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as far as i know, the descriptions are as follows:

SAR - Search and Rescue
TSAR - tritium search and rescue
GSAR - government search and rescue
JSAR - jumbo search and rescue
CSAR - chronograph search and rescue
SAR-D - search and rescue - defect

the SAR name, of course, was just a nickname given by owners and admirers since they were initially intended for use with the Canadian Forces Air Force Search and Rescue Technicians. the SAR-D was so named because of the defect dial which indicated the use of tritium when in fact there was none.

i recently gave up almost my entire watch collection, including a few SAR series watches, to fund a grail which i'm STILL trying to pay off.

shameless photo plug:


[edit]: contract dates are just that. the organization ordering from Marathon will contract Marathon to produce X number of a particular series of watches. once that contract is fulfilled, that series is complete. for example, my SAR says May 2006. so in may of 2006, the CAF ordered a particular number of SAR watches. it may take a few years to issue all of them, but they will all say May 2006 on the back along with a serial number.

long story short, each contract date is based on the demand from the consumer from the providor. rumour has it that Marathon is no longer producing SAR watches (while T, G, J, or CSARs may still be in production) so those will quickly become highly collectable. and with each new contract there may be changes to the specifications such as the addition or removal of tritium, or the use of the "U.S. Government" branding, or the use of 60 or 120 click bezels, etc. and with each new iteration of the SAR series, a new nickname is given, such as TSAR, GSAR etc etc etc.
 

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the SAR, TSAR, GSAR and SAR-D all share the same case specs.

there are small differences here and there. for example, 2001 and 02 SAR's have 60 click bezels, and the 2001 has a slightly different second hand. the TSAR and GSAR can have or lack the US Government branding depending on the contract specs. i haven't really noticed any kind of trend for those, which leads me to believe that they produced both branded and unbranded versions of each during some contracts. the newest contracts of T and GSARs all have the US Government branding.

and there may also be a mix of branded and unbranded depending on the country it is meant for. this can be determined from the country code in the NSN number.

the JSAR and CSAR have both not changed at all.

in actuality, there really is only one SAR, which different specs for each contract. when the contract called for tritium, that was employed and it was just nicknamed the TSAR. when it required both tritium and automatic movement, they made that too, and that one became the GSAR.

the only exceptions might be the JSAR and CSAR, which dont adhere to the SAR series form factor per se.
 

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the CSAR is nice, but think hard about it. with a 46.5mm case that's a whopping 17mm thick, it may look great, but it may not feel great once it's on your wrist. it really depends on whether you like big watches, and whether you can deal with almost a pound of steel on your wrist (if you opt to use Marathon's bracelet.)

the other smaller SARs are all 40mm cases at around 13.5mm thick. a pretty reasonable size for all but the thickest of wrists.
 

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the larger one with luminova is the JSAR.

for those who aren't aware, the top row of my photo a few threads back is all marathon, as well as one smaller marathon in the second row.

meanwhile, FYI, the watches in the picture are as follows:

top row: SAR, TSAR, GSAR, JSAR
bottom row: Traser P6500, Marathon Navigator, CWC Royal Navy Diver in automatic.
 
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