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Authentic “NATO”/G10 Military Watch Straps: Inquiry from the Mail Bag

Vu writes,

Hi, Today I came across your post on TZ regarding the NATO strap. I am in the search for the best, genuine NATO strap available. May I have the information of the dealers that you have known? Best Regard, Vu”

I’ve received several inquiries about this topic in recent months, and its frequent recurrence is among the reasons I decided to create this blog. Apparently when searching for terms like “NATO strap” in various forums some of my old posts come up in which I had offered to send referrals to dealers by PM to skirt annoying anti-commercialization forum policies.

First, a minor point of semantics: though I was admittedly formerly among the offenders and the usage remains common among internet collectors, strictly speaking the “NATO strap” name is something of a misnomer. What is commonly known as the “NATO” design is more commonly referred to within the British military as the “G10,” a term used to describe a variety of issued personal kit items that are recorded on a form designated “G10.” In fact, the official UK Ministry of Defence Standard 66-47/2 that governs the strap spec even only refers to it somewhat unceremoniously as “Strap, Wrist Watch.” And so far as I’m aware no other nations (NATO-member or otherwise) use such a pattern officially and it remains unique to the UK, so “NATO” seems to be somewhat inaccurate or misleadingly vague. The “NATO” moniker became common in internet communities for reasons that really aren’t quite clear to me; some accounts rightly or wrongly attribute the assignment of name to Italian or Japanese collectors. The fact remains however that it is not known as a “NATO” even in its home country and the name is somewhat misapplied. “G10 strap” is greatly preferred in my opinion.

Second, to the heart of the question at hand: I don’t really know, at least not any more. My understanding and the landscape have changed considerably since those earlier forum postings. For one thing there no longer seems to be much of a consensus any more as to what exactly “official issue” or “authentic” straps are when it comes to custom colors and dimensions. In fact, strictly speaking, only 18mm or 20mm straps in the “Admiralty Grey” color can rightly be considered official. And to confuse things even further, according to some sources some suppliers who formerly supplied the MoD no longer do so or have ceased operations, so some formerly “official” channels are no longer available. And at least one supplier I used to habitually recommend is no longer considered reliable.

To complicate things further still, there’s no consensus that “official issue” straps are any more desirable than conscientiously made replicas; indeed, it would seem quite the contrary. For instance the DEF STAN 66-47/2 specification requires only plated brass hardware, not nearly so strong or durable as the stainless steel hardware used in many good replica designs. As well, the 280mm length specified in the spec is not long enough for the strap to be worn with the excess “tail” tucked into both keepers in the manner many are accustomed to (more on this below). The specified dimensions of the second tail that sits underneath the watch head also do not accommodate modern larger watch case designs well.

So what to do then? Fortunately there are still some very good options for collectors:

  1. A number of dealers supply very decent replicas of quality at least as good as the issue straps:
    1. Bill Mahoney of Squinky.com is a long-time seller, well known for years in the military watch collecting community.
    2. Nilsen’s Straps Bands and Watches is another well-known source in the military collecting community, selling stock from a well-known wholesaler like that offered by other sellers but with an especially excellent reputation for service and competitive pricing. Longtime collector Randy Nilsen passed away earlier this year, but the business had been jointly run with his wife and family for some time before his death and still carries on in his absence.
  2. For collectors looking for a beefier, more substantial design, the Maratac G10 Series straps are truly excellent. Maratac uses steel hardware and a thicker, stouter nylon weave than the simple nylon tape fabric used by many makers and called for by the original MoD spec. The end result is a strap that looks and feels stronger and more substantial than other designs. This may not always be an advantage if the watch case is already thick/tall as it can result in an overly bulky feel when worn. But even with these significant design improvements included, the Maratac G10s are actually cheaper than many competing offerings, making them even more attractive. My only complaint is that the fabric eventually begins fraying slightly, though after so many months of wear it’s hard to hold it against them.
  3. I also quite like the custom G10 replicas sold by Timefactors.com:

    Steel hardware and excellent fabric on the Timefactors NATO/G10

Timefactors uses steel hardware (some simple home testing with a magnet would seem to question that it is 316L as claimed in the description, but still very respectable stainless steel nonetheless) and a very sturdy nylon fabric that though stronger than typical designs does not lead to a bulky appearance or feel. [EDIT: this has since been corrected to simply “stainless steel” on the TF website.  Stainless steel regardless of alloy is still entirely adequate for straps in my opinion.]

In fact, the Timefactors G10s would be my hands-down favorites if not for one (in my eye) shortcoming: they’re just a little short. In all fairness, the Timefactors design is actually among the truest to the actual DEF STAN spec; however, the overall ~280mm length required by the spec will not allow most wearers to wear the strap in the manner to which we have become accustomed after years of admittedly “improper” replicas, with the excess tail of the strap folded outward and tucked under both keepers. I have to wear mine exactly as shown here in the Timefactors marketing photo, with the short tail tucked inside only one keeper. Not only is it a something of a pain to get it to go in like that when donning the strap, it’s prone to working its way out and the appearance isn’t as neat or clean as longer designs. See this length comparison photo:

My only other gripe is that the grey Timefactors strap is much lighter in color than the conventional”issue grey” color I expected and is much closer to what might be termed silver-grey in my eye. Buyers outside the UK/EU may also find the shipping costs to be relatively high [EDIT: It has since been pointed out to me that I may have made a mistake here or selected a more expensive shipping method than necessary.  At present Timefactors offers shipping to the US by regular air mail for only £1.50.]

But in short, it’s really almost hard to go wrong. There are surely some shoddy imitations out there with cheap fabric, poor construction and anemic plated hardware. But owing to the simplicity and security of the one-piece design, even cheaply made G10s can still be entirely and utterly reliable. And after all, even lowly plated hardware is good enough for the MoD.

By that line the name of the game simply becomes reserving paying premium prices for straps that deserve it. I still own a cheapie “Bond” strap of indeterminate pedigree (depicted as “UNK” in the photo above) purchased years ago off a sales forum for a pittance from a collector who was dumping some unwanted straps. The fabric is fairly thin, the plated hardware unremarkable. And yet even in spite of itself it still performs exactly as intended and keeps the watch firmly and comfortably fastened to my wrist with aplomb. I wouldn’t pay $40 for it, but simultaneously I have to admit that the G10 design might have a little bit of genius in it if even such a lowly specimen can perform this well, and buyers will likely be fine so long as they select a reputable seller.

So there you have it – my opinions of some of the current offerings of G10 straps. I’ve long had writing an article on the history of this design on my to-do list as well. With luck I’ll get to it sometime soon.

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