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  • Writer's pictureTheWristorian

Fabric Strap Quest: When NATO’s go Toe to Toe

When it comes to watches, I am a bracelet guy through and through. So it has been and so too shall it be. Unfortunately, the fly in my particular ointment is the Tudor Pelagos FXD. This is a watch that I don’t currently own but aspire to one day rectify. I was fortunate to be hands-on with a black iteration at the launch event last year in Panama City Beach, Florida and it has been the horological equivalent of an earworm ever since. In anticipation of owning this bracelet-less beauty, I set out on a quest at the beginning of the year to identify the (subjectively) best fabric strap on the market. Four brands entered the wrist coliseum, but only one can emerge the victor.

I have long admired factory NATO straps directly from the Tudor manufacture.The quality always appeared to be unsurpassed, and their marketing for the fabric weaving process was on-point. What could be better than a material woven on a machine over a century old? The history. The intrigue. Like watchmaking itself, it appeals to our inherent desire for something made simply and beautifully in the same fashion it was decades and decades before. Most of us watch collectors are suckers for this type of concept, be it in straps, watches, cars, knives, bags, etc.

My trusty Tudor Pelagos 39 with straps from Tudor, Monstraps and RSM
My trusty Tudor Pelagos 39 with straps from Tudor, Monstraps and RSM

The trick with factory Tudor fabric straps is that they are EXPENSIVE. I’m talking hundreds of dollars per piece if bought individually. In order to make a fair comparison, I set out on a journey to acquire an example of said straps. A little perseverance and a call to my fellow watch brethren on IG yielded not one, but two 22mm Tudor NATO straps. I was able to score a standard black NATO and a camo NATO, which honestly worked out perfectly.

In terms of quality – it is definitely there. These are, hands down, the most robust fabric straps I have handled. I think it is a combination of the tightness of the weave and the quality of the thread. There are holes built into the strap for the springbars to pass through, which is a fantastic feature for the watch they originally accompanied – however – less useful on something like an FXD. The buckle allows the strap to be adjustable and there is an added thickness to the strap due to its multilayer design. Of the four brands compared, the Tudor was the upper echelon, but is one of the trickiest to acquire for a reasonable price. Something to keep in mind on YOUR NATO quest.

Custom destro CWC on a 20mm Tudor Nato

While researching comparators for the aforementioned strap, I came across a brand called “Monstraps”. They offer a slew of different variations ranging from leather and rubber to nylon. Most notably, they have a model called the “Blackbay Adjustable” – which is stylistically similar to what is offered from Tudor, with some key differences. First off, the color options are fantastic. Where Tudor’s variety is quite limited, Monstraps offers a killer range of camo options, including arctic, standard and blue. The latter I was able to get with black hardware and gift to my buddy Tom (@expedition16610) for his custom DLC Tudor FXD.

Expedition 16610's tactical DLC Tudor on Monstraps blue camo

From a clasp perspective, the Blackbay adjustable is almost identical to Tudor’s factory strap, but the feel of the two straps is decidedly different. I would say that the Monstraps offering is much softer and more supply. It is also slightly thinner. It feels as if it trades in some durability in exchange for the supple nature, but it makes for a great, easy-wearing pass-through strap that can still handle a more adventurous lifestyle.

DLC'd Tudor Pelagos MN FXD affectionately called the "Night Mission"

Speaking of durable straps – this shootout wouldn’t be complete with a product from Watches of Espionage (WOE). Everyone’s favorite everyman and super spy has been in the strap game for some time, and I was fortunate to get a couple of the new five eye (FVEY) NATO straps. At $35, these are the most affordable of the lineup, and they are a perfectly fine bit of kit. This may sound sort of underwhelming, but that is not the case at all. They fire on all cylinders and meet all of the demands expected of a solid and reliable fabric strap.

Neo-vintage Tudor greatness on a W.O.E FVEY

The culture of WOE has gained popularity greatly over the past year, and this incognito former caseworker has a penchant for tool watches that translates directly into his merchandise. The pragmatic approach clearly taken results in a comfortable and utilitarian NATO strap that is all but bombproof. It does feel more rugged than the Monstrap, and the color offerings are much more subdued. Overall, the aesthetic perfectly blends with the “use your tools” vision of WOE.

The classic, tan WOE Nato on a Tudor Sub

The fourth and final contender was a bit of a dark horse, and one I only came across somewhat recently at a local Redbar meetup, which I remember due to the unforgettable walrus logo. RSM Watch Straps is a relative newcomer to the scene, but what they lack in history they make up for in ingenuity. I was able to get hands on with their silk NATO, which is actually the closest to the factory Tudor strap in terms of feel on-wrist. Being tightly woven silk, the colors are vivid each example is reversible, which effectively makes for two straps in one. It was a little challenging for me to get the strap reversed and woven through the clasp, but after figuring it out, it became much easier. I will say that the silk, though not quite as supple as I had expected, is soft and the most luxe feeling of the tested straps. For $180, this is expected and these rival the cost of a Tudor strap at retail. One thing to keep in mind with this silk strap is that it must follow one the classic rules of caring for a Mogwai – do not get it wet.

The RSM silk nato matched perfectly with this Breitling Aerospace

Where the silk strap is extremely niche – RSM also offers cotton and polyester materials which are far more wallet-friendly. They are more akin to the offerings from WOE – they serve a purpose and they do it well. One particular facet of RSM offerings is that their camo strap features a cool, aged looking buckle and metal cover over the end of the NATO, which gives it some post-apocalyptic, dystopian charm. Paired with the correct watch, I could definitely see it being a go-to choice.

I supposed what I learned from this exercise is that we, as watch enthusiasts, are spoiled for choice. Get one of each and go crazy – or close your eyes and blindly pick one of the four. It obviously comes down to budget, day-to-day lifestyle and personal preference at the end of the day. All things being equal, these four brands combine offer everything needed and more in the way of fabric straps. When I do finally decide to get my FXD, I think the Tudor factory NATO will be a workhorse of a strap and a constant with that watch. That being said, I have already found homes for some of the other fabric straps on other watches in my collection. My musings aside – I encourage you to check out each brand mentioned here and take those steps on your own quest for the perfect fabric strap.

Leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite NATO strap is. Always love to hear from fellow collectors and I appreciate you taking the time to read.

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