Zulu Alpha Strap Company (ZASC) recently came to my attention via Instagram as a British company making a unique strap product for watches and being a sucker for military related products it wasn’t long before I had placed an order for a strap and a watch roll.
The business is veteran run and after receiving my order and discovering that the owner is an acquaintance of @danc21cy I reached out to Darren to have a conversation with him to offer some feedback and congratulate him on a great product. After this, the conversation between us continued and I decided to write this article as both a review of his products and a brief Q&A with him about the company.
Transparency statement: Darren has kindly given me 2 of his new 22mm straps so I can experience them and discuss them on the website. After fighting off my requests to pay him for the straps, we have agreed that I will donate the cost to Help for Heroes.
At the time of my initial order ZASC were only offering a 24mm strap, which despite being too wide for any of my watches, looked to wear well on 22mm lug width watches based on photographs I had seen on the gram. The package arrived and when I opened it I was hit with that glorious Army Surplus store smell of webbing which was coming from the watch roll.
The watch roll
The watch roll is made from an up-cycled SA80 rifle cleaning kit case, many of the cases having been issued and used in the field as such, according to the ZASC website.The roll has space for two thinner watches and two broader watches, or 2 watches and a couple of spare straps, along with a little tuck-away pocket to keep a bag of spring bars or a cleaning cloth in. The corners clip together with press-poppers and there is an outer lace which can be tied around the outside to secure it when it has been folded in half.
The strap is an interesting and unique design, it is made of SA80 rifle sling webbing (hence the 24mm size) and at first, breaks the normal rule of fitting a watch strap, in that the buckle is at 6 o’clock rather than at 12 once fitted. The buckle is also a tri-glide buckle system that is quite different to anything I have seen on a watch strap before.
Once you have fitted it the right way (it took me a while of staring at it wondering whether I hadn’t had enough coffee yet), it sits handsomely between the lugs and the webbing is surprisingly supple, allowing it to sit nicely in smaller lug sizes. On the reverse is a tag with the Union Flag on it and it has a broad RAF style floating keeper.
As mentioned above Darren has sent me one of each of the colours of his new 22mm options, one in Olive green and the other a handsome Admiralty grey. These are very similar in style and have the same buckle and floating keeper arrangement as the 24mm option.
The webbing material is excellent quality and incredibly soft and smooth making it very comfortable on the wrist. The tri-glide buckle holds the strap very securely and is also fully adjustable to attain the perfect fit (rather than having a strap with holes invariably placed to not quite fit as most straps seem to with my wrist!). One downside is that the buckle can be a bit fiddly to fasten at first, although I am slowly improving at it. This presents a minor annoyance, but it is possible to loosen the strap off so you can slide it off the wrist without fully undoing the strap, which makes the whole exercise considerably easier.
I asked Darren if he would answer a few questions I put to him to help give some more information on the company which he kindly agreed to, so please do read on to hear from the man himself:
How did Zulu Alpha straps come about, when did you get started and what gave you the idea?
Honestly speaking it was an accident, this was never intended to be a commercial venture, it was only ever for me to begin with.
I have always liked watches but was never really educated on the ‘scene’ if you will. Over recent years my professional life has positioned me to where I could afford a big boy watch. Without the market knowledge I have now, I found myself looking at the more established Swiss brands and eventually decided to pick up a Breitling Super Ocean Heritage mk1. This watch came on an awesome rubber strap but I really wanted a NATO. As it has 24mm lugs it was a little more difficult to find a quality solution off the shelf. I picked up a few bits from Amazon or eBay but they just didn’t feel secure. I have always wanted function over form as the whole point was to secure my watch not make it look pretty, the watch was pretty anyway. I wasn’t happy so didn’t wear them.
A few weeks passed and I was clearing out the shed and found an old SA80 rifle sling. A light bulb moment! I immediately picked it up and sat it next to the lugs and it was the right size. A strap was born… or at least the nylon part. Now I had to figure out the buckles. Initially I tried a tang and buckle, but I quickly destroyed the whole sling trying to cut holes in it. It looked horrible, so I bought more slings and tried again and again and again until I finally decided that I just didn’t have the tooling to get a finish I was happy with.
Then I moved onto looking at different buckle options. I looked at the market to try and find a solution but short of using hook & loop I couldn’t find anything. I have an 8 inch wrist so anything that makes the strap bulkier was not an option. Eventually I came across the triglide system. Something used in the military for years, but never on a watch strap. I brought the two together and finally decided on the ZA MK1. Due to the military influence in the strap’s design and materials I looked at military watch history for inspiration and decided to go with the floating keeper initially used in the RAF strap.
What are your plans for the business, what other products are you hoping to introduce?
As mentioned above this was never intended to be for public consumption, but I was wearing the strap and a colleague who is big on the forums saw it and asked for one. I had some slings left over from a bulk buy, so I made him one up and then he posted photos of it. Within a few days I was inundated with requests. This started me on a journey whereby it was initially reactive rather than proactive. Very quickly I realised I had something very different and very unique. The business mind in me kicked in and I established that there was a trend in the watch market for all things military. The planets had aligned and it was time to go at it properly.
Whilst the rifle slings were a great start it limited the market due to the size and colour options. But, the pain I had worked through previously was about to pay off. I had a unique strap design that separated me in the market, but still held true to military influence. As a result I decided to commission webbing at a British factory to carry the design through to new sizes and colour options. I have recently taken delivery of this and am now introducing these to the market.
Ideally I would love to partner with watch companies and supply them with British made straps. There is a huge resurgence in British watch making at the minute. I really want ZA to become a large part of that. Although we will always have a customer facing side to our business.
What watches do you own and which are you wearing right now?
I am currently wearing my Vertex M100. The rest of my collection is below:
- 1926 Omega Pocket Watch
- Breitling Super Ocean
- Bremont U2
- Citizen Ecodrive
- Elliot Brown Holton
- Newmark HS
- Sangin Neptune
- Vostok Amfibia SE
Which is your own favourite Zulu Alpha strap?
They are my babies and I love them all but if you put a gun to my head I guess my favourite is the ZA0319 which pays tribute to the AF0210.
What’s your ‘grail watch’ and why?
I don’t have one. My watches all chose me, I didn’t choose them. It may sound a bit cuckoo, but I honestly believe that the watch chooses the man. Some spoke to me with their military provenance, some simply with presenting themselves at the right moment.
Zulu Alpha Strap Company is a promising British company making a unique, military inspired product. I am really looking forward to seeing the range expand and hope that Darren manages to succeed in managing to partner with a watch company.