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Thursday, July 31, 2014

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Watch company finds new customer in Israel

Tags: Business
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Mitchell Wein

On Oct. 27, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) will hold its annual marathon in and around Arlington Va. More than 30,000 runners will take part – military and non-military – but only one, the 1775th marine to cross the finish line,  will receive a special prize, a Marathon watch.

The Marine Corps, which was founded in 1775, is already quite familiar with watches from the Toronto-area company. Its soldiers have been issued with timepieces by Marathon Watch for years, but it’s not the only armed force or police tactical unit to employ the company’s well-built watches.

Marathon has been a supplier to the RCMP, and the Toronto Police Service’s emergency task force is also a customer. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security equips its personnel with Marathon watches. A “tactical distribution company,” which supplies police and paramilitary forces with vests, boots, tents and other paraphernalia, acts as a middleman, supplying Marathon watches to customers around the world.

Recently, the elite Israeli special forces unit, Duvdevan, signed on to acquire watches by Marathon.

At the family-run company’s Richmond Hill offices, Mitchell Wein won’t say how many watches the Israeli commando unit acquired – that information is classified – but he noted that the first time ever, Duvduvan granted a private company permission to use its logo in its watches.

The thick, heavy “diver’s watch” chosen by Duvdevan has “IDF SF” engraved on the side and the unit’s paratrooper wings logo on the watch face.

“They are so happy with it that it’s the first time ever that the Israel Defence Forces’ Duvdevan unit granted a licensing agreement,” said Wein, the fourth generation in his family to work in the watch business.

Duvdevan, which means “cherry,” is part of the Israeli paratroop brigade and is a highly sought-after unit that conducts risky undercover operations in enemy territory.

Like all the timepieces the company supplies to military customers, the watch sold to Duvdevan meets rigid specifications that far exceeds anything a civilian might require.

The diver’s watch acquired by Duvdevan is good to a depth of 300 metres. Like other military-grade watches, they’re tested for “very high specifications,” Wein explained. They must pass a drop test, a vibration test, a shock test and meet other criteria to ensure the hands are always aligned and that the wearer can tell the time in all kinds of conditions.

Altogether, Marathon offers a collection of 12 to 15 different watches, along with a number of variations for each model.

“Our prices go from $150 all the way to $3,600,” said Wein.

At the top end of the scale you’ll find the “Chronograph Pilot.”

“It’s a special, dual movement watch with normal timing that can also be used as a stopwatch,” Wein said.

Marathon also sells relatively simple mechanical watches, worn by everyday soldiers, as well as self-winding timepieces and a pilot’s watch called the Military Navigator. With an adjustable outer ring, it gives accurate time for two time zones and has a special lens that remains flexible at altitude under extreme changes of pressure, Wein said.

Though the company is based in Richmond Hill and Wein is personally responsible for the watches’ design and appearance, the timepieces themselves are engineered and assembled in the small Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The city is a hub of watch-making companies employing talented individuals. Given the tolerances demanded, the unique requirements and the made-to-order mechanisms, they’re all hand crafted by Swiss watchmakers, Wein said.

The family has been connected to European watch-making for generations, explained Wein. Weinsturm Watch began business in 1904, later changing its name to Wein Brothers.

Even before the Russian Revolution, the family sold watches from Poland all the way to the Pacific Ocean, said Leon Wein, Mitchell’s father. Part of the family also had a big importing business in the United States. In 1939, Mitchell’s grandfather, Morris, founded Marathon Watch in Montreal. During World War II, the company supplied timing instruments to Allied Forces.

Over the years, Marathon expanded its line of watches and added other timepieces. The company benefited from a big order from the U.S. Army during the first Persian Gulf War in 1990-91.

“We bid on it and got the order,” Leon said. “A 60,000 order changed to 120,000 watches in five minutes,” he added. To satisfy the demand, the company employed extra watchmakers and at their peak, they were turning out 5,000 watches a week.

After that “we became more recognized as a brand name,” Mitchell said.

As for the name, “Marathon,” that was an idea hatched by Morris and Mitchell’s uncle, Myer. They saw it as describing watches that were  “best in the long run,” Mitchell said.

Looks like the U.S. Marine Corps agrees.

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