The History of the NATO Watch Strap – Nato Straps in the Great War (WWI) era

HISTORY INTRODUCTION OF NATO WATCH STRAP

Some would argue that the NATO watch strap history did not exist in WWI, but in fact, their grandfather straps were in existence prior to, and after, WWI.   The DNA for NATO wrist straps was well developed by the end of WWI.

The development and history of NATO watch strap are part of the evolution of the military watch. Watches were a critical requirement for military manoeuvres and the wristwatch was essentially spawned, and became prevalent, in WWI.

We take the availability of the correct time for granted, but in 1914 things were very different. A 1000 man battalion of the British Expeditionary Force in WWI would have had only eight GS (General Service) pocket watches issued. One to the Signalling Sergeant and the others to be shared among 16 Signallers.  Officers were not equipped with pocket watches by the Army but were required to provide these themselves, and often they chose watches with wristlets. Coordinating operations in these circumstances would have been difficult.

The H. Williamson watch below was one GS issue. These watches were retrospectively designated GS watches in July 1929 when the GS MkII watch was introduced, and they were declared obsolete. Few, if any, were engraved GS; rather they carried the pheon and an inventory number.

Williamson: NATO Watch Strap History

Because of the lack of what proved to be an essential item in the trenches, contemporary advertisements urged family and friends at home to send a watch or wristlet watch to the front, as in the advertisement below for Waltham wristlets in silver cases, which says “So send me the very best you can buy…”

Waltham
Image credit MWR forum user: bobbee

The first consistent use of the word wristwatch in newspapers was in 1915, and prior to that the word wristlet was more commonly used to distinguish wristlets from pocket watches and to describe leather pocket watch straps.

In the 1916 book entitled “Knowledge for War,” the recommended Officer’s Kit commenced with a luminous wrist watch with unbreakable glass.

 

This article traces the roots of the military development of the NATO watch strap history from the leather wristlet.

PRE WWI

Below is a 1901 advertisement for wristlets “For the Tourist, the Bicyclist, the Soldier”. The use of wristlets had developed in the late 1880’s, and these and bracelets were more common for ladies watches, but to tell the time on a bicycle with a pocket watch would have been difficult. This led to the use of wristlets for pocket watches, to be used by men and women when on a bicycle.

The 1893 advertisement from Henry Wood and Co in London shows that the habit of clipping a pocket watch to the bicycle was fraught with danger.

Woods,1893 ad

Image courtesy MWR forum user: bobbee

The 1890’s development of the bicycle into a safe form of transport led to a bicycle craze in America which peaked in 1896 and was then exported to Europe.  In this era before motor vehicles, the New York Tribune in 1895 asserted that the bicycle was “of more importance to mankind than all the victories and defeats of Napoleon, with the First and Second Punic Wars . . . thrown in.”

Wristlets

Wristlets could be bought in a variety of leather types, as in the 1901 advertisement above.   The pocket watch strap above is a Garstin type strap.

The Elfina advertisement from 1896 below shows a ladies bicycling watch in a looped pouch, in effect a leather lugged watch.    For extra security, this style of strap only required one lug at the base of the pocket watch.

Elfina

An Omega advertisement from 1911 shows a wire lugged watch with a leather pull-through strap.  Some of the early bracelet watches had the crown at 9 o’clock as shown in the advertisement.   Outdoor activities and the army were targets of the advertisement.

omega 1911: NATO Watch Strap History

Omega 1910: NATO Watch Strap History

A 1910 Omega with the crown at 9 o’clock, marked depose 9846 is shown below the advertisement.  Dimier Frères & Cie patented watches with handles on 29 July 1903.  It was deposed (patent number) CH9846.   The patent showed a strap identical to that in the advertisement.

The advertisement below shows a leather pull-through strap on a watch with lugs.

The New "Territorial" Wrist Watch: NATO Watch Strap History

THE GARSTIN AND OTHER WRISTLETS

The wristlet shown in the 1901 advertisement history above is similar to the current NATO watch strap. However, a further refinement by Garstin increased the likeness.

