Earlier this year, Hong Kong strap maker Heroic 18 released their Vintage Brown Leather NATO. The vast majority of Heroic 18's line up consists of thick, Panerai style, two-piece straps with massive buckles. They are fun straps, and nicely made, so I was looking forward to trying the only NATO in their inventory. Originally available only as a promotional item, it is now available for $99. It is 24mm wide, 250mm long, 2mm thick, and available only with PVD black hardware. The color is a cognac brown, with a pronounced texture to the grain, but Heroic 18 cautions that because it is made of vintage leather, there will be some variation between straps.
Many leather NATOs are only minimally finished, with raw cut sides, no stitching beyond that which is necessary to secure the hardware, and no lining. This makes sense given the the rugged nature of these straps. It also allows the strap to be thinner, which makes it easier to fit it past the spring bars and double back the tail. Heroic 18 takes a very different approach. This strap is two layers, expertly finished with a matching box stitch. The lining is the same as the surface. Perhaps as a result, the strap is uncommonly stiff. Heroic 18 describes the leather as "soft, supple, and flexible" but I beg to differ. It can almost stand up by itself.
At 250mm, the strap is relatively short compared to most NATOs that run 280mm or longer. The long tail end is usually doubled back through the loops on the buckle end. This would be difficult on the Heroic 18, but because the strap is so short, it will not be necessary for most owners. My wrist is only 6.5" around, and this strap fits it without any excess tail - but only just barely. If my wrist were any smaller, the tail would protrude and it would be unwearable, but larger wrists will wear it without issue.
The PVD hardware is nicely made and properly sized. Although the keepers appear to be Zulu style, they are noticably slimmer, which makes more sense on this tailored strap. The buckle is a short version of a Pre-V design, engraved with the Heroic 18 trident. The thickness and stiffness of the strap made it a challenge to fit on some watches. I gave up trying to squeeze it onto a Magrette Moana, but it threaded its way onto the Luminor style case of a PAM clone without a problem. Ultimately, I squeezed it onto a Torgoen T10, where it looks rather smart.
The Heroic 18 Vintage Brown NATO is likely not what most strap enthusiasts have in mind. It is well made, looks good, and it will be very interesting to see how it breaks in, but it is not the relaxed, supple, slip-it-on-and-go NATO you might expect. It is not uncomfortable on the wrist in spite of its stiffness, but the inflexible leather prevents it from being truly enjoyable to wear. This was a great "free with purchase" promotional item, but if you want a leather NATO, there are better ways to spend $99.
Pro: Nicely finished, inside and out.
Con: Stiff leather, steep price.
Sum: Ruined by rigidity.