Nato watch straps originate as a British Military design but today represents something altogether more fashionable and creative. Kathryn Bishop charts the brands using the straps to win new consumers and updated classic collections.
As WatchPro reported last month, a new watch strap can bring so much to a timepiece; dressing it up or down, or giving a much-loved watch a new lease of life. This month we take a closer look at nylon and Nato-style watch straps, from the fashion-led and colourful to the truly functional.
Nato-style nylon watch straps tend to be the reserve of sportier, aviation-style timepieces, but the style has been developing at both the luxury and directional ends of the market. While brands such as Timex and Luminox are taking them to the mainstream, bespoke strap makers are customising top-end luxury timepieces with bespoke versions.
Origin of the Nato Strap
But where did the Nato style originate? Bespoke watch strap maker Carl Evans, who works under the monikor Gas Gas Bones, explains that Nato straps originated here in the UK, and are still made today by the same company that founded them – Phoenix Straps in Cardiff.
“Phoenix is the supplier of the Nato G10 style to the MOD [Ministry of Defence] and [those] issued to HM Forces here in the UK and they have been doing so since 1978,” he states.
The straps are made using a high-spec webbing that is sonic welded – a method of fabric welding that uses high-frequency sound to melt two edges of fabric together. This technique ensures that the strap is strong enough to be durable in all environments. The Phoenix straps are then fitted with solid stainless steel buckles.
The advantage of a Nato-style strap is, first and foremost, comfort. Being made in nylon means they are very flexible and also relatively slender against the wrist, thus avoiding the wearing-in period needed for leather straps, or the occasional pinch that comes from wearing a bracelet or silicon strap.
Derek Salter, UK brand manager for Luminox, describes the appeal of Nato-style straps. “Consumers want functionality, comfort and durability whatever their budget,” he explains. “The Nato strap offers this [and] Luminox has been influential in bringing the Nato strap to the consumer’s attention since the brand’s investment in the UK market has increased over the past two years. Military styles have been prevalent on the catwalk and the high street over the last few years and the watch industry often takes inspiration from fashion.”
Versatility and Style
Evans agrees, and says the rise in watch brands using nylon fabric straps – and consumers seeking them out as both a design feature and as an alternative to an original equipment manufacture strap – is because of the Nato’s versatility.
“The straps are becoming quite popular now,” says Evans. “They are very versatile, easy to swap about and wash. I’ve seen the odd celeb wearing the G10 Nato straps too, so obviously it is becoming a fashion thing as well as their original use as a military strap.”
Indeed, many fashion watch brands’ featuring Nato-style straps in collections appear to reference the original regimented bond striped style of strap. The regimented bond strap was a classic combination of light and dark grey stripes with fine red striped details. The style has since evolved into contemporary versions featuring myriad colours or sometimes white as a base colour, or even thicker and thinner stripes. These new versions with bright colour combinations beyond army-issue khaki appeal to consumers who want a bold but comfortable timepiece.
Preppy Fashion Market
At Daniel Wellington, a British-inspired Swedish brand poised to make its sweep in the UK watch market, the Nato strap watch has been reborn as a preppy accessory. The brand was created after its founder Filip Tysander realised that key players in the fashion industry were catering to a youthful, collegiate demographic – the likes of Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch and Jack Wills – but that no fashion watch had yet tapped up this lucrative area.
“Preppy fashion is big all over the world and I believe that our watches are a perfect complement to preppy clothing,” he says. “I also believe that there was a gap in the market for preppy watches.”
The resulting Daniel Wellington range features a simple case design in two sizes and a choice of stainless steel or rose gold tone. Each watch is named after a different British city and has different strap colours and pattern. The gents’ Nottingham, for example, has a five-stripe green, white and blue Nato strap, while the women’s Southampton watch features the same stripe pattern but in pink, blue and white.
Generating Social Media Buzz
To promote its Nato strap watches among this preppy fashion crowd Daniel Wellington is marketing the watches through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Fans of the brand can upload photographs of themselves wearing their timepieces. The photos are then shared across social networks, something the brand believes will increase the watches’ and the Nato strap style’s wider consumer appeal.
Tysander explains how the reinvented Nato-style strap fits with the lifestyles of today’s watch wearers. “There is something about the Nato strap that makes it possible to wear it in many different situations,” he says. “You can wear it playing tennis but also when you are at that nice dinner party.”
At a similarly accessible level, Timex has adorned its Weekender timepieces and Timex Original watches with Nato straps, from lime green and graduating blue stripes through to an Argyle pattern for women. Likewise, at Triwa, a brand that is also increasing its focus on the UK market, its range of colourful Nato strap timepieces sit at an accessible RRP of £99.
A Hard-working Strap
For Carl Evans, who has a background in the RAF as a survival equipment fitter, making and selling his own Nato-style straps was a natural development that grew thanks in part to watch fans seeking out well-made Nato straps through online watch forums.
“Part of my job was the service and rectification of men carrying parachutes, harnesses and brake parachutes, so I was already a dab hand on the sewing machine when I started the straps,” he explains. “I sold a few of the straps via eBay and things just took off from there.”
As a bespoke strap maker, Evans’ Nato-style straps are positioned at the more exclusive end of the market; perhaps not in the realms of the finest alligator leather, but certainly – owing to their handmade nature – far removed from the mass produced straps used by fashion watch brands.
For Evans, who has seen both high street watch cases and those worth several thousands of pounds on his nylon straps, the fascination with the straps is all about making use of their fundamental purpose – to be worn, roughed up and put to the test.
“I look at nylon straps as working straps, meant to be worn with watches that are designed for a specific purpose, whether it is a divers’ or pilots watch,” he says. “A nylon strap isn’t a luxury item. They should be used and abused on a watch made to be worn.”
A Twist on Luxury
Luxury watch brands are also getting in on the act. Georg Jensen has used Nato straps in its collection, namely for its minimally styled Koppel watch.
Nina Bræstrup Dalkiær, vice president of global business management for watches at Georg Jensen, says the brand chose to use Nato straps to allow its watch wearers to easily, and affordably, upgrade their timepieces.
“Prior to having interchangeable watch straps on a spring bar we wanted to offer the consumer a strap which would transform the watch for the summer months – providing a fun, colourful twist to the watches,” she explains. “The style offers fantastic price points for the detail provided. With a Nato strap you have the ability to transform a plain dial to look like a completely different watch – adding a more relaxed sensibility to a classic design.”
So whether colourful and preppy or khaki and functional, Nato straps are a design to watch this year, with the potential to suit all types of customer and all types of timepiece.
This feature was take from the February issue of WatchPro. To read the issue online, click here.