The leather goods retailer Arthur Garstin registered the design below with the British Board of Trade. The date of registration of this wristlet design RD 217622 was 2 September 1893, but the wristlet would have been in production prior to this.   The strap B passed through the eyelet A to hold the pocket watch in place by lifting up the backing strap.

 

Whether the design stemmed from the development of the safety bicycle, or from use by the British Empire forces in India or on the Northwest Frontier between 1885 and 1887 is unclear.

 

Gartskin

The case inside was embossed REG 217622, sometimes with GARSTIN ENGLAND as well.
Garstin Strap: NATO Watch Strap History
The strap came in various sizes, depending on the watch size, and a large 3 and a half-inch model is shown below.
Garstin strap: NATO Watch Strap History
A side elevation of the Garstin strap is shown below.

Gartsin: NATO Watch Strap History

This model does not contain a compass as in the RD 217622 drawing above, and the centre of the strap of the watch holder is embossed AG in the centre.   The case is 1 and 7/8 inches across and the strap 8 and 1/2 inches long, with the buckle at 6 o’clock.
Gartsin: NATO Watch Strap History
Garstin strap: NATO Watch Strap History
The compass model is referred to as Registered No. 94794 in the advertisement below together with a smaller ladies wristlet RD 70068.
Gartsin

The new tennis scorer was also registered 20058 on 2 October 1893, but obviously proved unpopular, and has disappeared without a trace.

The ladies wristlet, RD 70068 bottom left in the advertisement above, is shown below.  In this design, the strap has a pouch which holds the watch to a backing strap.

GARSTIN: NATO Watch Strap History

 

Below is an 1893 advertisement for the “Skirmisher” by Mappin Brothers.  It features a Garstin type wristlet with a wider strap.   The backing leather extends from where the pouch is sewn on, to the buckle.   After the first Boer War, the watch was no longer necessary for officers to time troop movements, so it could be used for hunting, yachting, and cycling,……

Mappin Garstin wristlet

The second Boer war (1899-1902) contributed to pocket watches being used in a leather pouch worn on the wrist.

The 1901 Mappin and Webb’s advertisement for the ‘Campaign’ watch followed on from the Skirmisher advertisement.  Mounted in a Garstin type wristlet, the advertisement below urged family and friends at home to send a solid leather wristlet watch to the front.  It read “Delivered at the front duty and postage free for an additional 1 s. (shilling) each.”

 

Mappin & Webb's: NATO Watch Strap History

1901 Mappin and Webb’s advertisement in the “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News” 7 September 1901.  “Reliable timekeeper under the roughest conditions”.

Below is an Omega advertisement for a military safety watch with a leather strap which will “hold and protect the watch during the roughest riding and most violent exercise.” The watch was in a pouch held by a press stud so that the watch could be removed from the wrist without removing the strap.  Omega used the term wrist watch, but this did not fall into common use. The  “6” size wristlet was for men, and the “O” size wristlet was for ladies.

Omega boer: NATO Watch Strap History

 

Following on from the Boer War, leading into WWI other manufacturers also produced leather wristlets.

Nurses and automobiling were additional to cycling and general use as wristlet targets.

eatons garstin

Image courtesy of Watchuseek user : AbslomRob

Above is an advertisement by the Canadian department store Eaton from 1908.  At the turn of the century they often used Waltham watch movements as their in house brand. The wristlet was aimed at “nurses, automobiling, cycling and general use”, not the military.   The design was an adaption of the Garstin design with a wider strap passing through a slot, holding down the pouch, and the buckle at 6 o’clock. Wristlets were available in hide for 25 cents, pig skin 35 cents, seal or morocco leather 50 cents, or alligator or walrus for 75 cents.

THE DIMIER STRAP

There has been much debate and controversy about the date and make of the first wrist watch. Certainly in 1890 in Switzerland wrist watches were themselves causing debate. The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade Division, wrote to the authorities for assay of articles of gold and silver concerning wrist watches:

“Berne, January 10, 1890.

Gentlemen,
The question we were asked was whether and on what conditions wrist-watches may be subject to hallmarking; this question requires detailed study due to the fact that objects of this kind are at different times categorised as objects of jewellery and as objects of watchmaking, and that these two categories of objects are, regarding hallmarking, subject to different requirements.

