Swellboy on… Nato watch straps

Our man is a material witness as fabric bands enter a new phase

Image: Brijesh Patel

I am beginning to discover new possibilities for the Nato watch strap. 

Fabric straps have been enjoying a comeback in the past five years. I used to wear them in the 1980s and I came across them again on customised Rolexes by the likes of Pro Hunter and Bamford Watch Department. By the way, if you have not been to George Bamford’s amazing South Audley Street premises (he has somehow managed to shoehorn an entire James Bond villain’s lair behind the façade of a Mayfair townhouse), I would get along there swiftly and bespeak a watch, if only to enjoy the interior design.

Things took off when the fabric strap became part of the rebirth of Tudor, which has been about the biggest comeback story since Lazarus. The first Tudor fabric strap was in 2010, on the heritage chrono. Referencing the grey and orange accents of the dial design, the black strap carried a rather attractive grey and orange stripe.

Sure enough, the collector community got on board. Highbrow discussions about such arcana as “strap rub” – the slight evidence of the interaction of watch case and fabric strap over time on vintage military Tudors – were pursued with much the same vigour and passion as the Byzantines used to debate finer points of abstruse theological doctrine.

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Now the Nato strap has entered a new phase – at least, new to me.

The other day I wandered into the Double RL shop on Mount Street. I like Double RL; the mix of vintage and modern items is so deft that at times I mistake one for the other. It usually has a small selection of vintage watches and I asked to have a look. They were duly presented and I was very much taken with a Cartier Tank.

It was not so much the watch – a perfectly nice and clean example of one of the great horological classics – but rather the fact that it was on a nylon strap in a jaunty red, white and blue.

Had you mentioned the idea to me, I would have said it was a little like wearing frayed jeans with a dinner jacket, but in fact it looked great and was simply so unexpected. I am not sure that Cartier will start offering its classic Tank with the option of a Nato strap any time soon…although in the colours of the tricolour, it did strike a suitably Gallic note.

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