The History Of The NATO Strap
The NATO Strap: What makes a NATO strap a NATO strap? In this post we will explore what exactly a NATO watch strap is, the history behind the name and function of the NATO watch strap, and what differentiates a good NATO strap from the average offerings on the market today.
What is a NATO Watch Strap: Simply put a NATO style watch strap is a simple style watch strap that is most commonly (but not always) made from nylon webbing material that passes between the lugs of a watch and through the spring bars that sit between these lugs. NATO straps today can be found in a wide array of sizes, typically starting at 16 mm to upwards of 24 mm. Pretty simple right??? Not so much...
Military History: The Actual Spec. or model reference of the strap is called the "G10" its origins can be traced back to the British Armed Forces armed forces as a standard watch strap issued by the British Ministry of Defense (MOD). The reason the “G10″ has been dubbed with the name "NATO" is because the strap has a NSN or NATO Stock Number which identifies this type of strap. The official MOD military spec strap comes in one color (Admiralty Grey) and one width (20mm). The hardware specs for the buckle and the two strap keepers were chrome plated brass, although some of the straps currently issued have stainless steel fittings. The original MOD NATO stock numbers for the straps: Army/Navy (6645-99-124-2986) and RAF (6645-99-527-7059).
The other somewhat interesting thing is most of the original contract made straps came in a color called "Admiralty Grey" and instead of being sewn at the stress points they were heat sealed or essentially melted together. The weave of the nylon is also much tighter and finer then what is more or less commonly available on the open market today. These straps are still available and produced by a company called Phoenix based in the U.K.
Pop Culture: One of the most iconic NATO straps was seen in the first four James Bond films – Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. Sean Connery is wearing a reference 6538 Rolex Submariner on various NATO type straps. The most iconic screen shot of his big crown 6538 is in Goldfinger when James Bond lights his lighter to illuminate the watch to check the time. The strap is odd though, it was too small exposing the spring bars between the 20mm lugs of the Ref.6538 and is worn on a striped "regimental" single pass strap which is not referred to as the "James Bond" NATO by watch aficionados around the world.
Function: Like most things that originate from the military the strap was to be used under harsh conditions and to provide an extended robustness and durability. History shows that MOD and U.S.N. divers were the primary military personnel to use the straps. But I'm fairly certain that other personnel elements of the armed forces used them as well.
The design needed to be functional and secure. The strap provides a long wrap around piece of nylon as well as a second shorter piece of nylon that creates a pocket in between the two pieces of nylon. Thus limiting the distance the watch could move when worn, and the extra-long wrap around piece of nylon would allow a diver or pilot to wear the watch over a thick wetsuit or flight jacket. The extra feature of a strap is that it passes behind the watch in an over and under fashion through the lugs and over the spring bars. This provided extra security in the event that a spring bar were to break or come off of the case.
Remember back in the day high-end watches were selected by the armed forces not for the luxury element but for the durability and precision that came as a result of the precise craftsmanship and attention to detail of manufacturers such as Rolex, Omega, and Breitling . These timepieces such as the Rolex ref. 5517 Mil Sub were used by military divers to accurately time dives and decompression to ensure safety before dive computers were created. Or take the Breitling Navitimer Chronograph, for example, it has an even more complex bezel with a logarithmic, double rotating slide rule scale as pilots needed to calculate fuel consumption, the rate of climb or fall, and average speeds.
Not All NATO's Are Created Equal:
Like many things that I overly obsess over... I have spent many hours learning what makes good things good and what makes certain things better than others. NATO straps for me fall into this category. I am one who obsesses over the details and I am a firm believer that form and function go hand in hand. That last statement is one of the huge reasons I love the NATO strap. Not only are they cool but they are highly functional. Matter of fact I am currently sporting one of our Craft & Tailored NATO straps on my Rolex Sea-Dweller Ref. 16600 which is my daily driver. I like bracelets on watches especially a heavy Rolex oyster with a flip lock but the Sea-Dweller is a chunky heavy piece and the NATO softens it up a bit and is extremely comfortable while still providing a secure and precise fitment to my wrist.
But as I stated above: not all NATOs are created equal. There are a lot of NATO straps on the market that are made in China from very cheap thin nylon. There are also versions that are fused or "electronically" welded together. The welded versions are basically melted together at the stress points and where the buckle and strap keepers are held in place, whereas the higher quality offerings on the market are made of a thicker nylon that is sewn together using nylon thread. NATO straps pretty much come in every color you can think of. I personally like the more vintage or military inspired drab colors. Many manufacturers also offer NATO straps in leather and in other materials as well. I won’t go too deep here but these other variants also range in quality and overall build. I have quite a few leather NATOs in my personal collection as well; I love the overall design of the straps in general. NATOs from a fashion sense also work well with just about every occasion. I wear NATOs while decked out in bespoke suit or in jeans and a T-shirt. This is truly one of the most versatile accessories I can think of, to be honest.
When we began our quest to source the Craft&Tailored NATO Straps we wanted straps that were made of a heavy, high quality, tight weaved nylon that was sewn at the buckle and at the strap keepers for extra strength at the tension and stress points. We obviously are suckers for the little details here at Craft&Tailored but we wanted something that would last and stand the test of time. Our thinking is, always buy it once and never again... I mean you never know when you will be suiting up for that next dive, or maybe jumping out of an airplane, or perhaps crawling through the mud in enemy territory!!!