ago and it is solid. Don’t think they make it anymore though because it was too close of a copy to CWC Diver.

    I’m too cheap to buy one but my neighbor sells watches online focusing on Rolex and Omega. Our kids go to school together here in Austin.

    Michael Williams on May 5, 2009 5:31 PM:

    The only other watch I like, for the money, is the MKII Blackwater. I love that whole logoless option. Although, I really like the G-Sar with a Zulu band. I’ll keep wearing the Nato bands with my Timex. Also on my list is the IWC Portuguese in black. Officially smokin’!


    wade word on May 5, 2009 5:35 PM:

    Don’t know much about fashion, but I like my Swiss Army Infantry. And I know a lot about beer. My go to for lawnmower beer= keystone. Hot Texas summers and ice-cold, watery beer are made for each other.

    Johnny Slims on May 5, 2009 6:13 PM:

    Michael, IWC Portuguese Auto 5-day, or the chrono?

    I have a pilot’s chrono. IWC is my favorite watch brand by far. So simple, so classic . . .

    Michael Williams on May 5, 2009 6:15 PM:

    Chrono, obvs!

    IWC is good, there are other good brands out there too. Where are all the Patek fanatics hiding at??


    Johnny Slims on May 5, 2009 6:17 PM:

    Or is the auto 7 day? It might be actually . . .

    Johnny Slims on May 5, 2009 6:20 PM:

    There are def lots of other good brands. IWC just hits it for me. You should check out the Glaschutte GO EVO those are crazy too.

    IWC Chrono is sick, def more affordable than the auto also because the movement is modified ETA like the pilot’s chrono.

    christopher on May 5, 2009 8:07 PM:

    wth? i’m canadian, live like an hour from richmond hill, don’t live under a rock and STILL hadn’t heard of marathon.

    i am ashamed, deeply ashamed.

    Kolby on May 5, 2009 11:20 PM:

    I vote a LUM-TEC B1 Combat.

    eugene on May 5, 2009 11:51 PM:

    what about obama’s watch?

    leon on May 6, 2009 12:45 AM:

    O&W’s M-Range at WestCoastTime is unbeatable value for money. Service every five years and the ETA2824 will go on ticking when your son’s wearing it and remembering you…Timefactors Speedbird band dresses it nicely, btw what do Americans think of wearing regimental(eg 007) bands? I know Brooks Brothers do a preppy cosgrain band but at 18mm its just too sissy for a military watch…..

    Andy on May 6, 2009 1:14 AM:

    a couple others have mentioned this brand but I like Hamiltons, I feel you can get a great watch in your price range from them and the watches come in some very classic styles and from what I know they are very well made

    thedandyproject on May 6, 2009 1:56 AM:

    Great picks. Their obscurity provides a great antidote to the ubiquity of the Cartiers and Rolexes of today.

    Rippley on May 6, 2009 8:27 AM:

    Second the LUM-TEC

    Also – check out – the website is a little OTT with the Ramboness, but they are military watches in the truest sense. I own one, which took the same beatings I did for 8 months in central/eastern Africa – I recommend them.

    I like to switch it up with a Hamilton when I have to dress fancy.

    Big Kid on May 6, 2009 9:24 AM:

    It’s not under $1,200, but I love my Omega seamaster professional. It was 50% courtesy of the Tourneau sale.

    JR on May 6, 2009 3:00 PM:

    Just checked the GSA website, and the G-SAR watch is available for $367! what a steal!

    Alan on May 6, 2009 4:38 PM:

    The Gsar is an excellent value and is built like an M1 Abrams tank. Please consider buying the Marathon bracelet. It is looks great and is extremely well-built.

    For the record, I have a Gsar, a Tsar and a Jsar. The stock rubber straps are great. But personally, I wear the watches on the Zulu band at work at NAS Norfolk and at the Beach, on the bracelets at home.

    I consider the entire Marathon line and the Gsar in particular, to be an excellent value for the money. You will not be disappointed. The Tritium-vials are great. The ETA-2824-2 is a workhorse. Additionally, any scuffs can be easily removed wirh a “Scotch-brite” pad.

    Best Regards from Virginia Beach,

    Biggie_Robs on May 8, 2009 5:24 PM:

    The first answer that pops into my head to the sub-$1200 military-styled watch question is a Stowa Airman Auto (no-logo version: ).

    If you want a big watch, I’d prefer the Hamilton X-wind to the Marathons, but the Marathons are tough watches, no doubt.

    Lesli Larson on May 11, 2009 4:06 PM:

    At a lower price point, I like the Traser classic automatic w/tritium hands… (same as Luminox). Traser has an automatic movement but is OK to wear during high impact outdoor activities like cycling.

    One thing to watch for with some of these watch companies: down-the-line repair support. Make sure your brand of choice will sell parts to independent watchmakers to keep repair costs down. In some cases, you may end up paying more for a 5-yr watch overhaul than the original purchase price of the watch itself.

    J on May 12, 2009 1:03 PM:

    I like the simple German watches (Sinn, Stowa, UTS, Glashutte), but in a military style I’d look for something a little more American. Hamilton is the classic brand, but the vintage watches are a little small on today’s wrist.
    Hamilton’s Khaki line is classic and affordable for an new automatic. I have the Khaki King with the full day window across the top similar to the Rolex Day-Date. Timex is another classic American brand. I rotate the Hamilton with a Timex T-Series Perpetual Calendar (#T2M453) with a black zulu strap. It is a very clean design with a solid stainless case. It also shows the day/date in a window similar to the IWC Pilot Chrono, but the perpetual calendar keeps the correct date every month for the life of the 7-rear battery. I actually set all my automatic watches to it once they run down…

    Danny on October 15, 2009 6:53 AM:

    Hey, where did you buy that black and orange zulu watch band?

Comments are closed.