In the inimitable words of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, “ … there are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets….. this is the latter….” she was of course referring to the truth that not all things are created equal!
The traditional and somewhat humble NATO strap was purely utilitarian by creation – there to ensure that the watch head wasn’t lost in the event of a spring bar failure. However nowadays, few of us undertake frequent activities that are likely to cause this (as well as the quality of spring-bars improving over the years) so nowadays most of us are buying and wearing NATO straps as watch accessories to complement both the watch itself and our attire. Indeed watch manufacturers have themselves caught on to this with Omega having launched a NATO configurator on its website allowing you to see what various straps will look like on a variety of their watches, and as you can imagine Omega NATO straps are not cheap – but controversially they are proportionate.
Like Omega, Tudor also made a name for themselves when they launched the ubiquitous Black Bay for their inclusion of an extremely high quality fabric strap that while not a strict NATO does embody the same purpose and function of a traditional NATO. Most if not all who have ever worn this will attest to the fact its probably the most comfortable strap they have ever put on.
It’s not a hard correlation to accept but clearly the quality of the strap directly affects the comfort of how your watch will feel and wear. With this in mind, if you’ve spent hundreds or thousands on a watch, you wont want the strap you wear it on to either be uncomfortable or to adversely affect its look.
With this in mind, I’d like to suggest that “…there are NATO straps and there are NATO straps”
Buying a quality NATO can be transformational in how it wears, but who makes a really good quality NATO strap and what sets apart one manufacturer from another?
We have probably bought more NATO straps than we care to admit – which as chance would have it means we have experienced some awesome (and some not so awesome) straps along the way…
There are ostensibly three things that contribute to a decent NATO (or for that matter any strap). The quality of the material used, the quality of the hardware (buckles & keepers etc) and the attention to detail. On a cheap strap, often quality control is the first thing that suffers. Cheap straps are much more susceptible to loose threads, fraying holes and before long the strap will deteriorate. Not to mention that poor quality fabric can be itchy & uncomfortable. The buckles are thin, cheap and flimsy, and overall instead of enhancing the look of your watch, you have in fact deteriorated not only the look and feel, but also the enjoyment of your watch.
While it’s not in our nature to put others down, it is in our nature to extol the virtues of people and products that we believe are excellent. With that in mind, we’ve shared a few or our personal recommendations below. We have spent time getting to know the owners of all three brands below and can attest to their focus on care and customer service. We have first hand experience of the straps having worn them extensively on a variety of watches so as usual these are our recommendations based on our own (unfortunately very extensive) experience!
Ever since I first discovered BluSharkstraps I fell in love with their premium feel – and this in fact has been their defining characteristic and mission in life. Joe’s relentless pursuit of designing, building and delivering high-quality NATO straps has produced some of the best NATO’s on the market. Our favourites are the Alphashark and AlphaPremier ranges that feature the very best hardware with brushed, polished or black PVD finishing available across their range of 18, 20, 22 & 24mm sizes. This allows you to choose, match and pair your NATO precisely to the watch that you are buying it for. The quality of fabric is excellent as is their attention to detail, stitching and hardware used.
The AlphaPremier straps are differentiated by a silky smooth material that is only 1.2mm thick, and a sliding first keeper. The AlphaShark straps are $32 (£25) and the AlphaPremier straps are $36 (£28) If you are looking for a conventional NATO strap in quite possibly the most diverse range of colours & sizes built to an extremely high standard that will complement an expensive watch you will not find better.
The only down side to BluShark’s straps if you live here in the UK (and this is not their fault) is that you will typically take advantage of their buy 2 get one free offer which will then cost you $72 (£56) for three – which still represents extremely good value in the light of Omega’s NATO at £120 however this then puts you above the import duty charges and will incur additional customs fees as it crosses into the UK.
If you are looking for the security of a NATO strap without the extra bulk that comes with multiple passes of material lifting your watch off your wrist as well as keepers to the side of your wrist holding excess material, then look no further than Haveston. Based here in the UK, Alex has taken the time to re-engineer the traditional NATO as a single pass strap delivering the benefits of a NATO strap while delivering the feel of a two piece canvas strap. We wrote an article on the straps and would recommend having a further read here. Ostensibly, because the single pass still passes between both spring bars, in the event of a failure the watch will still remain on your wrist. However because it only has a single piece of material beneath the watch, it sits much closer to your wrist. In addition, because there is no “third keeper” you can move the head of the watch further down the fabric ensuring the buckle and keepers are precisely underneath your wrist. Furthermore, Alex has engineered the second keeper as a ‘floating’ keeper allowing the flexibility of securing your watch consistently depending on how much excess is left. The buckles and hardware deliver a premium yet slender aesthetic and complement the fabric of the strap well. Havestons straps are available for $28.55 (£22) here in the UK. Although the price is listed in dollars this is more as a representation of a universal currency as a lot of customers are based overseas. Alex has informed us that the revised site will list the straps in local currencies which will be launching soon.
Bark & Jack
If on the other hand you prefer the look of a traditional NATO strap but don’t want the bulk, then I would urge you to try a strap from Bark&Jack. Adrian has been working very hard finessing and prototyping a silky smooth, and extremely slender NATO resulting in a strap that has the traditional look of a NATO that is extremely comfortable to wear but doesn’t lift the watch head far from your wrist resulting in a much better aesthetic. In addition if you buy two, you are also provided with a ‘watch sock’ for protecting your watch from scratches while storing it. Currently available in 4 colours: black, green grey and sand in 20mm widths only. What is astonishing is that the quality is on a par with the best and yet these are available for a mere £18 here in the UK! In my humble opinion these are as good as (if not better than) the Omega NATO straps available in terms of quality. The only negative is that some may prefer a wider range of colours and sizes of NATO straps, however as this is a new product range and is Adrian’s first product, there is no doubt he has hit the ground running with a fantastic product, and we look forward to more colour choices and widths in the future!
With such excellent straps available at very reasonable prices it would be sacrilege to endure discomfort or a poor quality strap when both your wrist and your timepiece deserve better!
What’s your experience of NATO straps? Let us know in the comments below!