We have the matter under review; at such time as it is completed we will let you know the decisions we have taken to address the issue. In the meantime, we have asked the control authorities to cease hallmarking (this applies to both at the present time):
a. watch cases destined to be mounted in bracelets;
b. bracelets which it would be possible to attach to watch cases after their passage through control.”

However, whether hallmarked or not, it is certain that a wristwatch design with wire lugs was patented by Dimier Frères & Cie (called watches with handles) on 29 July 1903.  It was deposed (patent number) CH9846.  At the same time, they illustrated a leather strap with a circular midsection to fit behind the watch.    The crown of the watch in the illustration is at 12 o’clock.

Dimier strap
Image courtesy: David Boettcher of Vintage Watch Straps

This design required the buckle to be sewn into the strap after fitting to the watch. To avoid this, a special buckle, which they later registered in 1907, had to be fitted to the strap after it was threaded in each direction through the wire lugs of the watch.

Depolier: NATO Watch Strap History

Below is a depose 9846 enamel dial wire lug watch, hallmarked history dated to 1905, with the movement marked DF&C (Dimier Freres et Cie), with the crown at 9 o’clock and an open-ended leather NATO watch strap.

dimier 1905: NATO Watch Strap History

The Elgin wrist watch (heading) or strap watch (text) advertisement from 1913 shows a Dimier strap and buckle on an Elgin watch, designed for active men.

Elgin Disbrow
The Dimier RD 499803 buckle can be fitted to any strap after the strap is threaded through the wire lugs of a watch.
Dimier buckle
Image courtesy: David Boettcher of Vintage Watch Straps
Below is a Dimier buckle on a Rolex ladies watch of 1915.
Dimier strap Rolex ladies watch: NATO Watch Strap History
The Dimier strap and buckle are also featured in this 1913 Omega advertisement with a fixed wire lug watch.

omega Dimier: NATO Watch Strap History

In this 1917 Omega advertisement, the widening of the Dimier strap behind the watch can be seen.  The watches are encased in a hermetic box (still labelled depose 9846) for protection and feature a radium option for an extra 12 to 15 francs.

Omega 1917Omega 1917 advert: NATO Watch Strap History

 

Below is the watch in the advertisement above, case stamped depose 9846.

Omega depose 9846: NATO Watch Strap History
Image courtesy Omega forum member: Tire-comedon

By the time of WWI, there were patents for both wristlets, and wire lugs (watches with handles), and the history of the seed had been sown for the future NATO watch strap, but the use of watches on the wrist, although popularised by the 1990’s bicycle craze was not common, especially among men.

Below is an extract from the Swiss Federation Horlogere bulletin No. 103 of 31 December 1924 which shows that in the first 11 months of 1913, the year before WWI, 11.27 million pocket watches were exported from Switzerland, and in addition 210,404 wrist watches (montres bracelets) were exported.    Watches with wrist bands were only 1.6% of the Swiss export production.

This small percentage of the finished watch market ignores the fact that another 2.18 million watch cases were also exported, for other manufacturers to add movements.

Swiss watch exports 1913

WWI led to the more prevalent use of watches on the wrist.

WWI ERA POCKET WATCH STRAPS

At the time of WWI, wrist watches were de rigueur street wear in London if the Macy’s wristlet watch advertisement of 1912 is to be believed.   They were soon to be required in great numbers for a monumental outdoor activity, but in truth, virtually only pocket watches existed at the time of WWI.

Macy's 1912 advert: NATO Watch Strap History

THE LEATHER WRISTLET

Below is a Garstin pouch, which was typical of the way in which pocket watches were used in WWI.   The 579D specification below is virtually identical.

Garstin pouch: NATO Watch Strap History

Some pocket watches were issued to troops, and in recognition of the need for these to be worn on the wrist, in 1916 a military specification was developed based on the Garstin strap, for what became history by the end of the war as a watch strap.  Made of pig skin 11 inches long and 1/2 inch wide, tan in colour, with a hinged brass circular holder 1 and a half inches diameter, with sheepskin inside, and pigskin glued on the outside, with a black oxidised brass buckle.  The buckle was at 6 o’clock.

