What Is a NATO Watch Strap?

What Is a NATO Watch Strap?

Amongst the various types of watches in the world exists a plethora of watch straps that can hold them to our wrists. As one of the best watch strap brands around, you can take our word for that. From our very own rubber straps to our calf leather straps or even our exotic python leather straps, there are a lot of materials that a watch strap can be made from. However, instead of exploring the materials that can often go into a watch strap, let’s explore a specific type of watch strap, the NATO strap. 


Typically made of nylon, and sometimes leather, NATO straps were invented by the British Ministry of Defense in 1973 as a lightweight, waterproof, durable, and very simple to use watch strap that was cost-effective and easy to replace - all critical points for a military force. Indeed, with its name already a giveaway, the NATO watch strap was invented for its use in the military, and much like a lot of watchmaking that originated from the battlefield, it has made its way into the wider horological community. 


Originally, the NATO watch strap’s design was a single strip of nylon with a pin buckle and keepers at one end and pin holes at the other. Simply put, the strap would feed through one of the lugs, over the spring bar, under the watch, and back through the lugs on the other side and around the wrist before being closed. The idea behind the NATO strap was that if the spring bars on the watch were to fail, the last operational spring bar would be enough to hold the watch on the wrist – something traditional straps and bracelets fail to emulate. If the spring bars fail when a watch is worn with a bracelet, the bracelet with fail and fall from the wrist entirely.

Unsurprisingly, there are different types of NATO watch straps. Of the two main variants, there is the single-pass NATO, and the double-pass NATO. The single-pass NATO watch strap uses a single piece of strap to feed through the watch and attach to itself. This was the first type of NATO watch strap created, and it allows the watch to sit close to the wrist as there is only one piece of strap between the wrist and watch. 

However, there is also a double-pass NATO watch strap that sacrifices the thinness that comes from a single-pass NATO watch strap while adding more security. Double-pass NATO watch straps use a second piece of strap to loop the strap through before closing it, so that the watch is more secure and higher on the wrist. 

There are other ways to wear a NATO strap, like a reverse tuck where the excess strap tail is looped back under itself, or the outward tail tuck where it is looped over itself, but these are more often just ways to style either a single of double-pass NATO watch strap.

The ZULU watch strap

A different kind of watch strap that collectors often misidentify is the ZULU watch strap. While very similar to its NATO sibling, ZULU watch straps instead use much chunkier and thicker straps, with heavier rounded buckles and keepers, and are typically only worn in the same style as a single-pass NATO strap due to the additional thickness of the strap, so they sit higher already, like a double-pass NATO strap would sit. Not linked to the military, like NATO straps, ZULU straps are a somewhat modern horological invention that we have a lot of admiration for, much like the iconic NATO watch strap.