I recently started watching the Bark & Jack videos on YouTube and found myself warming to the content and the professionalism of the presentation. Adrian does a good job of marrying what at times can be quite nerdy topics with a personal approach and the balance appears to be more refined than you see on many other channels. You have Watchfinder for highly professional dives into specifics watches and brands, you have Hodinkee for high level, and sometimes quite patronising, watch discussion, The Urban Gentry for (to be decided what the motives of this man really are) watch thoughts and ArchieLuxury for… well, just stay away from his channel because he is spiralling in a way which is painful to watch.
The Bark & Jack channel seems to be doing its job because I found my way to the website and took at look at the NATO straps on offer. There are only eight options, each at 20 and 22mm, with six seatbelt nylon and two tubular nylon in black, grey, blue and tan. The only other choices are floating or fixed keepers and that’s your lot. It is a very simple layout with minimal thought processing required to choose a strap for your watch, but just maybe it is too professional and a little reserved in terms of colour choices for those who like to really dress up their wrist. Personally, I have learnt that brightly coloured and striped NATOs often cheapen a watch and almost always make you look like you are trying too hard so I suspect that Bark & Jack are on the right side of the fence here.
So, I chose the Grey Seatbelt Nylon in 22mm with floating keepers for my beloved Black Bay Red and waited for it to arrive. The order confirmation was simple, but reassuring and the entire process was as simple as the website itself. And so it duly arrived two days after my purchase.
The wax seal on the envelope is a nice touch, as is the handwritten thank you from Adrian on the tag, and overall it is probably the most professionally and personally packaged strap I have purchased to date, with a monogramed cloth bag topping off what is a decent collection of objects to make the £20.00 feel like a reasonable price.
The NATO itself immediately impressed, possibly because it is the first ‘seatbelt’ one I have purchased to date. I own countless tubular NATOs and so may not have been so impressed out of the box, but this one offered something immediate that I grew to like more once on the wrist.
It is a strange mixture of obviously hard wearing material and comfortability which is exactly how you would want it to be. The softness of the material is immediately apparent as is the visual softness which seems to take in light and absorb it in a way that produces a soft and warm look to the eye. It never dominates the look of the watch on the wrist and appears to compliment whatever style of watch it is attached to. I have tried it on a few watches so far and not once does it dominate at all, and in particular the grey works perfectly with the red of my Black Bay.
This particular NATO is a little different in terms of the furniture and I found the main keepers to be closer to the watch itself than on my other NATO straps I own. Initially I expected this to be a problem because the look felt unusual, but I soon realised that it does a much better job of keeping the Black Bay in place than the other straps. The Black Bay is a deep watch which can jump off the wrist visually, but the Bark & Jack NATO seems to drag it back down to earth and keep everything in a secure environment, which is of course what you want for any expensive watch.
The buckle is superb and perfectly suited to the strap itself. Many manufacturers make the mistake of either adding a buckle that is far too industrial or far too dressy for a NATO, but this one sits in the middle somewhere. I would go as far as to say that this is possibly the best NATO buckle I have ever seen and the square holes ensure that the sense of sturdiness offered by the close keepers is maintained on the underside of the wrist.
Any downsides? Well yes there is one, but it may resolve itself over time. There are different ways in which you can wear a NATO and the traditional way of tucking the strap into the keeper above the watch face is the norm for most people. This looks great on this strap, as seen in the photos, but it is tricky to pull off at first due to the thickness of the material and the depth of the keepers. I suspect, however, that over time the material may soften a little and make this process much easier than when the strap is fresh out of the box. If you want to wear your NATO a different way and put all of the furniture under your wrist (see this Instagram post for how to do this) you may struggle here because of the position of the buckle and keepers. It may be me, but I will persevere and see if I can manage it.
This is the best NATO strap I own and this was largely apparent straight out of the waxed sealed envelope. For all of the nice packaging, which just like a watch box ends up doing little, it is ultimately down to how a product makes you feel and in this case how it works with the watch it is attached to. The Bark & Jack seatbelt NATO is an assured product with no pretensions that suggest it is trying to be something it is not. It is of extremely high quality and offers a huge amount of reassurance on the wrist which you really do not get with the vast majority of NATOs at this price point, and often when priced significantly higher.
I didn’t expect to be so impressed with a NATO strap or to feel about it the way I do, but this is seriously good. It really is and it’s available here.
Full disclosure: I bought this NATO strap from Bark & Jack for the full retail price of £20.00 with no mention that a review would be written about the product upon receipt. I do this for all products I review and will never review a product that is given to me for free or for a discount. The watch world is a strange place and one that is built upon marketing, getting the word out and generally things that do not bear any relation to the actual products themselves. My job is to look at a product and give it a fair assessment, no matter if people get upset about the end result.