The NATO strap has been a popular staple of watch nerd wardrobes for a few years now, especially in the summer. A big reason for their popularity is the myriad of color choices, both solid and striped. You can re-dress your boy several times a day, depending on whether you’re meeting a client for lunch, challenging him to a game of Squash, meeting the boys for drinks after work, or prepping for a long weekend of whitewater rafting.
And I mentioned colors. Just what – beyond a sense of fashion – do all those colors mean? To find out, we need to step back a bit and examine where the strap came from and its original purpose.
James Bond wearing that glorious – and undersized – nine-stripe nylon strap in Dr. No and Goldfinger notwithstanding, the NATO strap springs from a British military specification, actually two: Army/Navy (6645-99-124-2986) and RAF (6645-99-527-7059), set forth in 1973 (a decade after Commander Bond wore his 6538 on a nylon strap that most certainly was NOT a NATO).
The straps are also known as G10 straps, for the form (G1098, or G10 for short) used to requisition them. My compadré, Shane Griffin, wrote about their history here.
Antithetical to today’s proliferation of colors, those original specifications allowed for only one color – Admiralty Grey – and only one width: 20mm. But what I think instigated the proliferation of colors was that soon after the initial NATO/G10 strap became available, British regiments began to acquire straps (who knows how?) in their regimental colors. Indeed, many NATOs today suggest regimental colors, even to those of us without first-hand knowledge of such.
But aside from the regimental reminiscence of some patterns, the bright pastels, bold primaries, monochromatic fatigue greens, and digital khaki camouflages of today suggest a summer in the Hamptons as much as they do two weeks on maneuvers in the desert.
So there’s the real meaning of NATO strap colors. They mean, as I stated above, that you can dress for any occasion you care to, and so can your watch.