The history of the NATO watch strap

The colourful nylon band has found new life in the Instagram age. But where did it come from?

October 20, 2016

Ever since Swedish watch brand Daniel Wellington hit the mainstream some two years ago with its massive social media success (hello 2.5 million Instagram followers), NATO straps have without a doubt been propelled back to ubiquity.

A bracelet option that was previously known among only the most avid followers of the horology world, the NATO strap has today permeated the consciousness of even the most novice watch customer. But how did this simple strip of nylon come about, and what’s up with the name?

The NATO strap is yet another military invention that the fashion industry can thank them for, much like the chevron and Panerai watches. First made by the British Ministry of Defense in 1973, the strap was originally designed to be more durable than its leather and bracelet counterparts. 

While very similar to its Zulu brother, the NATO features an extra strap and buckle to minimize the movement of the watch head. Without it, the head would slide the entire length of the strap, especially with nylon’s naturally slick surface. 

Back then, officers had to fill out a requisition form known as a G10 in order to be issued one of these straps, so among the military the strap was more commonly referred to as a G10. So how did we get from there to NATO? Well, the Alliance - as in the North Atlantic Alliance, NATO's other name - had a stocking number for this specific strap and over time NATO had a much better ring to it, so it stuck.

Originally only available in “Admiralty Grey”, British officers started wearing all manner of colours to represent their own regiments, which led to the kaleidoscopic selections that we have today.

Fast forward to the Instagram age, the NATO strap has truly become a watch lover’s favourite accessory. You can have a different strap on the same watch for each day of the week, and the variety of colours and designs is a great way to express your mood and look without breaking the bank by acquiring several watches. 

There’s a bit of a debate initiated by the purist camp on whether it even makes sense to put a $10,000 head on a $15 strap, but that’s where the fun comes in. Plus, in hot and humid summers, especially in the Middle East, nylon offers a lot more breathability than leather and prevents you from getting gross gunk in between the links of your metal bracelets.

And if I haven’t said it already (I have) the variety alone is enough of a reason to explore the wonderful world of NATO straps. 

This article originally appeared on and is reposted here with the author's permission.