The NATO strap might be one of the best and most affordable accessories you can buy for your watch. For just a few euros, you can add a pop of color to your timepiece, or you can just change the style completely.
The last few years, many mainstream brands are starting to offer brand new watches on their own NATO straps, because they are just starting to realize what a huge market a simple piece of nylon holds. However, the NATO strap was not invented with you sipping mimosas by the side of the pool in mind. The NATO strap has a very rich and interesting military background.
The Military History Of The NATO
You might think that the NATO strap was made for and by the NATO, but you would be wrong. NATO straps were developed by the British Ministry of Defense in 1973. These straps were developed exclusively for the British military. So where does the name come from? NATO does not refer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but it refers to ‘NATO Stock Number’.
The military has a standardized list for material, items and supplies. Every piece of equipment gets a unique NSN (NATO stock number). If you were in the British military in the early seventies, you had to ask for ‘NSN G1089’ to get a military NATO strap. Soldiers referred to the strap as a ‘G10’. The term NATO strap came much later.
The ministry of defense wanted to develop a strap that was scientifically cheaper and easier to produce than a steel bracelet. It also had to be universal, so it could be used on any watch, and yet it had to have more advantages than rubber or steel. Nylon was chosen because it checked all he boxes. For the first few years, the only strap available was 20mm and in the color ‘Admiralty Grey’.
A few years later, the British military regiments started making their own straps in the colors of their own regimental colors, including color combinations and stripes. This was a fun and unique way of showing to which regiment you belonged.
Some people dislike the fact that a NATO strap runs under the case, but this actually is a well thought out feature that has many advantages. Because the nylon runs under the case, metal can’t touch the wearer’s skin. This provides stability, and makes it possible to strap your watch very tightly without putting much pressure on the spring bars.
With a normal strap, you lose your watch if just one of two spring bars break. With a NATO, the watch will still stay in place even if you break a spring bar. Breaking spring bars might not be the biggest threat for everyday use, but soldiers wear their watches while crawling through the mud, over their wetsuit while diving or over their jacket while jumping out of an airplane. This makes the risk of losing a spring bar much bigger.
The design of the NATO strap also makes it also possible to have a much longer strap than needed without experiencing much inconvenience. You just loop the remaining part under one of the hoops and problem solved. With an extra-long strap, you can easily strap your favorite strap over your jacket, wetsuit, or even your spacesuit. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wore their Speedmasters over their spacesuits, so why shouldn’t you put yours over your ski jacket? This is not possible with a steel or rubber strap.
Modern NATO straps
NATO straps are not just for the military anymore, and have become pretty common.
Brands like Omega, IWC and Hamilton make their own premium NATO straps, and some models, like the IWC Pilot Spitfire, Omega Speedmaster Ultraman and Omega Seamaster 300 ‘Spectre’ are offered on an OED NATO strap. Omega also has a wide variety of NATO straps that they offer on their website.