As with so much men's wear (and as the name suggests) the NATO-style watch strap traces its casual yet utilitarian roots to military use. Its cold-war debut came in 1973 as the standard-issue strap of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD). Soldiers first dubbed it the G10 after the form used to requisition it. However, the more popular term NATO, referencing the strap's NATO Stocking Number (NSN), stuck.
The original 20-mm-wide woven nylon straps were rather sober, coming only in Admiralty grey. They evolved with stripes as soldiers adopted their regimental colors. The common element was that rather than attaching to the case with spring bars between the lugs, NATO straps passed through the spring bars and under the case, so if one bar failed the watch stayed on the wrist. Extra security came from an additional piece of nylon attached to the buckle. It passed through two metal keepers and then folded back over and tucked under a keeper.
Naturally, designers played with variations on the theme, and NATO has become something of a moniker for the strap style, with some staying true to the originals and others simply channeling the spirit.
For example, the alternate jacquard strap for Tudor's Heritage Black Bay Bronze dive watch ($3,975, pictured at left) is technically not a NATO, yet it does reference military watches that the brand produced without straps for the French Navy in the 1970s. Navy divers would fit them with straps made from parachute belts, as evidenced by a 1977 model that inspired the brown and beige color scheme. The design is derived from Tudor's first dive watch, 1958's Ref. 7924, nicknamed Big Crown for its prominent winding crown. The MT5601 movement, the brand's first in-house caliber, beats inside the 43-mm case made of an aluminum/bronze alloy that will develop a distinctive patina over time.
Similarly, Oris' retro Divers Sixty-Five ($1,990 on NATO, center) traces its lineage to a 1965 dive model, one of the brand's first. The collection, launched in 2015, is updated with a handsome deep-green dial and four strap and bracelet options, including a black rubber strap borrowed from Oris' early divers, distressed leather, and a green-and-black-striped NATO.
Meanwhile, Blancpain keeps it real with its latest Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronograph Blancpain Ocean Commitment II ($20,100, right), an homage to the original 1953 Fifty Fathoms diver. The brands Blancpain Ocean Commitment initiative, supports marine preservation and exploration while working to raise awareness by sponsoring scientific projects, oceanographic explorations and more. For each watch sold, Blancpain will earmark 1,000 euros to support scientific marine exploration. Limited to 250 pieces, the watch pairs a 43.6-mm satin-brushed blue ceramic case with a subtle dark gray NATO strap, for a handsome watch that looks sharp while on a mission.