A NATO strap is a NATO strap right? That is what I thought and I was very impressed by the Bark & Jack offering that I reviewed recently. It offers decent value for money and I could find few downsides apart from the thickness of the strap and the fact that it was difficult to tuck under the keeper. This has proved to be a bit of a problem over time and does make it difficult to wear, but if you wear your NATO in a specific way it still definitely has merit.
After some discussions with WatchObsession, which came from my selling a watch to them, they sent me two of their NATO straps to try out (for free). Now, I am more than happy to review anything and this includes offering a negative opinion if it is merited. I don’t particularly like the method that most watch reviewers use where they state that they prefer not to review a product if it is poor because that does not benefit anyone. Well, they are wrong because if a product is crap it would benefit the viewer/reader by helping them to avoid the product. To me, it sounds more like ‘keep sending me free stuff and I will be as nice to as many people as I can to get more free stuff!’
Anyway, back to these NATO straps which are both priced at £20 and upon first inspection I could see that they were of decent quality and pretty well constructed, but these words could apply to many NATO straps that are available at similar prices.
In a world where you can buy cheap Chinese NATOs for £5 it can be a difficult sell to ask someone to pay four times the price for what appears at first glance to do the same thing and for many people to ‘be’ the same thing. Just like watches, however, no two products are the same and as many watch people are likened to do with anything watch related, I shall now dig deep into the design and materials used in this particular NATO strap.
My first impressions were, as I said, positive and once I played with them for a few minutes a few parts of the design jumped out. On the grey NATO, that would be a good name for a podcast…, there is a slight shine to the appearance, but not one that is too obvious or which would ever overshadow the watch it is carrying. It somehow manages to reflect the light in certain situations and this creates a pleasing and warm effect which I have rarely seen before. It adds depth to the appearance and thus to the entire strap and perhaps the watch that it is attached to.
The stitching on the edges is particularly clever in that it is looks as though the NATO has been cut, which is the most natural look, but in actual fact it is pretty firm and should ensure that fraying will not occur. Of course I can only confirm this over time, but there is a sense of longevity in these straps which is absent in the majority of the competition.
Aesthetically the stitching is superb; it is consistent throughout, level and symmetrical at all points. Again, this is a common point of failure in many NATO straps and it is pleasing to see so much effort having been put in to the design to ensure that the aesthetics actually have a practical use.
The buckle and the keepers are brushed feel consistent with the NATO material. Crucially, the keepers are able to hold a folder NATO strap with a perfect height to ensure that they are not too night and yet they will stay in place. The buckle has a small ‘W’ to the left which manages to designate the maker while not dominating in any way at all. Would be nice to see such subtlety used on many other products.
I should mention that the strap felt supple straight out of the packaging and it would appear that there needs to be almost no ‘wearing in’ time. This adds to what is already a host of positive features that many would not even consider when building something as simple as a NATO strap.
I am a watch person and I of course can this get excited by the kind of minor details that most others do not. In the case of these NATOs, however, I find myself appreciating the small touches as I have done historically in a well made luxury watch or even in a product like the iPhone. When a product is designed to a point that it fulfils its task without any long term issues, when it is pleasing to the eye and when the minor touches lift it above what you would expect, the end result is extremely satisfying.
It is normal for me to always find a negative in any product, that’s what a good reviewer does, but I simply couldn’t here. And it reached the point where I felt the need to not accept them for free so I just sent a payment to pay for the straps because they really are exceptional.