Buckle Up: The History Of The NATO Watch Strap

Enthusiasts of watch culture love to dive into the minutia. Besides the watch face, the accompanying straps that fasten them are objects of fascination for those who adore timepieces. The watch strap is the tie that binds, the all-important complement to the chronograph that is in itself half-fashion statement, half utility, and they have a deep and contentious history of their own.

Of the many varieties of watch strap – the classic two-piece, rally band, the ZULU, the bracelet, et. al. – the most durable and dependable of the bunch is the strapping NATO watch band, a ruggedized band built for survival, as its militaristic moniker implies. Learn how the durable NATO strap was woven into the fabric of watch history – and how controversy still surrounds it.

Origin Of The NATO

What's In A Name?

Though the sobriquet seems to reference the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, founded in 1949, the NATO watch strap was actually introduced by the British Ministry of Defence in 1973. Every soldier in the MoD was allotted a chronograph. Initially, soldiers were issued leather bands, but new recruits quickly noticed that their longer-tenured comrades all seemed to be sporting a band made of a different material. Initially, soldiers were issued leather bands, but new recruits quickly noticed that their longer-tenured comrades all seemed to be sporting a band made of a different material. When they inquired, their brothers in arms instructed them to “fill out a G10” – to complete a requisition form to acquire one of the nylon webbing watch bands, labeled with the NATO stock number G1098. Preferred for their moisture-wicking properties – ideal for the perspiration-inducing exercise regimen of the military and the rainy climate of the UK – as opposed to leather, which swells and distends with sweat and moisture, the NATO watch strap quickly eclipsed their less pragmatic predecessors in popularity. The tropical climates of the WWII battlegrounds in Asia and the Pacific wrought the demise of many leather straps.

As a result, both the US and British militaries sought a tougher fabric for their watch straps. British Ministry of Defence Standard (DefStan) 66-15 called for a fixed bar watch face, which necessitated an open-ended watch strap that could be fitted through the fixed bar aperture of the watch. Open-ended watch straps made of materials other than nylon – including the US military issue AF0210 VB Hygienique canvas straps from the end of WWII – were used near the end of WWII, and were essentially NATO strap prototypes. From there, the respective governments pivoted to Nylon, the material that constitutes NATO straps today.

Photo: Crown & Buckle HD Nato

NATO Strap Construction

Meeting The Standard

The original DefStan 66-15 parametric NATO watch strap was plain in comparison to the variety of NATO straps offered today. Each was 22-mm thick, and sported a color called “Admiralty Grey.” Despite an influx of new styles, the same basic makeup and methodology tethers the NATO straps of yesterday to those of today. NATO straps are traditionally made up of one long piece of Nylon fabric, affixed to an additional strap for added wrist security. The second length of nylon slides through the two lugs, so that there the Nylon passes under the watch, usually twice over. The long side strap is designed with a surplus of length, so that the strap can be tightened to accommodate the girth of any wrist.

Installing A NATO Strap

Looping Back

Many people avoid NATO straps because, from afar, they can appear convoluted and difficult to operate. In reality, affixing a NATO watch strap is simple and easy. To install a NATO strap, you’ll likely have to remove the original watch band. This might require the use of a button top screwdriver, as you might have to remove fixed bars, especially if you are pairing your NATO strap with a military watch, for a natural coupling.

The most common way of wearing the NATO strap is known as “the double loop,” and it is accomplished with relative ease. Once the original watch band is removed and the bars reattached, you will want to unfurl the strap completely, so that it resembles a lopsided “Y,” with one end of the strap longer than the other. Then, you will thread the longer end through the lugs, over the bar, and under the watch face. Pull all the way through, so that the buckle of the short side slides all the way up to the bar. The double loop is the easiest way to strap up, and it emboldens the watch face in an eye-catching way.Take the long end, and, looping it below the watch face, pull it up through the inside of the opposite lug, and pull up and away from the bar, so that the strap now covers the bottom of the watch face. Pull through once more. Thread it through in the loop that forms below with the added buckle from the secondary Nylon end, the added nylon strip also called the tail, and pull taut. This will create a secondary layer of Nylon under the watch face, so that when you buckle the watch around your wrist, the watch will be raised. There, do you feel like a watch expert yet?

NATO or Not-o

Legal And Cultural Controversy

The NATO watch strap originally referred to a very specific kind of watch, which met very certain criteria. Today, watches abound across the Internet, bandying labels like “NATO Style” and “NATO Type,” to refer to the Nylon material.Still, questions linger about what makes a “real” NATO watch strap.Like the original NATO strap that the MoD debuted in 1973, the whole area is rather gray. The trademark for “NATO” and “NATO-G10” were owned for a period by a rather…haphazard organization called “International Watchman, Inc.” The Ohio-based company trademarked the rights to the terms in 2010 and 2011. Controversy abounded, as did lawsuits, until 2017, when the trademarks lapsed.

Still, questions linger about what makes a “real” NATO watch strap. The existence of the “Bond Nato watch strap” is a subject of much contention within the watch community. The Bond NATO refers to a strap worn by Sean Connery in the 1964 film Goldfinger. In the film, Connery’s Bond sports a handsome navy blue, red and dark green band around his Rolex Submariner. While, it’s often rightfully called one of the most iconic movie watches of all time, calling it a NATO is a technical misnomer. If you were paying attention, you would recognize that this is a chronological impossibility, as Goldfinger premiered in 1964, and the first official NATO strap was not available for British military until 1973, much less the general public.

Anachronism notwithstanding, the “Bond NATO” played a huge role in popularizing NATO straps. Technically speaking, the last true NATO watch straps were made by the company Phoenix, which assumed production of official MoD G10 straps in 1978. The reality is, like Aspirin – whose trademark under Bayer was confiscated as a result of Bayer lending German aid during WWI – the NATO cognomen has become a general term for a certain style of watch strap, one that is inclusive and removed from its rather esoteric origin. So if any armchair horologist tries to call your strap a fugazi, don’t let them wind you up.

Staff Picks

Black And Grey NATO Watch Strap

A solid and stylish NATO watch strap from a reliable brand, the Hodinkee Black And Grey NATO Watch Strap is a steal at just $24.

Purchase: $24

Bertucci G10 Heavy-Duty Olive Nylon Strap

Closer to the OG G10, with its army Olive color, the Bertucci ruggedizes any watch face with its custom milled military construction.

Purchase: $30

Phoenix MOD Nato Watch Strap

The closest thing to the original MoD issued NATO watch strap that exists for purchase, Phoenix assumed the manufacture of the NATO straps in 1978. In the original “Admiralty Grey” color, this strap is the modern collector’s choice for authenticity, without scouring Ebay for true artififacts.

Purchase: $18


Pairing your NATO watch strap with the right face is paramount. For a cheaper, yet still refined and tactical look, match your strap with an elegant and affordable face by choosing from one of the 12 best Timex watches.