The Official Specification for Movements, Cases and Straps, General Specification 579D, of 24 October 1916 read :

“6 Wristlet – A wristlet shall be furnished with each watch.  This wristlet shall be made of single-ply genuine pigskin and shall be of the dimensions and made up as shown upon drawing.”

The first version in the history of the NATO watch strap had been specified by the US military.

Wristlet drawing

Image credit MWR forum user: bobbee

Below is a pouch strap which had a shrapnel guard to protect the watch face, and a leather pouch to help hold the watch and guard in place.  The pouch is removable, and together with its contents is effectively a leather lugged pocket watch, as seen in the 1896 cycling advertisement above.

Kitchener with shrapnel guardShrapnel guard

Image courtesy Vintage Watch Forums user: Findingtime

western leather pouch

Above is a leather lugged pocket watch converter made by the Western Leather Manufacturing Co. of San Francisco.

THE DAPTABEL

The Daptabel, patent 22449/10 by John Smith for an “expanding watch wristlet”, was a conversion device to allow pocket watches to be worn on the wrist.  While various concertina type devices existed prior to the patent in 1910, this was a simple two-part strap which allowed 2 metal hooks to slide and grip a pocket watch as the strap was buckled up.   The strap was 21cm long, and the buckle was at 6 o’clock. Daptabel was stamped on the cross member in either capitals or script, and patent 22449/10 was stamped on the tongue.

Below is a similar sprung conversion device, perhaps a variant of the Daptabel.

Daptabel
Image courtesy: Chris Balm

 

THE ALLEN

Charles Allen on 18 September 1918 patented a watch holder for pocket watches.  The NATO watch strap is shown schematically in the history patent below.

Charles Allen converter

THE ROSENTHAL

The Rosenthal watch wristlet clip was a later US patent, from 6 November 1917, similar to the Daptabel clip.   As wrist watches developed, this patent was not too late to be of commercial value, for as can be seen from the table at the start of this article, even in 1924, the Swiss export statistics for finished watches, showed wrist watches had only climbed to 37% of the market.

Rosenthal

 

 

OTHER CONVERTERS

In 1909 Blacklock registered a bakelite converter which fitted over a pocket watch. A similar metal converter is shown below, allowing a strap to be passed through the lugs.

Metal pocket watch converter

Other unknown brand converters existed, a spring loaded clamp being shown below.

Clamp converter

 

THE WIRE LUG WATCH

Dimier Frères & Cie patented watches with handles on 29 July 1903 in depose (patent number) CH9846.  The subsequent Omega wire lugged watch with the crown at 9 o’clock (in section “Pre WWI” above), and the Waltham advertisement below which shows a wire lug watch with a two-part webbing strap riveted into place, and the crown of the watch at 3 o’clock, indicating that wire lugs were not a design afterthought by about 1910.

Waltham
Image courtesy MWR forum user: ScoutMedic

 

Ingersoll had the capacity to manufacture large numbers of wrist watches and advertised these from 1909 onwards.  Their name wrist watch did not catch on immediately.  The advertisement below in 1913 is targeted for “outdoor folks” and “husky sportsmen”. Also, they state “Uncle Sam endorses and recommends the wrist watch for his army and navy.”

ingersoll

A typical officer’s pocket watch was the Mappin and Webb’s Campaign watch as seen already above.   Now, in 1914, it was a trench watch, which was essentially a pocket watch with wire lugs, but with the crown at 3 o’clock, and was still sold to the public with delivery to the front available for an extra shilling.   The dial is signed MAPPIN and “CAMPAIGN”.

