Buckle Up: A Breakdown of the Best Military Watch Straps

Prepare for a wristwatch revolution as we take a trip through time and explore the rugged realms of military watch straps. These unassuming yet unyielding bands have transcended their utilitarian origins, becoming veritable style icons in the world of timepieces.

Making the most of innovative materials and sleek designs, military watch straps combine tactical practicality and smart style like no other accessory. From NATO watch straps to Zulu watch straps with five keeper rings, join The Thrifty Gentleman as we pull at the threads that connect modern military men, fashion-conscious adventurers and history enthusiasts alike.

Dark Blue Dive Watch with Navy Blue and Red NATO Watch Strap

The Story of Military Watch Straps

Where there’s a wrist, there’s a way…

In the Victorian era, infantrymen, cavalry guards, lieutenants and commanders all used pocket watches to keep time. However, it wasn’t exactly practical to pull out an heirloom pocket watch while trying to load a cannon.

Soldiers needed somewhere their timepiece would be constantly visible even when they were busy doing important tasks. Can you guess where they chose to strap their pocket watches?

Wristwatches: the newest trend…

Soldiers began to cut up their leather caps and use them to tie pocket watches to their wrists, creating the first-ever military watch straps. Although handmade and wholly unreliable, they did the job and probably looked pretty stylish too.

In 1879, the practice was recognised as Girard-Perregaux began to supply the German military with pocket watches that could be quickly strapped to the wrist when needed.

From need, a necessity…

During the trench warfare of World War I, it became clear that strapping pocket watches to the wrists of soldiers was no longer a helpful idea; it was a necessity.

British soldiers shipped to the continent from 1914 onwards were supplied with military-grade wristwatches as standard. Given the switch to leather for uniforms as it was cheaper, quicker, and easier to make, the tradition of leather military watch straps continued.

Time for improvement…

Throughout the inter-war years and during World War II, a host of improvements were made to military wristwatches and their straps. Luminous dials, waterproof casing, and tough, woven military watch straps slowly replaced their predecessors.

In the decades since, military watch straps have seen countless improvements. But, they’ve also seen a move into the mainstream, with everyday gents making the most of their combat-inspired aesthetics in daily life.

The Best Military Watch Straps

Seiko 5 Watch with Zulu Military Watch Strap

If you’re thinking of adding such a watch strap to your collection, you’re in luck. The Thrifty Gentleman stocks a range of military watch straps, whose vintage feel and heavy-duty applications make them suitable for a variety of modern styles and lifestyles.

Let’s take a closer look at each of them, so you can decide which is best for you.

NATO Watch Straps

As you may be able to tell, NATO straps have to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. However, rather than being reserved for NATO troops, these military watch straps got their name as they were given a unique NATO Stock Number (NSN). NATO is simply a shortened version of this second title.

Available to any soldier who filled out a G10 form, NATO straps were dreamt up in 1973 and sought to do away with the chafing caused by leather straps in hot, wet climates. Not to mention, with soldiers frequently losing watches due to spring bar rupture, the NATO strap was designed to cling on even in the toughest of environments.

The defining characteristics of NATO watch straps were:

  • Fashioned from 1.2 mm thick Admiral Grey woven nylon
  • 20 mm width to match standard military lug width
  • 280 mm length to fit around every wrist and uniform
  • Single-piece, heat-welded buckle
  • Heat-sealed holes and strap ends
  • Extra nylon loop to minimise movement

But, don’t worry. As the NATO strap has become a fashion statement, it’s been made available in a huge range of colours and widths. The specifications that made this strap durable and comfortable in all climes, however, have remained.

Styling a NATO Watch Strap:

The woven nylon of this military watch strap looks best with comfortable clothing and natural materials. But, it certainly won’t limit you if you prefer to add a pop of colour to your outfits. In particular, The Thrifty Gentleman’s Herringbone NATO straps are perfect to tie together bold ensembles that may clash otherwise. We’ve been loving the naval feel of our Blue / Red Herringbone NATO Watch Strap for a splash of sophisticated yet youthful colour.

Zulu Watch Straps

The brother of the NATO strap, it’s thought that Zulu watch straps were designed to bring the style of NATO military watch straps to the mainstream market without making men sign up and file a G10 form. This is the general belief because, surprisingly, there isn’t a well-documented history of Zulu watch straps. That’s why you’ll often find them called Zulu NATO straps at The Thrifty Gentleman. However, they do have some very clear deviations from the NATO’s rigid characteristics.

The defining characteristics of Zulu watch straps are:

  • Rounded hardware
  • Multiple keepers
  • Longer and thicker straps

Styling a Zulu Watch Strap:

Compared to the NATO, whose fail-safe second layer of material raises the strap slightly, most Zulu’s will comfortably hug your wrist. This makes them a great choice for over-the-cuff wear on those less adventurous but still outdoorsy days. In addition, the rounded Zulu hardware provides a softer look, making them a trusty pair for leather jackets and oversized jumpers alike. We can’t get enough of the Zulu NATO Heavy Duty Watch Strap in Black, a versatile option that contrasts against its sparkling hardware.

Marine Nationale Watch Straps

Taking its name from the French naval forces, this military watch strap made its debut on the wrists of combat divers in the late 1960s. At the time, the French military only issued its soldiers, sailors and airmen with watch faces. This meant it was up to the personnel to source their own military watch straps.

The Marine Nationale quickly became the favourite because it was:

  • Fashioned from nylon 6/parachute elastic
  • 1.2 mm nylon thickness
  • Made with fixed loop configuration to defend against spring bar failure
  • Easily removable, flexible, yet secure above a diving uniform

Styling a Marine Nationale Watch Strap:

Marine Nationale Watch Strap in Beige on Thrifty Gentleman light blue dial watch

The fixed loop configuration makes the Marine Nationale one of the easiest military watch straps to install and wear. Since it’s simply slipped onto your wrist, it’s the perfect watch strap if you don’t have too much time to decide on the day’s style. Additionally, the closed loop gives this watch strap a cohesive feel, meaning it won’t look out of place above a shirt cuff. In particular, we love the Beige Marine Nationale Watch Strap for easy day-to-night styling.

Hey There, Sailor. Want to See More?

At The Thrifty Gentleman, you don’t need to be a military man to get the best quality watch straps. To view the full range of affordable and original watch straps, click here.

If you’re struggling to choose the perfect military watch straps for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here. A member of our team will respond within 24 hours.

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