The durability and functionality of Marathon watches is already known to the Gear Patrol readership, I want to speak here less about new features or styling and more about an interesting connection between a company and a watch, commissioned by a group of hard operatives willing to stare unblinkingly into the darkness of terrorism.
I first spotted the “Yamam” watch at the company’s products webpage a year ago, but the listing merely described it as built to Israeli government specifications with a dual-language day indicator in English and Hebrew, rather than the standard English and French or English and Spanish. Because I have seen photos on other forums of Marathon watches with the words “IDF” and unit numbers etched into the sides of the case, I wanted to know how this particular watch fit into the Israeli practice of official watch procurement, if at all.
Gear Patrol editor Oren Hartov has written about watch durability testing he accomplished while on training maneuvers in the IDF. We’ve previously corresponded about protocols for military-issued equipment in the Israeli military and he informed me of a little-known and unique Hebrew marking found on issued items but absent on the Marathon watch (Editor’s note: the Hebrew letter “tzade” is often indicative of IDF-issued gear). I surmised that the Yamam was therefore something less than an issued piece in widespread service, but still more than just a commercially-purchased item.
I originally thought the Yamam watch might be associated with a specialized unit within the IDF, but as Adam Ciralsky made clear in his 2018 Vanity Fair exclusive, the unit is not subordinate to the Israeli army, Mossad (Israel’s rough equivalent of the CIA), or Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service).
“Yamam” is the Hebrew acronym for Yechida Merkazit Miyuchedet (Central Special Unit), which is a special operations counterterrorism unit organized under the Israeli Border Police. It is tasked with conducting a wide range of missions (with an emphasis on raids and hostage rescue) to interdict, neutralize and eliminate terrorist threats within Israel’s borders. Its operators are typically former IDF soldiers who have often served in special operations units and undergo a stringent selection process and lengthy period of advanced training before assignment to an operational section.
Marathon representatives were able to share that the unit’s selection of the Yamam watch involved over a year of evaluation in “their testing environment” and resulted in a modified Search and Rescue Jumbo Diver’s Automatic (reference WW194021BRACE-YAMAM). The original version is commonly referred to as the “Jumbo Day Date” and boasts a 46mm diameter, 18mm thick 316L stainless steel case with unidirectional bezel and sapphire crystal. At its heart is a 25 jewel ETA 2836 automatic movement, moving a handset illuminated by tritium tubes that are matched to tubes at each hour position.
Although the original Jumbo Day Date was built to satisfy a Canadian Government specification from September 1999, this version sports a unique dial with the Yamam unit emblem and the aforementioned bilingual English/Hebrew day/date wheels. The emblem is comprised of a tower rising above a Star of David, enveloped by a laurel wreath and flanked by a pair of wings. The Hebrew “Yamam” is the final element of the emblem.(some versions of the emblem feature “Mishmar Ha-Gvul” (Border Police) to highlight the unit’s connection to its parent entity.)
Because details on the number of watches sold to the Israelis — as well as the status of any current contracts — might disclose sensitive information about Yamam’s manpower and capabilities, Marathon reps could only annotate the answers to those questions as confidential information. They did acknowledge, however, that the watches retailing at Marathonwatch.com for $2,020.00 USD are new production and not contract overruns. This degree of confidentiality is understandable, as the unit operates in some of the most dangerous urban areas of the world and relies on every advantage it can get.
It remains unclear if the distinctive Yamam watches were procured as a one-time unit purchase (a common practice within units with a level of high esprit de corps), or were — and still are — issued to team members with the intent of daily wear. What is certain though is that an Israeli special operations unit has a direct connection to this watch, and that is the sort of claim very few watch companies can make these days (the Fifty Fathoms and Benrus Type I and II come to mind).
Marathon has produced thousands of automatic and quartz watches, designed to meet exacting performance standards for search and rescue crew, military service members and even NASA personnel. The 80-year-old company continues to deliver highly-functional tool watches with this distinctive offering from its catalog, and Joe civilian can grab one without enduring any basic training.