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Trend - NATO, the neo-retro strap tool

Trend NATO, the neo-retro strap tool

Soft, colorful, swappable, NATO straps are a boon. Worldtempus goes back to their military roots and the origins of the current craze, fertilized by neo-vintage watches.

A few weeks back, Worldtempus released an article on the pillars of neo-vintage style, reviewing the details of each watchmaking era. Shortly after, another post mentioned tropical dials, which were identified as a retro-feel enhancer. The next step in this mini-series focuses on another foundational ingredient of retro timepieces, the NATO strap.

NATO, the neo-retro strap tool

1858 Geosphere © David Chokron

The weaved nylon strap was born in the 1960's with an invitation to tender submitted by several Air Forces from NATO members. It's a strip of highly sturdy synthetic fabric, to be threaded between the lugs and caseback of a watch. It's soft and comfortable. It's easy to swap without having to remove the unbearable spring bars inserted inside leather straps' or metal bracelets' ends. It's more hard-wearing than the former and lighter than the latter. Both those features come in handy in the context of a NATO jet fighter airplane. Original NATOs are very long, which makes them easy to wear them on a naked wrist or over a G-suit. That extra length still exists, the excess being meant to be folded back in a loop.

NATO, the neo-retro strap tool

Anonimo Nautilo © Anonimo

Much like tropical dials, NATO straps were not meant for the general public. They're military gear and therefore not a widespread feature. They were offered with new watches only within the scope of military equipment requirements. Their blooming was to take place at a much later time, one hungry for nostalgia and tool watches. That time is now, or has been since the beginning of the 2010's to be precise. Back then, a trend started that worships military and vintage timepieces, fertilized by an overwhelming number of brand-new retro timepieces. In that context, one should recognize the importance of the reissued Tudor Heritage Chrono, whose beautifully crafted NATO-type straps were deeply influential.

NATO, the neo-retro strap tool

BR V2-92 Military Green © Bell&Ross

These trends were enhanced by another, which is no less decisive : personalized watches. Vintage timepieces lovers are a small community focused on maybe two dozen different models. Many of those have known several generations, all of which have their own appeal. But it's a rather uniform realm. In order to make things different, diverse, more cheerful or amusing, that crowd unearthed the NATO strap. Mixed colors, central stripes, that style started to evolve and grow, as did its suppliers. Those were not watch brands or specialists strap makers. Instead, the business was preempted by watch accessory shops and second-hand retailers, most of which relied on Chinese manufacturers. The prices now range from the typical 20 or 30 € to 150 € for the very high-end models retailed by Omega. 

NATO, the neo-retro strap tool

The Omega Seamaster 300 – 60th Anniversary Trilogy © Omega

It didn't take long for premium brands to start offering their timepieces with NATO straps. Montblanc, Anonimo, Bell&Ross, Tudor still, Omega or TAG Heuer, there's a real crowd of them out there, especially in the rugged, tool watch category.


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