Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Bond NATO Strap - As I Understand It.

Right, now pay attention. The new Bond film, SPECTRE, is just around the corner (okay, so the corner's still some distance away, but November will be here before we know it) and I thought I'd take a crack at writing about the watch straps that have appeared on OO7's wrist in the early Bond films, and the subsequent legacy, if you will, that these simple watch straps have created in the years since we first saw them appear in Goldfinger back in 1964. 

Okay, with that brief intro out of the way, those of you who are still interested, feel free to read on. 
As the post title would suggest, this is no definitive text on the subject, but merely represents my own thoughts and opinions on the matter and, as such, it shouldn't be read as gospel since there are sure to be some more thoroughly researched and informative articles on the web about this topic. 
Anyway, here goes.
About ten years ago, I got myself a couple of 'Bond' NATO straps off the web. They looked like this strap here (right).

Thanks to the wonders of VHS video, we could all now pause and rewind this Bond movie to our heart's content. The resurgence in popularity of James Bond in the late 1990s, thanks to the Brosnan films, and the release of the entire Bond movie back-catalogue on DVD, caused British GQ Magazine to commission the production of a strap and run a competition where it would give it away to some lucky readers. I'm not 100% certain, but this could have been the first of these black and grey NATO straps that were produced.

Whoa! Slow down, teeritz. Just what exactly is a NATO strap? 

Oh, yeah, okay. The British Ministry of Defence put out a tender back in the early 1970s for a watchstrap which could be easily fitted to any standard 20mm lugged, conventional watch case used by British Forces. The strap had to be cheap, it had to be durable, and it had to be strong.

There were other design stipulations mentioned in the MoD tender, to do with material required, length, thickness, etc. If you want to read the final report, here's the link; Ministry of Defence- Watchstraps-2001- pdf doc

And so, the NATO strap was born. Now, given that we can see that under-hanging piece in the drawing above, I should point out that this is perhaps the most crucial design aspect of these straps. When fitted to your watch, the strap should pass underneath the case, like so;

So, for us mere mortals, these spring-bars tend to work well enough. They are pretty sturdy and they can withstand quite a bit of pressure during day-to-day civilian activities.  Here's a spring-bar, if you need a refresher. This one proved a little stubborn to remove one day, but it was nothing that a steady hand and a Bosch drill couldn't handle;

In the event that one of the spring-bars should come off, the strap will still be secured to the watch by the bar on the other side.

Of course, watches intended for military use tended to dispense with using anything like a spring bar and you will often find that solid bars will have been soldered to the watch case to reduce the risk of the watch coming off the wrist. Here's a military-issued Rolex Submariner 5517 with soldered bars;

Anyway, that's a quick primer on NATO straps.
Now, once DVD came along, it appeared that the original Goldfinger NATO strap was not merely black and grey striped, but in fact black and khaki brown with a thin red stripe running in between.
Thanks to that close-up of Bond's watch in the classic pre-credits sequence of the film...

...we now had a better idea of the colours of the watch strap attached to his Rolex Submariner 6538.

Off-topic- notice how the strap is narrow compared to the 20mm spacing between the lugs? My theory is that somebody on-set had to rush out and get a strap that would fit Connery's wrist. I've often read that this particular Rolex belonged to the film's producer, Albert R. Broccoli. However, he has never struck me as a dive watch kind of guy. I read a long time ago that the watch actually belonged to one of the crew, who was ex-Royal Navy. That makes more sense. Now, rather than attempt to remove links from the watch's bracelet, it would be a simpler process to remove the bracelet entirely (since all you really need is a safety pin) and slip the NATO strap through the spring-bars and then away you go. This strap, however, looks to be around 16mm wide. These straps were available from corner news-stands back in the 1960s and, given that your regular urban gent probably wore a plain dress watch, the chances are pretty good that these news-stands only carried straps that were either 16 or 18mm wide. These sizes would fit most watches  available at the time.
At any rate, that's my theory as to why we see Connery's watch 'under-strapped' in both Goldfinger and Thunderball. Granted, it's all based on speculation, but nobody associated with these early Bond films has ever provided a definitive answer. So, I suppose my guess is as good as anybody's. Maybe.

Before too long, it was on for young and old, as we saw a plethora of internet dealers selling what they all claimed to be the one true Bond NATO strap. I saw this one here (right) on a website and promptly ordered one. Even though the colours weren't entirely correct.

Just one other problem. It was a ZULU strap, not a NATO one. The ZULU strap is of a slightly different construction to the NATO. The hardware is different, consisting of larger, curved rings stitched into a single strap of thicker-than-a-NATO nylon. I don't mind ZULU straps, but I find that they are better suited to watches larger than 42mm in diameter. The larger shape of the rings make these straps look beefier than their NATO cousins and they can overpower the look of a smaller 40mm watch. Just my opinion.

