Manhattan Time Service – Watch Repair

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Blog | How To's

How To Install, Shorten & Wear Your NATO Strap (PART II)

how to install a nato strap

In the second of this three-part series, we’re focusing on how to install, shorten and wear your Nato or Zulu strap.

Whether you’re opting for the look of a Nato or Zulu strap (read our previous article to discover the key differences between the two) you should always purchase a good quality nylon strap. Good quality straps are well stitched, with a thicker, heavy nylon and the stainless steel rings stay in place.

installing a nato or zulu strap

In today’s market there are many different types of nylon strap to choose from, including solid block colours, ‘James Bond’ striped versions and various flag colours.

James Bond style striped Nato strap on a Rolex

It’s a great way to give a luxury dress watch a sportier look.

how to install a nato or zulu strap

how to fit a new nato or zulu strap on your watch


The original “NATO” strap was created by the British Ministry of Defence in the early 1970’s. Soldiers could get their hands on a strap by filling out a form known as the G10, so they were originally dubbed “G10’s”. MOD-issued G10 straps were longer length nylon, in Admiralty Grey and always 20mm wide.

Another key element was a second, shorter piece of nylon strap attached to the buckle, as the strap was intended for the military it needed to be functional and secure. The longer length made it possible to fit over any military uniform. Read more about the origins of the NATO and ZULU strap HERE>


They key difference between the two straps is how they’re worn on the wrist. NATO’s have an additional strap which slides through the two lugs, so you have two straps of nylon under the watch. It also has squared off buckles.

ZULU straps only have one long strap, which makes it chunkier around the buckles and the strap is made of thicker nylon. A ZULU strap can also have 3 buckle rings or 5 and the buckles are rounded off.


You will need the basic tools of a blade, a coin and a good base to work on. Place the coin over the end of the strap and cut around the edge, so it’s a circular shape. Burn the tip so the thread doesn’t fray.

tools you'll need to shorten your nylon watch strap

Whether you have 3 or 5 rings, both have a tongue and buckle. Once you’ve inserted the strap through the spring bars, you’ll have a big piece left over which can be tucked in from the front or back (depending on your preference). You can then trim off the leftover piece.

fitting a zulu strap

The combination of an IWC Chronofighter on a military NATO strap looks awesome.

installing and shortening your watch strap


First off, measure the distance between the lugs (in mm). If it reads 20mm for example, then this is the exact strap size you need. After measuring the size, you can pick the strap you want.

measuring your nato strap

TIP: Don’t buy a 19mm or 18mm size thinking it will be ok. If it’s a smaller size there will be friction between the lugs, which means the spring bar can move out of place.

Once you have the strap, you’ll need to remove the spring bars. You’ll need a special spring bar tool (which looks like a pen with two ends) to do so. There are two types of spring bars, ones you can remove from inside the lugs (newer Rolex models) and spring bars that go further up the lug which you’ll need to push from the outside (older Rolex models).

changing your watch strap

Once you’ve removed the old strap, fix the spring bars back on. Your new NATO or ZULU strap will fit between the spring bar and the case. It’s best to fit it at 12 o’clock, with the 3 rings at the top of the watch. If you have 5 rings, the other two rings will appear on the other side of the case.

installing a Nato strap on your IWC watch

TIP: To clean your nylon strap, remove it from the watch and soak it in soapy water for a few hours. After soaking, use a normal household stain remover and scrub the strap with an old toothbrush. Once you’ve cleaned it thoroughly, rinse through with water to remove any residue and leave to dry out thoroughly before re-attaching to your watch.

How to install and wear a nato strap


“If I was buying a strap for diving I’d go for a Zulu strap with 5 rings, as it’s more durable. The strap is also long enough to go over a wet suit. If you have a heavier, weightier watch I’d also go for a Zulu strap as it’s slightly thicker and more secure.” Thomas Lodowski, Watchmaker

An IWC watch with new nylon strap



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Thank you for being interested in having your watch repaired with us, we are looking forward to your visit. In the meantime if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call or e-mail.

The following busses stop near our location in mid-town NYC: M1 – 5th Ave/48th street, M2 – 5th Ave/47th, M3 – 5th Ave/ 46th street, M4 – 5th Ave/44th street, M5 – 5th Ave/40th street, Q32 – 5th Ave/53rd street, QM2 – 6th Ave/44th street.

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We are conveniently located in mid-town Manhattan at 2 west 46th street #400, between 5th and 6th (closer to 5th) across the street from Ranch1 restaurant.

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