NATO watch strap history
Image courtesy: the-saleroom.com
Mappin and Webb
The advertisement refers to the desert reliability of the watch following the Battle of Omdurman (2 September 1898), where an army commanded by General Sir Herbert Kitchener defeated the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, and also similar reliability in the trying conditions of the last (second) Boer War.
Wire lug watches could be used with straight one-piece leather pull-through straps, or open-ended two-piece straps clipped or riveted on, but the lugs were often quite narrow at about 12mm, and the watch tended to twist easily on the wrist.   Some straps were flared from the wire lug to provide a more stable width.    Another solution was to rivet a narrow strap through the lugs to a wider strap, as seen below on this 1915 Stockwell watch with shrapnel protector.
Stockwell
Image courtesy: goldsmithworks.com
Other solutions were sought to supplement the leather pull-through strap, and to make quick fitting two-piece straps.  The folded metal clip for an open strap was common, below seen on an A.L.D. Dennison watch.
ALD Dennison
.
leather
Image courtesy watchuseek forum user: sigcollector
Open-ended two-piece leather straps were often riveted into place or held with fold-over leather tabs as shown above so that they could be easily replaced on the wire lugs.  The bottom NATO watch strap above became known in history as the Kitchener style, adding a backing which provided width to the pull-through strap, and protection to the watch case.
Goldsmiths - NATO watch strap history
Image courtesy: Goldsmithworks.com
One of the most elegant solutions to the open-ended two-piece leather strap is the silver clip shown above on a silver hunter cover Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Ltd watch with a dust cover and glass protector.
Marvin SA
Another solution was the screw in retainer as on this 1914 George Stockwell cased Marvin SA watch.
However, these clips were not robust, and leather was not the best material for straps in the terrible sodden and frozen conditions of trench warfare, and many military solutions focussed on waterproofed webbing for straps.

WWI ONE PIECE STRAPS

A variety of designs were produced for one-piece leather and webbing straps suitable for trench warfare.   These are discussed below, with most webbing straps focussing on a patent sliding clasp of some sort. Eyelet holes were difficult to position in webbing.

THE PERSHING STRAP

The Pershing strap was the simplest design. It was a 9/16 inch wide olive drab waterproof webbing pull-through strap which had a crimped metal tip and a patented buckle.  This buckle made the strap infinitely adjustable, without the need for eyelets in the webbing.

Pershing
The detail of the sliding patented buckle is shown below.

Pershing

THE STEVEL WRISTLET

Many Zenith wristwatches were sold during WWI by Birch & Gaydon under their brand name “Land & Water”. The black dial watch below was “built to stand the jars and jolts inseparable from the conditions of modern warfare” and had a screw-in case for dust and waterproofing.     A Stevel Wristlet was fitted, which “Fits all wrists – slender or stout. No straps buckles or other inconveniences.  Enables the watch to be slipped up the arm at wash time, or turned face downwards thus doing away with face protectors.”  Again the watch was called a wrist watch.
Birch and Glaydon
While twisting is seen as a virtue above, this was on an elasticised nickel strap, and generally, accidental twisting was an inconvenience.  The so-called Kitchener strap prevented this twisting with a leather backing piece.  Because of the vulnerability of the elasticised strap, no known examples of this strap exist today.
Nickel expansion straps were more common in the postwar period as the lug width of watches increased.

THE KITCHENER STRAP

The Kitchener strap provided a wide backing to the 12mm pull-through strap, and this was a very popular solution to prevent both sliding and twisting and to provide some isolation for the watch.   Below is a Hirsch advertisement which shows the styles.

Kitchener

Below is an Illinois Kitchener watch advertisement from 1917.

Kitchener

Leather Kitchener (and Bund) style watches were common throughout WWI, continuing to the present, and could be easily produced by any saddler.

Although not the subject of this article, this style was also the grandfather of the NATO Bund strap NSN 6645-12-145-6415.

ONE PIECE INFINITELY ADJUSTABLE STRAPS

In America, WWI led to a number of patented one-piece straps for wire lug watches.   The strap was looped over one wire lug, passed through the other lug, and then tightened and clipped into place.   This allowed an infinite range of adjustment.  The “D-D” No Fuss Strap is discussed first, as it is the most widely advertised model.

