Long before the greats of this world tagged the seventh letter of the alphabet with numbers for their global governance summits – G7, G8, G20 – watchmakers were already using a G of their own. Back in the 1970s, G10 was the codename for a particular kind of strap. NATO as in North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which gives a clue as to its military origins, having been invented for British forces who needed a sturdy, fabric wristband for their watches. The original Ministry of Defence specs required a functional, fail-safe, nylon strap that was issued in just one colour, Admiralty Grey. How times have changed…
It’s summer 2017 and the NATO strap, still in woven nylon, with a one-piece steel buckle and loops, is as multicoloured as a rainbow. It also speaks volumes about its wearer. Officially, we wear NATO straps because they’re light and comfortable. However, one of the real reasons we all love a NATO is that it’s so damn cool. It’s the strap for the guy who “travels” more than he vacations, or at least that’s the impression he likes to give. Think aviator sunglasses (less to keep the desert sand out of his eyes and more to shield them from building glare), khaki backpack (to carry his iMac, not food supplies), trail boots (for scaling subway steps, not Mont Blanc) and, to round it off, a watch on a NATO strap. One of the pioneers of this adventure-seeking style was Sean Connery, who flashed his Rolex Submariner Big Crown on a navy-blue striped nylon strap in Goldfinger, which came out in… 1964. So James Bond inspired watch brands. After all, what better to fuel Joe Public’s imagination than a watch à la 007?
In at the deep end
A NATO strap is often fitted to a dive watch, for obvious utilitarian reasons. Not that we should underestimate the aesthetic appeal of these highly technical models that strike the balance between sportswear and chic. It’s a combination that says “cool but approachable”. Several examples warrant a special mention. Hamilton’s Khaki Navy Scuba hits the spot thanks to a black stainless steel case with a touch of orange on the bezel that’s repeated in the two-tone, soft-feel NATO strap. At Chopard, and here’s a first, the Happy Ocean puts its 300-metre water-resistant case on a navy blue NATO strap that complements the turquoise on the unidirectional rotating bezel, inspired by the ocean’s azure. It’s fresh, summery and accessible. By putting a watch on a fabric strap, brands adopt a “young” style that still fits with the idea of a quality watch, and helps create a new dynamic.
Another advantage of the NATO strap is that it will mix and match to suit the rest of an outfit. As Gucci well knows. Its Le Marché des Merveilles collection is swarming with nylon straps, in particular a blue and red, or red and blue, Web band bearing the “L’aveugle par amour” (“blinded by love”) phrase dreamed up by designer Alessandro Michele. The man who succeeded in transforming Gucci in less than a year, making the Italian house the fashion world’s centre of gravity, has clearly understood that desirability is achieved through originality.
Indeed, there are hundreds of combinations on offer: plain, striped, two-tone, toned-down or high-vis… always with that “walk on the wild side” edge. Tudor, Rolex’s little sister, introduced nylon for its straps back in 2010. This year’s Heritage Black Bay 41 channels its inner Action Man thanks to a camouflage pattern that underscores its military origins. The strap is hand-woven using the Jacquard technique by a family-owned French firm that has been in business for over a hundred years. In a similar vein, TAG Heuer is embracing khaki and camouflage in its Aquaracer line. The Khaki model comes with a military green textile strap with topstitched reinforcements. The strap on the Artic version is woven with different colours for added stealth. It’s big, butch and bold, perfectly suited to civilian life and bound to get noticed. Ironic, really, considering the whole point of camouflage is to blend in…