A History Of The NATO Watch Strap

A simple and inexpensive way to give your watch an entirely new look

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from readers is “what should I get for my first watch?” In every case, I suggest a dress watch. The reason is that it’s as appropriate for the boardroom as it is for backyard barbecues. No timepiece is as versatile. While most argue it’s too conservative for casual wear, I argue they just need another strap beside the leather one it came with. They need a NATO strap.

Now, the great thing about a NATO strap is that it can easily pair with just about any kind of watch. So whether it’s a dress watch from A. Lange & Söhne or a sports watch from Casio, the NATO strap can take any watch and make it immediately casual for the summer months.

nato strap history

This is one reason why some brands like Daniel Wellington often include a leather strap and a NATO strap with their watches. So you can quickly affix the NATO strap giving you a preppy edge for the cabin, the country club, the sailboat, or just a walk about town.

The best part of using a NATO strap is that you can get them in various colors, patterns and designs to give that same old watch you wear every day a brand new look.

DON’T MISS: How To Install a NATO Watch Strap

One of the most common mistakes watch enthusiasts and admirers make is assuming the NATO strap takes its name from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. However, NATO is just the nickname given to a watch strap that’s actually called the G10.

nato strap history

It’s roots come from the British Ministry of Defence Standard in 1973 where the now-called NATO straps would be issued to soldiers who requested one. In order to get one of these nylon straps that were perfect for the battlefield, the soldier had to fill out a requisition form called a G1098. As other soldiers saw their comrades wearing these rugged straps, they began asking how they could get one for themselves. The reply was usually, “go fill out a G10,” and the G10 strap was born.

how to install nato strap watch

Back then it was only available in one color and not in the multitude of designs we see today. At 20mm, the admiralty gray nylon straps were functional and weather proof, capable of handling the harsh climates in Britain, Scotland, Ireland and other windswept, rainy regions.

nato strap history

Today, these classic straps are still available for sale through the military’s outfitter, Phoenix. However, there are dozens of brands producing equally robust and more attractive NATO straps for the public. In red, green, blue, orange, white and just about any color or shade you can imagine, there are also repp stripe styles available, not to mention other geometric patterns and whimsical designs. Since it’s the perfect summer strap for any watch, I can’t help but recommend American summer colors of red, white and blue. And aside from the vast opportunities to change the style of your watch just by adding a new strap, there is one other key perk of these straps: they are very inexpensive.

A quick eBay search will net you pages of results for NATO straps as low as five or ten dollars. In a store, you can still find them for just a few dollars more than that. Some big name brands will charge a little more, but most remain far less than $100.

nato strap history

The big thing to remember is that you need to ensure you get a strap that works with your watch. Since some watches have proprietary methods of securing a strap to the case, it can be tricky finding the right after-market strap unless you know what size and clasp mechanism is needed.

So regardless of whether you want a casual strap to lose the formality of an otherwise traditional dress watch, or you need a tough and rugged nylon strap to keep up with the elements, a NATO or G10 watch strap is something worth keeping in your collection to give your boring old Rolex a new and exciting facelift. Just don’t be surprised if people start complimenting your $10 strap more than the $10,000 watch it’s holding in place.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

J.A. Shapira
He Spoke Style

Photos via Rob McIver Photo (1 & 4); Fenwick (2); Jebiga (5); Man Of Many (6)

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  • Jeff Rider

    The story I’ve always “heard” about the NATO strap, or the G10, is very close to this one, with an interesting bit of evolution on the end of it. There’s a little evidence to back it up (though not a ton and I remain dubious) but it goes like this. The INITIAL offerings for filling out the G10 were in fact the plain grey that is mentioned here, but over time, the British military began issuing straps with specific stipe designs based on various regimental colours. So members of each regiment would get, after filling out their G10, a watch strap with a specific stipe pattern indicating their unit, be it the Royal Artillery, or what have you. The watch maker Smart Turnout perpetuates this idea today, whether it was true or not at the time.

    And that’s when James Bond ruined everything.

    As we all pretty well know, Sean Connery as Bond wore a Rolex Submariner with a Nato strap in early films, and many (my father among them) were quick to point out that it appeared to be the black on grey pattern that was indicative of the strap British soldiers billeted to NATO units would have been issued. (This is in fact not true. The strap Connery wore was not this specific strap, but without HD quality at the time, the mistake was an easy one to make.) This of course led to early speculation by fans that Bond’s “unit” MI-6, which the British Government publicly insisted until the late ’90s didn’t actually exist, would have been under the edict of NATO itself, rather than Her Majesty’s government directly, and that it made sense that this was the strap Bond would have been issued after filling out his G10. Thus, according to my source (which again, was my Dad) the straps became known as NATO straps because the most famous one in the world was a NATO designation, and the rest picked up the designation by default.

    My counter argument to him was always “But Bond is a inveterate maverick and rule-breaker, not to mention a raging elitist snob. Do you really think he filled out a FORM to get that watch band?”

    • Tony

      The G10 store was where you would be issued kit on a short term basis for use whilst you were serving in a specific unit. As opposed to the clothing store where kit would be issued on a long term basis and would stay with you unit to unit. During my service in the 80’s and 90’s the G10 watch strap was always grey (that doesn’t mean units never had their own issues though). The term NATO was quite often used as slang to mean ‘standard’. For instance a ‘NATO’ cup of tea meant a very strong brew with milk and 2 sugars (the norm in those days) :).

      • Jeff Rider

        Interesting, and much more accurate than my Dad’s theory.

        Still love his story, mind you.

        • Tony

          Me too.