THE ‘NO FUSS’ STRAP

Depollier produced a “D-D” Khaki Watch, with a Waltham movement, and a “No Fuss” Ordinance Department webbing strap in mid-1917.  D-D stood for C.L. Depollier and E. C. Duncuff.  The watch strap could be adjusted to any size as it had a patented clamp (July 25, 1916).    The clamp was removable and could be engraved as shown in the advertisement below. In history by 1918, the NATO watch strap width had increased to 3/4 inch, which both reduced twisting, and also allowed more room for engraving on a wider clasp.

Khaki

The perceived benefits of the “No Fuss” strap are explained below.   These would apply to any similar looped strap.  (The B-Uhr watch issued in WWII had a looped leather strap to prevent accidentally dropping the watch).

no fuss

The strap also came in leather and silk.
DepolierDepolier
More commonly, it was used on webbing, and below is a Waltham version of the watch.
Depollier khaki: NATO Watch Strap History
Image courtesy MWR forum user: Mr.D
no fuss: NATO Watch Strap History no fuss: NATO Watch Strap History

The “No Fuss” clasp is shown above.  It was removable as seen in the top advertisement, and fitted into the loop of a replacement strap.     The strap was Cravenette treated (a waterproof process invented by the Bradford Dyers Association) webbing and cost 35 cents to replace, the same price as a leather strap.

 

The Khaki Strap: NATO Watch Strap History

THE SIMPLEX STRAP

The Simplex strap was quite simple, an S-shaped clasp made it the only military strap with a one-piece buckle.  Pulled tight and clipped on, it allowed the strap to fit any wrist.

Simplex: NATO Watch Strap History

THE LIBERTY STRAP

The Liberty Khaki quick action strap came on Gruen military watches.  The thin slider could be passed through the wire lugs and once the webbing strap was looped on one wire lug, it could be pulled tight and used to make any watch fit tightly.

Liberty: NATO Watch Strap HistoryLiberty Khaki Strap: NATO Watch Strap History

THE J.F. STURDY STRAP

The US fastener by J.F. Sturdy and Sons is shown below left, probably having survived the war because of the gold plating.  The NATO watch strap could be fitted to any watch in history, and the US tab fitted into the horns of the slider, providing infinite adjustment.

JF Sturdy: NATO Watch Strap History

JF Sturdy: NATO Watch Strap History

 

Left-hand Image courtesy Vintage Watch Forum user: Literustyfan, Right-hand image courtesy : Stricklandvintagewatches.com

Below is a 1918 Patria watch in a Fahys shrapnel case, with a J.F. Sturdy and Sons strap.

 

US slider strap: NATO Watch Strap HistoryJF Sturdy strap: NATO Watch Strap History

Images courtesy: Stricklandvintagewatches.com

THE VICTOR SENCE STRAP

Patent 8 October 1918 no US1280877 for a wrist watch fastening by Victor Simon Sence states :

My invention relates to fastening means for the loops or bands used to secure wrist watches upon the person of the wearer and presents a simple, readily detachable and adjustable device for holding the free end of the band which is usually looped around the wearers-wrist, passed through an ear upon the watch case and then doubled back for attachment to an intermediate portion of said band.

A device of this character must be easily and quickly attachable and detachable by the free hand of the wearer, and easily-adjustable to wrists of different sizes. It should also be simple and free from moving parts which would be apt to break or get out of adjustment under conditions existing on a battle front. My present invention attains these objects and certain, advantages hereinafter to be set out.

Sence

 

This had a cam like action to clamp the strap end to the slider, to provide infinite adjustment.

THE STRONGHOLD STRAP

The Stronghold strap, a July 16 1918 patent, was able to be attached instantly without fuss or bother, as the clasp had 2 hooks for attaching it to the watch strap,  and is another variation of the press-fit strap.

Bugbee and niles patent

 

The press fit clasp is shown below and presses onto 2 horns mounted on a slider.

Stronghold
Stronghold clasp: NATO Watch Strap HistoryStronghold strap: NATO Watch Strap History

Image courtesy Stan Czubernat: LRFAntiqueWatches.com

THE WALTHAM BRACELET

The Waltham bracelet is shown below on a Waltham Cadet watch which had punched stainless lugs.

