NATO straps are basically the watch equivalent of jeans; every brand seems to make them, but none are made the same. They are pretty trendy, but also very nice wear. They add a certain rugged and utilitarian aesthetic to any watch, which only something with military origins can supply. They are made out of range of materials in hundreds of colors and patterns, with prices that vary from a few bucks to hundreds. Just the other day we brought to your attention DubStraps, a new brand with a novel approach, to your attention and a few months ago we posted a round up of military straps from all sorts of brands. Today, we are going to take a deeper look at one of the more rarefied offerings from that list, the Shell Cordovan NATOs by Da Luca.
Da Luca is a small brand based out of San Diego, CA, specializing in high-end, handmade straps . The founder and designer behind the brand is Daniel Luczak, interviewed here, who personally makes each strap. The Da Luca mainline specializes in interestingly treated leathers sourced from around the world that certainly have a unique style, especially for straps largely targeted at the Panerai crowd. They range in price from around $75 to over $200.
Naturally, they wouldn’t be inclined to produce a NATO strap that was out of lesser materials, so Da Luca makes their NATOs out of Horween Shell Cordovan, one of the finest American made leathers available. For those who are not aware, there are two things to be very excited about here. 1. Horween is one of America’s oldest tanneries, and is the supplier for such amazing products as the Wolverine 1000-mile boots and Alden 405 Indy boots. Their leathers are of the highest quality, which is clear from the look, feel and durability of the products made of them. 2. Shell Cordovan is the ultimate leather they produce. Cordovan leather, which is typically a deep maroon/brown color, is actually made of horsehide and takes around 6 months to be prepared. A pair of Cordovan shoes will run you at least several hundred dollars, which should tell you a bit about the value of this material.
Daniel sent us over three to play with, wear and examine for the review. We received a simple 22mm black with matte steel hardware, a 22mm brandy with black hardware and a 24mm “color 8” (which is the name of that deep maroon I mentioned) with black hardware. The straps are shipped in these little burlap-esque drawstring sacks that while probably only costing pennies have a sort of rustic charm to them that I personally find appealing. I know people can be particular about presenting expensive objects, but there is really no risk of damaging these during shipping, so the little pouch is just a nice added touch.
Upon immediate inspection a few things jump out. The colors of the straps really sing. The black is very deep and the hard shell surface adds a nice sheen to it. The “color 8” is really marvelous, and one can immediately understand why it is the de facto Cordovan color. It is a dark and rich brown with hints of red and maroon that cast a sort of purple hue in the right light. It’s a brown for sure, but it is not like one you’ve really seen before. The black PVD hardware works very nicely with it as well. The brandy color is quite unexpected. It’s a bit different than it appears in pictures, which have a somewhat more yellow or golden glow than the actual strap does, but it is still a gorgeous and very unique color. I know it’s splitting hairs, but I would describe the color more as caramel than brandy, since it is a few shades darker…or to stick with liquor, maybe a bourbon color. The black PVD hardware on this color is a perfect match. It’s just one of those color combos that makes you drool a little bit.
The next thing I noticed was also a bit of a surprise. I guess since they cost between $165 and $175 a pop, I expected that they would be made like other high-end leather products. That is to say the stitching would be by machine and the edges would be finished. The thing is, that isn’t really Da Luca’s style, as you can see from their other series of straps. They go for a rougher, hand-made look that speaks to vintage goods and the patina of a well-worn product. So, the irregular, chunky stitching and natural colored edges are part of the look, and I accept them as such. There is one thing that does annoy me though, which is that the logo embossing on the underside of the strap creates a sort of wilted area on the topside of the strap that is visible when it is on your wrist. Since it is on the underside anyway, I don’t know why the logo was not put on the return portion of the strap (I made that term up, but I mean the part of every NATO that goes back under the strap, creating that second layer of material) where it would not affect the visible area.
That being said, the NATOs exude a toughness that is also unexpected for something made of such a precious material. The heavy stitching shouts man-made and is both thick and secure. The straight cut edges contrast the surface colors nicely, and remind you that this is a piece of leather after all. And the standard issue hardware is not the least bit fussy. Overall, the aesthetic is very appealing. Of course, the most critical element to the look, the watch itself, is up to you.
I tried them on just about every watch in worn&wound’s possession they would fit, and there wasn’t an aesthetic miss in the pile. I was especially into how PVD watches, such as the Lüm-Tec B16 and Torgoen T10, looked on the two browns. The color 8 adds a dark and mysterious overtone to the watch, while the warmth of the brandy gives a more vintage feel and makes the markings on the dial jump out. The Steinhart Ocean Military Vintage looked great on both the black strap, which emphasized the bezel and dial, and the brandy, which brought out the “old radium” lume. I think black hardware is always the way to go with these, as it either matches the PVD of a case, or brings out the black in a dial or bezel of a stainless cased watched.
Another nice aspect of a Shell Cordovan NATO is that the material is both strong and thin. If you’ve ever worn a NATO out of too thick of a material, you know that the bulkiness gets very uncomfortable and can become ridiculous looking. As such, leather NATOs need to be thin, but if the leather isn’t strong, then it gets stretched out and looks like crap. Cordovan has a very flat and rigid top surface that feels almost plastic to the touch. In shoes, this allows you to get a high-shine; on the straps it prevents it from deforming. The end result is a durable leather NATO, that is comfortable, light-weight and not too bulky. There is a bit of build up where the strap doubles back around, but that is to be expected. I don’t imagine they would be too comfortable in hot weather, as is the case with any leather strap, so I’d keep a nylon NATO around to trade off.
So, if you are looking to step up your strap collection into the boutique range and are a vehement NATO fan, the Da Luca Shell Cordovan NATOs are definitely worth considering. For $165 to $175, I’d keep in mind the finishing is a bit rougher than might be expected, but that that look might be appealing to you. If I had to choose just one, I’d go with the brandy with black PVD as it is a unique color that really brings something special out of watch. The color 8 is a close second, as it is a bit less versatile, and the black is third simply because I feel that if you are going to get Cordovan, you might as well go for something more special.
The last thing I want to say about these straps, that is a real benefit as well, is that since they are such a high quality leather, you can essentially treat them like you would fine shoes. What I mean by that is should you scuff the surface a bit, or it gets a bit dirty you can treat it with something like Saphir Renovateur leather cream, which will rejuvenate the leather and allow you to buff out small scratches. I actually tried this after I put a small mark on one while slipping it past a not very smooth caseback. I applied the Renovateur, let it sit for a bit, then buffed it and the mark right out. In theory, you could even use a colored polish cream to add color back to a deeper mark. The reason this is good news is that with a little TLC, I am sure you could have one of these straps around a for a long time, making the high price more tolerable.
Samples units were provided by Da Luca Straps