Despite being known, the world over, as a “NATO”, the ubiquitous nylon watch strap we all love and admire is in reality a product of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) and it’s proper name is the G10 – named after the form used to requisite the strap.
I too am guilty of calling the G10 a “NATO”, probably because everyone else does! No excuse I know. So where exactly does this “NATO” business come from?
We need to go back in time.
The simple explanation is that like all equipment acquired for the military, the G10 was issued with a NATO Stock Number (NSN) and that is seemingly the most logical reason – an abbreviated term used in civilian horological circles for this type of band.
The British Army/Navy NSN: 6645-99-124-2986 and the RAF: NSN 6645-99-527-7059.
The MoD has been issuing watch straps in all guises for many years, not surprisingly in leather, but it wasn’t until the 1960′s that a revolutionary nylon watch strap first made an appearance. In 1973 (30, November to be precise) the MoD issued the following standard: Def Stan 66-15, (Part 1) Issue 1 – Strap (Nylon). And while there have been some subtle revisions to the original specification, this would define the G10 (dimensionally and physically) which we are familiar with today.
Download current UK Ministry of Defence Standard 66-47/2 PDF.
As it stands, the official G10 spec calls for a 280mm long strap, 20mm width (now 18mm) and 12 heat sealed adjustment holes. The space where the watch head sits is 60mm and the space between the keepers 25mm. The buckle, prong and loops (keepers) were originally brass, (chromium plated), but these are all now stainless steel. The nylon used is a straight cross weave, colour Admiralty Grey (BS 4800, Card 3, Ref 18B25), joints heat sealed/welded as opposed stitched.
There is some confusion surrounding the strap width here. 20mm used to be the standard and is still supplied to the MoD, however 18mm is seen as the “official” width right now. This is no doubt due to the fact that the Cabot Watch Company (CWC) now supplies the current service watch (GS2000) to the MoD and it has 18mm lugs (possibly 19mm as in some pictures the bars are visible). Pulsar previously supplied the MoD during its short contract tenure (2000-2002) and it had 20mm lugs. Numerous other watches including Seiko and one Pulsar model were issued to the RAF/RN (all with 20mm lugs), but the current CWC field watch is no doubt issued in greater quantity (mainly for the Army) hence 18mm being more common today.
Interestingly, Seiko did supply its own nylon watch straps with some models, but they were decidedly inferior to the genuine article in terms of fabric weave, colour variance and overall quality.
Most, if not all military watches incorporate fixed bars instead of the delicate spring loaded bars found on civilian watches. Service watches are designed for an extreme working environment and as such the benefits of this particular watch strap, which in itself is extremely strong and durable, is all the more evident.
The basic band is composed of the strap (with buckle/prong) and an additional shorter nylon flap below which terminates in a stainless steel loop. Thread the watch through the main strap first and then through the loop on the flap. Not only does this strap design prevent the watch head falling off should a spring bar fail, it also holds the head securely in position. How to fit a NATO watch band.
Since 1978, Phoenix, UK, has been manufacturing G10′s exclusively for the British MoD to their strict and demanding specification. These are the genuine article (100% made in Britain), not cheap imports and can be purchased direct from the manufacturer via ebay. Phoenix also sells numerous regimental colours (including the two Bond variants), plus urban/woodland camouflage combinations (G10 spec), as well as single piece “RAF” style (2 loops rather than 3) in 18mm, 20mm and 22mm (the latter is not a standard MoD size, but great for us watch enthusiasts with wider strap requirements – all made to the same high quality by Phoenix).
As mentioned the official spec calls for a single colour, Admiralty Grey and this is what should be worn on any military inspired watch in your collection such as an ex-RAF Seiko or Pulsar. Mine sits comfortably on a civvy version of the RAF navigator’s Pulsar Chronograph circa 2010.
Probably the most famous “NATO” user was and still is James Bond (current Bond actor, Daniel Craig is partial to these watch straps offscreen). In my opinion, this is something of a misnomer. While Sean Connery did indeed famously sport a striped nylon strap on his Rolex Submariner 6538 in the 1964 movie “Goldfinger”, this was in fact a one piece (RAF style), not a modern day G10 that has a flap and hardware to secure the watch head in place.
In addition, “Bond” wore this beautiful Swiss timepiece on an extremely narrow band (16mm or 18mm? Looks like 16mm to me) so that the spring bars were visible – not very British that! Seriously, 20mm lugs on a 16mm strap? I understand there is a select following that adhere to this “look”, (known as understrapping), however, I can’t say I like it at all. Its safe to assume, at the time, Rolex were not best pleased either.
The “Bond NATO” colour/stripe combination is another area that gets plenty of discussion on watch forums. In the film “Goldfinger”, Connery wears a three colour stripe combination: two green stripes flanked by narrow red borders on three black stripes. In reality, even though this isn’t a true G10, this should be the official Bond colour scheme, however, with the passing of time the most commonly available “Bond NATO” today is actually a black and grey version (three black stripes, two grey stripes). I’m not sure why, maybe it was conceived as a modern take on the old theme? Anyway, this is sometimes referred to as the “Skunk”, for obvious reasons, or simply the Bond NATO, despite “Bond” having never worn it!
It has been said that they are regimental colours, however there is no real evidence for it, barring the fact that the “Skunk” matches the colours of the General Service Corps (GSC). As a Royal Navy operative, Bond wouldn’t wear either combination, if indeed it was some sort of military colour scheme. No, that would be sacrilege (navy blue would be more appropriate, would it not?). Alas, we will probably never know why that particular strap was used.
The “Zulu” is a relatively recent interloper. Similar in appearance and construction to the G10, the Zulu (often referred to as the NATO Zulu), could best be described as a beefier version. The nylon is thicker and typically has 4 hefty rounded rings (plus buckle, making 5 rings) instead of 3 squared off loops (single piece Zulu’s are 2 ring, plus buckle making 3 rings). These are ideally worn on diver’s watches, but work on any tool watch if its big and can take the extra hardware. Personally, I prefer the refined G10 as the Zulu rings don’t sit flat and tend to hang at awkward angles.
I have two Phoenix G10 straps, a 20mm Admiralty Grey and a 22mm in striking Urban Camouflage, the latter not MoD issue, but cool all the same.
The “official” Admiralty Grey G10 has polished stainless steel buckle, prong and loops, whereas the Urban Camo version has black PVD hardware. Barring the strap width and length (20mm is 290mm, 22mm 295mm), the fit and finish is identical, both have 12 holes.
The fabric is thinner than the nylon Maratac uses and like most nylon bands requires a bit of wrist time to become supple. The weave is tight and I find they are resilient to fraying and outperform cheaper versions. In addition, all joints, end and prong holes are heat sealed – Phoenix uses a wider welding process so the loop junctions in particular are exceptionally secure – the best I have seen on any “NATO” or should that be G10?
Phoenix is etched into the buckle to guarantee authenticity. Incidentally, the buckle is a one piece design (no spring loaded bar) with a single flat sitting curved prong.
When it comes to this sort of watch strap, you simply won’t find better for comfort or quality. Sure, cheaper NATO’s do the job, but this is the real deal.
Lets face it, Phoenix has supplied the MoD with thousands of G10′s over the last 30 odd years and these straps have served the military well in conflicts and peacetime operations around the world. My adage is, if its good enough for them!
The 20mm version will fit a wrist size of between 16cm-25.5cm, while the 22mm will fit 17cm-27.5cm (approx). Generous lengths mean these are ideal for wearing over clothing.
Check out Phoenix on ebay and grab yourself a genuine military watch strap!