The Military History Behind the Apple Watch’s New Straps
Apple events are always preceded by rumors. In the weeks leading up to today’s event in Cupertino, one heavily circulated rumor had to do with new interchangeable bands for the Apple Watch. Specifically, NATO-style nylon bands.
The rumors were true—sort of. Apple showed off a line of bands that it’s calling Woven Nylon. The new straps ($49 each) come in two sizes and seven colorways: gold/red, gold/royal blue, royal blue, pink, pearl, scuba blue, and black. Apple’s product page says the bands are “made from over 500 threads woven together,” and that “monofilaments”—single strands of fabric— “connect four layers of the weave.” At a glance, these bands look dense.
They’re also, technically, not NATO straps. Woven nylon straps date to the early 1970’s, when the British Ministry of Defense began making them for soldiers. (The term “NATO strap” is a misnomer: the bands are more accurately called G10 straps, nicknamed for the G1098 form soldiers had to fill out to get one.) The straps needed to be as utilitarian as possible, so the design featured one looped, adjustable piece of nylon that snaked underneath the watch. If one of the spring bars on the watch broke, the NATO band wouldn’t fall off. They work like this:
Apple’s Woven Nylon bands don’t come with that kind of failsafe—if they did, the bands would cover up sensors on the underside of the Watch. That would be dumb. No, Apple went with two-piece bands that clasp together via a traditional buckle. Still, it’s easy to see why Apple wants to channel, if not replicate, a design once made for soldiers, pilots, and astronauts. “The whole point of [NATO straps] was to be cheap and effective,” says Ariel Adams, editor-in-chief of A Blog to Watch. Like cargo pants and olive drab parkas, NATO straps remained popular among those who prefer a certain practical, rugged aesthetic. Later, Adams says, they became popular in Southeast Asian countries, where the humid climate would ruin leather watch bands. Apple’s customers surely have similar needs. Right now, the company’s only option for a casual, weather-proof strap is its fluoroelastomer silicone band, which has a distinct I’m heading to the gym and counting my steps kind of aesthetic.
Plus, more recently, high-end watchmakers like Omega and Tudor have released their own NATO-style straps. “NATO straps make a comeback,” it even says on Omega’s site. “It’s trend chasing by the big brands—Apple included,” Adams says. “Apple has been pushing that the Apple Watch is the timepiece for this era. So they’re trying all the trends people would associate with traditional watches, with the Apple Watch.” In that light, the Woven Nylon band is the perfect counter-option for customers that may also consider a $1,250 Hermès Apple Watch strap.
“People love changing the bands,” Tim Cook said during today’s presentation, by way of explaining the new accessories (and, you know, pitching the crowd on the Apple Watch’s relevancy). By Apple’s estimation, he says, one-third of Apple Watch wearers regularly change the bands. Now hungry customers have one more way to do that.
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