This NATO watch strap could be looped through one lug, and the clasp hooked onto a slider.  The advertisement dates to 1922, so this bracelet may never have featured in WWI.   Again, it is but a slight variation on the J.F. Sturdy strap.

Waltham

NATO Watch Strap HistoryWaltham: NATO Watch Strap History

Image courtesy Watchuseek user: Literustyfan

THE PERSON STRAP

A. Person patented a buckle on 20 November 1917 for a hinged clasp on a sliding strap.

Person patent
The Fahey integrated shrapnel protection watch case came with a Person strap buckle which clipped over lugs protruding from the sides of the slider.

faheysFaheys

 

Image courtesy: Stricklandvintagewatches.com

Waltham

A Waltham with a shrapnel protector on a Person buckle strap.

Hamilton 981
A 1919 advertisement for a Hamilton 981 watch on a Person Khaki strap.

 

A SLIDING CLIP

This clip slid over two horns locking it into place.

WWi strap
Image courtesy: Stricklandvintagewatches.com

 

Another sliding clip is shown below on a woven strap fitted to an early watch with handles, still with the crown at 12 o’clock.

sliding clipsliding clip

 

THE CLIMAX/VICTOR STRAP

E.J. Pearson and Sons became the largest strap maker in England.  The registered design number 529337 with the British Board of Trade on 27 August 1908.  The design is below.  A range of names in history, Simplex, Climax, Victor, and Premier were used for various versions of the NATO watch strap.

Victor

Image courtesy: David Boettcher of Vintage Watch Straps
Simplex strap
The design was a simpler version of the Dimier strap, with a pocket watch size back flap (a) and a pull through strap (b) holding the watch in place.
Below is a 1913 advertisement for Monnin, Rebetez watch on a Pearson strap with the watch having swinging lugs.
monnin: NATO watch strap history
Image courtesy MWR forum user: bobbee
This type of strap was simple and popular and is shown below on a  Jean Finger hermetic case of about 1922.  The Jean Finger patent of 1921 and the earlier Gruen patent of 1918 were essentially a means of putting a pocket watch into a sealed screw down lugged case on a strap to protect it from dust and moisture. The Omega advertisement from 1917 above also shows a hermetic case.
Pearson strapJean Finger case
The patented Simplex strap is shown below. This strap has “Reg No” stamped in the middle of the back of the flared section, with “SIMPLEX” in a curve above and the number 529337 in a curve below.
SIMPLEX 529337
An example in the British Museum is strapped to a wire lugged Ingersoll Midget, which still has the crown at 12 o’clock.
Simplex 529337
Courtesy  BM collection, item number: 1983,1012.153.
The back of a Climax strap is shown below.  It is similar to the Simplex, but is cut leather, without stitching, and is shown on an original black dial Ingersoll Midget with shrapnel guard.
Climax strap: NATO Watch Strap HistoryClimax strapVictor
This strap has “Reg No” stamped in the middle of the back of the flared section, with “CLIMAX” in a curve above and the number 529337 in a curve below, together with MADE IN ENGLAND.
Below is a Climax strap being fitted with an Army Wrist Watch Protector, in a 1916 advertisement.   The back flared section held part of the protector in place.
On the same day as for the above registration, E.J. Pearson and Sons also registered the earlier design number 529336 for a Victor strap, which had the back flap (a) the same width as the strap.    Straps read “Reg No” or “Rd No” 529336 “VICTOR” sometimes with MADE IN ENGLAND.
victor strap: NATO Watch Strap History
Victor: NATO Watch Strap History
Victor strap 529336
The most common surviving E.J. Pearson and Sons strap is the Victor strap, shown in full length below.  The similarity to the current NATO nylon strap is obvious.
Victor: NATO Watch Strap History

 

Victor strap with a sprung Daptabel adaptor holding a pocket watch
Victor strap with a sprung Daptabel adaptor holding a pocket watch.

 

Pearson sterling silver buckle: NATO Watch Strap History
Pearson sterling silver buckle.

At the end of WWI, the term wristwatch was in common use, but the wrist watch, particularly in America was not commonly used by men, even by returning servicemen.

It was only in the late 1920s that wrist watches gained popularity in America.