Then, just when we all thought that DVD Hi-Def had given us the true colours of these straps, along came BluRay and suddenly, the colours provided us by DVD seemed a little off. It wasn't khaki brown, it was more of an olive drab hue between the black stripes. Anyhow, some time passed before I ended up getting a couple more NATOs. They were cheap enough, after all. The one on the left in this photo had the same colouring as the ZULU strap above, but it had the slimmer hardware and a sleeker fit on one of my other dive watches. The one on the right of the frame was a more correct colour combination. Black and olive drab stripes, with a thin strip of red thrown in. All was well in the world of Bond fans wanting to emulate the Goldfinger wristwatch look.
So, by now we had a number of internet watch dealers selling these new and more colour-correct straps, all claiming that they were selling the accurate Bond NATO strap as seen in Goldfinger. 
Granted, most sellers were charging anywhere between $12.oo to $16.oo, which was reasonable enough, considering how long these straps can last. However, there were other companies out in the World Wide Web who were selling their versions for forty US dollars. 
I may be a die-hard Bond fan, but I ain't crazy.

Of course, with so much information available on the internet, we soon began to see photos of Bond that we had never seen before. Here's one of Connery on-set, between takes (one imagines) of the famous "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" scene in Goldfinger's secret lair;

Uh-oh, what have we here? That looks like a normal steel tang buckle. And what's that bit of fabric running across the strap? Is that a keeper?
So, it would seem that Bond did not wear a true NATO strap in the early films. It was just a plain nylon strap, similar in construction to a trouser belt. Of course, Connery couldn't have worn a NATO strap in Goldfinger in 1964 because the NATO strap was not commissioned by the British Ministry of Defence until the early 1970s, remember?
Suddenly, the small corner of the internet that cares about this stuff was, once again, in a flux. The company that was charging forty bucks for their straps brought out this new version. A bunch of other dealers commissioned the NATO strap manufacturer, Phoenix Straps in the UK, to produce this new, Bond-correct version. Me, sucker that I am, I just had to get one.

However, I didn't have BluRay, so I basically never got the memo about the true colours of Bond's strap. I found an eBay Seller and bought six of these straps (right). These are just one piece of nylon that threads underneath the case-back and has a keeper made from the same fabric. They fit great. But they're not exactly the right colours. Although, I don't mind them. They work very well on either the Submariner or my Omega Seamaster 300. And they were cheap enough at the time that I bought them. I think they were about eight bucks each. So, I didn't sweat it too much.
So now, we knew definitively that Bond didn't wear a NATO strap in Goldfinger. And, for me, all thoughts turned back to those news-stands of the '60s. I could just imagine a cheap plastic display case pinned up on the wall, next to packets of Players Navy Cut cigarettes and musk flavoured Life Savers, with a variety of cheap, multi-coloured nylon straps nestled within it. It made perfect sense to me. Back during my decade of selling watches, I had my fare share of customers who would walk in and say; "I'm on my way to a work meeting and my watch strap looks a little tatty. Have you got any replacement straps?" 
I would show them a range of generic leather straps that we had for just this type of situation. I could remove the customer's worn or broken strap and fit a new one onto their watch within two or three minutes. Even less if they were in a real hurry.

The last time I watched Thunderball, I again saw this 'under-strapped' Rolex Submariner;

Man, I hate that.  have seen some folks using the same sized strap on their own Submariners, in an effort to maintain authenticity. But I think that's going too far.

Sometime late last year, I got this strap (right). Based on all the screen-caps that I've seen over the last couple of years, this seems to be the closest match to what appeared in the films. Although, I'm reliably informed that the buckle is not exactly like Connery's. But by this stage, I've pretty much given up. I'll wait until I've worn out a few of these straps before I contemplate buying any more.

The beauty of these straps lies in their simplicity. Whether you opt for one of these Bond Nylon straps or a NATO/ZULU, they are easy to attach to your watch and make for a very comfortable fit.
If you wear them for a while and they get dirty, just throw them in the washing machine with the rest of your laundry. They'll come out looking new again.
The subject of NATO/Nylon straps comes up fairly regularly on wristwatch forums. Consensus is clearly divided on these straps. Many folks will argue that they can make a watch look cheap; "How can you put a cheap-assed nylon strap on a watch that costs thousands?", they argue.
My response is always the same; "A cheap-assed nylon strap is what holds you firmly in the driver's seat of a two hundred thousand dollar Ferrari."

