We review a lot of watches at WRUK, but we also cover other watch-related items. This month, we were asked to take a look at a new range of NATO straps from a British company. Are Armilla NATO straps worth the premium price?
A Week on the Wrist – Armilla NATO Straps
I’ve collected watches for many years now and I’ve bought a huge number of straps in that time. Some have been to replace broken or cheap straps on existing watches, others have been to change up the look of a watch. A new strap can add a whole new lease of life to a watch, and completely change the way it looks and feels. One type of strap that is now starting to gain traction in the mainstream is the “NATO”.
What is a NATO strap?
A normal watch strap is in two parts. One part has the buckle and the other has holes. To change a watch strap, you release a sprung pin from either side of the watch and then replace both pieces (we have a guide to changing a watch strap if you haven’t done this before). NATO straps are different. With a NATO, you thread it through the spring pins on the watch, which remain in place. This means that changing a NATO is as simple as threading it out and threading a new one in. Here’s a video I found on Youtube that shows you how to do so:
The NATO strap is more correctly called a G10 and it was developed for military use. It is a hard-wearing strap that fits onto the watch in such a way that if a spring bar pops off the watch, the watch head does not fall off the wrist. They are long enough to fit over thick clothing or a diver’s suit, and they are resistant to the elements and easy to replace. Nowadays you don’t just see them on military and dive watches, but also on dress watches such as the popular Daniel Wellington series of fashion watches.
How are Armilla NATO straps better than cheap straps?
Your bog-standard NATO strap is made of thin nylon. I’ve had dozens of these, and they are great because they are so cheap they are almost disposable. You can buy cheap NATO straps from eBay for about a pound each, giving you an endless choice of different looks. The downside of these straps is that they are really thin, and can cut into your wrist. The hardware is very cheap and so the buckles and retainers have a habit of failing. The cheapest are heat sealed, not stitched, so if they fail they cannot be repaired. For the price this is not an issue, but would you want to lose an expensive watch for the sake of a cheap strap?
Armilla NATO Straps Review
Armilla sent four straps for review. Two 20mm and two 22mm ones. The four-pack comes in a really nice box – which admittedly would probably end up in the recycle bin for most people – but which could be used as a home for those straps not mounted onto watches.
The straps they sent me to review represent each of their four colours: Military Grey, Green Moss, Khaki Field and Ice Blue. I tend to wear plain black NATOs so it was a little disappointing not to have a “fits with everything” option, but you should find a match for most watches amongst the collection.
Armilla NATO straps are upgraded from regular NATOs in a number of ways. First, the nylon is thicker than usual at 1.4mm, which gives them better longevity. Secondly, the edges are stitched in such a way to prevent the strap from cutting into your wrist. A ballistic weave makes them feel “premium” – they are silky smooth to the touch. The hardware is all upgraded and the buckle feels a lot stronger than a regular NATO. Finally, all the hardware is stitched in and not just heat sealed. I would expect these NATOs to last a lot longer than a cheap strap from eBay and they feel a lot more suitable to be fitted to a high-end watch. Usefully, these NATOs come in 18mm, 20mm, 22mm and 24mm widths. 18mm, of course, being suitable for vintage style watches such as our favourite the Seagull 1963!
Mounted on a watch, I really could tell the difference between these straps and a regular, cheap NATO. Wrist feel is far better, with none of the “cutting” that prevents me from wearing ordinary NATOs very often, and the relatively neutral colours made the strap look good even on my bold-coloured Deep Blue NATO Diver watch! The downside was that because the straps are so thick, on something as bulky as the Deep blue it added a lot of thickness to the watch, and the “tuck” on the 12 O’clock side was more pronounced than usual, although the floating keeper is large enough to fit the strap through it felt a bit odd.
I’d be worried about cutting these straps down, whereas with a cheap NATO I’d happily cut it between two 1p coins and seal it with a lighter. Other people I showed the straps two said they actually prefer the extra bulk so it’s horses for courses, I guess!
What I Liked
- They really feel “premium”. Thick and silky smooth, like you would expect to find on a high-end watch – and they won’t cut into your skin like an eBay special!
- The hardware is significantly better than that on cheap NATOs and even most more expensive “seatbelt NATO” straps.
- These are the first NATOs I have used that felt like a legitimate “permanent” strap choice and not a temporary measure.
What I Didn’t Like
- Like all NATO straps, these are longer than usual, but they are not as easy to cut down as a regular NATO and tucking them in adds a lot of bulk
- The thickness beneath the watch – which is an issue for me with all NATO straps – is far greater thanks to the 1.4mm thickness. It makes large watches feel more unbalanced and bulky than a one or two-piece strap.
- There are only four colour choices, and “plain black” is not one of them, so they may not suit the watch collector who wants a strap that can fit several watches in their collection.
Armilla NATO Straps – the WRUK Verdict
The big question is, are Armilla NATO straps worth the £19 asking price? Yes, you can buy similar “seatbelt NATOs” from eBay for less than £10 but they tend to still have cheap and flimsy buckles, so these Armilla NATO straps are worth the premium price to me. I’ve ordered two 18mm straps for my personal collection, so take that as the WRUK seal of approval!
These straps are a means to an end for the fledgeling British company: When Armilla releases its next range they will use 1mm British nylon and include a two-piece option that will resolve my concerns about the excessive thickness. They also have a special clasp design that will really mark them out from the crowd. I look forward to seeing the final designs.
Buy Armilla NATO Straps
Until the end of October, you can get Armilla NATO straps from their Indiegogo campaign page. This is the cheapest way to get your hands on them as by buying a pack of two or four straps, you get a discounted price and free postage. You can also order straps from Armilla’s own website if you prefer.