Love them or hate them, NATO straps are a trend right now. You might see one attached to a cheap Timex, or you might just as easily find one in the box containing your new Omega Speedmaster Anniversary edition, or even, dare I say it, on a Patek Philippe.
I’ve spotted NATO straps that look like they were made for certain Rolex vintage models, especially when the color choice matches the case and patina on the dial. These days the straps are available in a huge variety of styles and colors.
That makes a welcome change from the original, at least.
When they were first made, back in 1973, they came in one color only: Admiral Grey. Back then they were standard issue on military watches, and they went by the rather unexciting name: “G-10” straps – from the name of the form you had to fill out to get one issued. The name “NATO strap” is a short form of ‘NATO stock number’ – but that’s the name that stuck, and the one we’ve inherited.
They were originally made to strict military specs: All were exactly 20mm wide, using only the specified grey canvas material, with securely heat-welded buckles and loops – and long enough to fit around a jump-suit or diving gear.
The idea of having the strap pass under the watch case ensured greater protection for the watch during combat. If one spring bar popped out, the other would still secure the watch to your wrist. It was true military efficiency.
Since then they have moved out of the combat world and onto the shelves of luxury watch boutiques. Despite the fact that many cost well under $20, a number of high-end brands offer NATO straps as spares with new watches, and some even go the whole hog – offering them as standard.
This year at Baselworld Tudor was on the list of brands to offer a NATO strap option with their Black Bay Bronze Heritage collection. It suits the bronzed case and rugged styling of the watch rather well, if you ask me.
If you’re a fan of old James Bond movies, you’ll find the intrepid secret agent wearing one in the 1963 movie Goldfinger. Though arguably, since the movie came out before the G-10’s were issued, it’s not the same thing as the original NATO. The newer Bond, Daniel Craig, has also been spotted wearing these straps.
They certainly add a robust, utilitarian feel to a watch – especially one that already has a sporty look, but I don’t think these straps are a perfect fit for just any kind of watch.
A slim, elegant dress watch would simply look out of place on the wrong kind of strap, and even some steel sports watches are just better with their intended, original steel strap styles. If it’s perfect – then don’t change it.
In the end, of course, it’s a lifestyle choice. Unquestionably there are practical reasons to choose a NATO strap, and combined with the right watch, you might even convince me there’s an aesthetic reason too. They can give your old watch a facelift without costing you an arm and a leg, plus you’ll save your regular strap some wear and tear. Exchanging straps can be tricky, though, so be sure to visit your local watch specialist before you accidentally ruin your watch!