The new Bond film, SPECTRE, will be released later this year. Among Bond nerds who are also into wristwatches, forum chatter always turns to second-guessing about what wristwatch OO7 will wear in the next film. First pics of location shooting began to appear on the Web a few months ago. teased us with this image;

The fashionistas began to dissect Bond's outfit and sunglasses. The gun fans quickly identified OO7's choice of pistol (Heckler & Koch VP9, in case you're wondering).
We Bond/wristwatch nerds got straight to work on the watch.
Given the angle of his left wrist in this picture, there wasn't much to go on, but it was enough. The strap looked like a NATO, based on the strip of steel running across the band. Hard to tell what watch he was wearing, but the consensus was that it would either be a Seamaster Planet Ocean or the recently released Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial. Both of these watches are made by Omega who, as you may know, have been supplying cinematic Bond's wristwatches since Goldeneye in 1995.

Other pictures soon began to emerge, and it was the photos from the Rome shoot that laid any strap speculation to rest. We still couldn't make out the model of wristwatch (although five'll get you ten that it'll be the new Seamaster 300), but the strap was clearly a NATO with a black and grey stripe running through it. Yep, that's right. Bond would be wearing a strap with the colours that we all thought were the ones on his watch in Goldfinger.
I can understand why Omega created this strap. These two colours are perhaps perfectly suited to the colouring of the watch itself, whether it be the Planet Ocean or the Seamaster 300.
Nevertheless, Omega have now created a watchband that will become part of film-Bond lore. A watchband in colours based on an error of perception, thanks to the low definition renderings of VHS. Bond's watch in SPECTRE will look something like this;

What a long, strange trip it's been. From the first few NATO straps that were readily available on the internet ten or fifteen years ago, through all the various shades of military browns and greens that were added, to the inclusion of the thin red line, we have now arrived back where we started. Now, I won't be rushing out to get a genuine Omega NATO strap. They're too rich for my blood. Especially when one can get something very similar for a fraction of the cost.
In all fairness to Omega, their straps are of a much nicer quality than the average fifteen dollar version. The nylon is a tighter weave, the feel is closer to the smoothness of a new car seat-belt, and the hardware is finished quite nicely too. So I guess that would explain the difference in pricing, and I'm sure that these straps will sell very well once the film is released.

At any rate, I'm all NATO'd up for the time being. With the Submariner, I can leave it on its steel bracelet, when I'm in a Live And Let Die kind of mood, or I can slip the what-is-now-known-as the TrueBond nylon strap through it if I have to plant some plastique explosives on some drums of fuel to blow up some illegal heroin in Cuba in 1964.

Although, given my exciting lifestyle, I'll probably be wearing them when I have to vacuum under the couch or put out the recycling bin every second Thursday.

Either way, I think I've got it covered.

I'll leave you all with one last picture, this one featuring international financier, Arpad Busson, who wears a nice vintage Rolex Submariner on a 'cheap-assed' NATO strap;

Yes. That works. That works very well indeed.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Interesting watch strap trivia. Is there a Russian equivalent to the NATO strap?

    1. Not that I know of, Writel. It's pretty much a universal thing. I'm not even sure why the ZULU strap was invented, except for the fact that it uses a little less nylon.

  2. As my favourite watch is the submariner in stainless - I've never owned one - I thought I'd chip in; after leaving HM's service I owned and ran a Surplus Shop in Brighton for a few years and we had a BAG full of N.A.T.O. straps in grey. The things never bloody sold and went with the stock when I got out of the game. (I kept one in a Man drawer on the 'just in case' principle) Interested to find out a few of the G10 issue watches had Rolex movements; I found a few boxes of them in the back of a stores and was told they were all to be disposed of... they certainly were!. as for Typewriters I inherited two from my late Mum and Dad (He was German) and one had an odd-looking eagle on it and a funnily mismatched key. Anyway, they went the way of all things (Because I'm an idiot) and later I found the typewriter had been made during ze war, de-nazified and the 'SS' key taken off... as for Russian watches, I had a girlfriend for a time, Anna whose Dad was an Officer in their tank divisions (He played a leading part in suppressing the Hungary uprising) and Anna gave me his watch. What a piece of shit. I cannot describe how disappointing soviet watches were. Even the dive watch I scored off one of theirs was bollox and when they could, they got hold of cheap Japanese watches to compensate or older, better watches. Quite a lively trade at the time... anywhat, liking the Blog, feel free to take a squizz at mine;

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for the comments. Yes, if we only knew twenty or thirty years ago how much a Sub would be worth nowadays. I've known a few watch dealers who complained that there was a time when they couldn't even give them away. They're all sadder, but wiser now.

      I'll be adding a link to your blog on my blog, sir. Nice work!

  3. Nice pics as usual! I got my first NATO straps a couple months back and I love 'em. I may have to pick up the grey striped one to work into the rotation before SPECTRE is released.

  4. Got my Spectre NATO strap Thursday for $11! Reading this post last week got me to take the plunge!

    1. Javi, these straps are great. Very comfortable and very durable. Enjoy!