Fabric straps Versatile textiles
The explosion of choice in watch straps points to a major background trend. Fabric straps are gaining in popularity, and at the same time becoming more luxurious, more colourful and more diverse.
Ten or so years ago, the rise in popularity of vintage watches pushed a hitherto forgotten accessory into the limelight: the NATO strap. This strip of fabric that passes underneath the back of the watch is based on the woven nylon straps worn by fighter pilots in NATO’s air forces. They are slim, simple, economical, and they have all the benefits of any fabric. Which is why their similarities to clothing are obvious: they can be trendy and colourful, they’re washable and they’re unlikely to cause a rash.
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph with NATO strap © Montblanc
Although undeniably popular, for a long time they were relegated to the status of “spare” strap. Watches would rarely be equipped with one from new, because they would be delivered with a leather strap or metal bracelet, and brands generally considered them a budget accessory. They still haven’t completely shaken off this downmarket image, which is why NATO straps are generally bought separately, often from specialist watch accessory retailers. The same goes for paracord straps, which are woven and knotted from thin nylon rope, another product of the watch’s military heritage.
Omega Speedmaster Ultraman with NATO strap © Omega
But some brands have understood the benefits of supplying their clients with high-quality NATO straps, often in addition to the calf leather or crocodile straps that come as standard. Omega has even made a feature of its NATO strap collection, offering a restricted and very high-end range, available separately. Montblanc recently joined the party, using high-quality materials made in France for its 1858 range. Some Aquaracers by TAG Heuer have them, and Anonimo has made the NATO strap a distinctive feature of the Nautilo collection.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 5 with fabric strap © David Chokron / WorldTempus
Richard Mille was intrigued by the material’s technical properties. In its pursuit of extreme lightness, the brand has fitted some of its most extreme models, including the carbon flyback tourbillons, with colourful elasticated straps without any clasp or buckle. The disconnect between the price of the watch and its accessory could hardly be greater, but the mission, which is to shave a few grams off the weight, is certainly accomplished.
Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1 with elastic strap / Richard Mille RM 67-02 Wayde Van Niekerk with elastic strap © David Chokron / WorldTempus
NATO straps are now so successful that they’re facing competition from other kinds of fabric. This very recent trend continues to gather pace, and it’s easy to see why. Textiles offer a virtually infinite range of possibilities. Material, colour, thickness, weave, texture, pattern – the options are endless. Back in 2017, Chopard launched the L.U.C XP with a blue cashmere strap, and additional colours are now available. Hublot joined with partner Italia Independent, which in turn has an arrangement with Neapolitan tailor Rubinacci, to create a collection of the same name with straps made of suiting fabric, including houndstooth check, Price-of-Wales and other classics. These materials sometimes even find their way onto the dial. Anonimo offers a Loden strap made of green wool to go with the Epurato Bronze. But there’s one drawback: these fine wools are very delicate, so they’re often sewn onto a more robust lining made of leather, alligator or rubber. That may make them less comfortable to wear, but style is guaranteed.
Anonimo Epurato Bronzo with Loden strap / Hublot Classic Fusion Chronograph Italia Independent with Rubinacci wool strap / Chopard L.U.C XP with cashmere strap © Anonimo / Hublot / Chopard
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