THE SPRING BAR IN WWI

In the search for a workable strap for wire lug watches, C.L. Depollier and E. C. Duncuff, had earlier in 1916 patented history the “No Fuss” NATO watch strap and clasp. However, the market still was focussed on pocket watches.  They sought to dispense with the wire lug on a pocket watch and patented fold-away lugs for a pocket watch (Figure 4) and the spring bar as shown below in Figure 8, on 15 August 1916.

 

D&D springbar

The patent showed fold away fingers or lugs on a pocket watch.

The patent read:

The fingers f are adapted to receive between them and to engage a bar to which the ribbon, either sautoir or wrist, or, it may be, a chain or bracelet, is connected. Preferably such bar g is made as a compression bar, comprising two telescoping members g1 and g2 with an interposed spring g3 tending to extend the bar and with a pin and slot connection g4 to limit such movement. Each outer end of the bar is provided with a projecting pin g5 to enter a corresponding recess f3 formed in the inner face of the corresponding finger f, as clearly shown in Fig. 4. The ribbon c may be connected to the bar by looping and stitching in an ordinary manner, as indicated in Figs. 1, 2 and 3, or the bar may be provided with a loop or eye g6, as shown in Figs. 6 and 7, for engagement with a snap ring or hook.

It will be obvious that when the watch is to be worn as a wrist-watch, on a ribbon, the opposite pairs of opposed fingers are extended and engaged with the wrist ribbon.

Still convinced of the popularity of the pocket watch, Depollier also patented detachable lugs for pocket watches in 1917.  This allowed a thinner case than the prior patent, with hinged adapters Fig 5 and 7, which fitted over small lugs c.  One adapter was a looped lug, and the other a hinged spring bar (Fig. 6)

depollier and Duncuff patent

By the time of the end of WWII watches with lugs were common,  and spring bars were patented,  but pocket watches were still worn by men.  As the Swiss export table in the earlier section shows, even in 1924, the swiss watch industry was exporting nearly 2 pocket watches or movement cases, to every wrist watch. But in 1930 the Swiss pocket watch and wrist watch export numbers were 6.2 million each.

HISTORY CONCLUSION OF NATO WATCH STRAP

By the end of WWI, the future use of spring bars had just been patented, but not implemented.   Watch straps were still focussed on fixed lugs and wristlets on pocket watches.

Forebears of the NATO “Straps, Wrist, Instrument” category, both the NATO Bund strap NSN 6645-12-145-6415, and the NATO nylon strap NSN 6645-99-124-2986 had been inactive military use.

The Tulsa World proclaimed on April 23, 1919 that the wrist-watch was here to stay.

“The war has made the world safe for men who wear wrist-watches. A red-blooded masculine person today can appear on the streets, wearing a wrist-watch without the danger of incurring a sneer or a brick. Before the war, the wrist-watch was a badge of effeminacy. The man who affected one was looked on as a fop, a simp or a sissy.”

The only question now was, what strap to wear it on.

THE GRAIL

The Spring bar articles include a grail watch at the end.  This article is on WWI era NATO strap history, and so the grail strap has to be the  E.J.Pearson and Sons Victor, the granddaddy of the NATO strap.

The Victor Reg. No. 529336 provides all the necessary DNA to the NATO Nylon strap NSN 6645-99-124-2986.

The grail strap, a NOS Victor model 529336 below is 205cm long and 9mm wide.

Victor 529336: NATO Watch Strap History

 

Victor 529336: NATO Watch Strap History

Here it is on a silver watch with shrapnel guard.

Victor 529336: NATO Watch Strap History

Image courtesy: Auckland War Memorial Museum

CREDIT

Credit for the featured image is HOROLOGIST007.   He and two other users of Watchuseek, bobbee and Literustyfan have a wealth of knowledge on this subject which I have tried to draw together from the history and perspective of the NATO watch strap.   David Boettcher of Vintage Watch Straps also has considerable expertise. If I have failed to give them specific credit for their images which are in the public domain, I apologise, but I could not have written this article as quickly without their enthusiasm for the watches of the period, if not the straps.

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