It was developed by the British Ministry of Defense as a functional and fail-safe piece of apparel for military personnel. It was propelled to star status by Daniel Craig (sorry, folks, it wasn’t Sean Connery’s James Bond). Functional piece of apparel turned fashion statement, it is found on watches priced from USD $40 to several thousands of dollars. But now it is entering a new era, propelled to entirely new levels on light-as-air, stronger-than-steel synthetic spider silk.
In an unlikely collaboration between Swiss luxury watchmaking giant OMEGA and German synthetic biology company AMSilk –the first company ever to produce synthetic silk polymers on an industrial scale — the fabric of the future is commercially available to consumers for the first time in the form of a simple, functional, and stylish NATO watch strap.
The first of its kind
While the original version of the NATO watch strap was made of nylon, OMEGA’s line has been using synthetic fibers that provide strength and resistance to abrasion for quite some time. However, the newest member of OMEGA’s NATO watch strap family has a whole new wardrobe thanks to AMSilk’s Biosteel® Fiber, which is based on spider silk. We’ve seen it before — ongoing projects include incorporating it into the next generation of lightweight airplanes and biodegradable running shoes — but this is the first time Biosteel® Fiber has entered the commercial sector of luxury apparel.
The achievement was a long-time coming, and is the result of years of hard work and collaboration between AMSilk’s engineers and OMEGA’s engineers and product managers. At first glance, a watch strap may seem an odd choice for such a groundbreaking commercial product release — but Biosteel® fiber is actually a pretty natural choice for a watch strap, says AMSilk CEO Jens Kleins. It “needs to be made of highly dependable materials that can withstand daily use in many different conditions,” he explains, adding that it “showcases some of Biosteel’s most impressive properties, including its strength, flexibility, lightweight construction and skin-friendliness.”
Jens Klein stands at the helm of German synthetic biology company AMSilk, the world’s first industrial producer of synthetic silk polymers. Image credit: AMSilk
OMEGA customers now have available to them a first-of-its kind lightweight, breathable, and hypoallergenic strap, and it’s available for sale on OMEGA’s website:
A biomaterials-based future for luxury brands
Exciting though this partnership is for AMSilk, OMEGA, and watch enthusiasts, this is simply the beginning of a future for luxury brands utilizing biomaterials. Klein expects that in the coming years, brands will begin using many more biofabricated materials as they learn that these materials can perform just as well — and perhaps even better — than conventional materials. Before long, we will begin to see biofabricated materials integrated into products of all sorts, he predicts.
He should know. AMSilk is already working with leading brands across several industries, including apparel but also cosmetics, healthcare, and aerospace. “We are excited to bring our silk to consumers around the world, and will be announcing a number of new collaborations in the upcoming months,” he says.
AMSilk’s Biosteel® fibers may soon be found in a wide range of products from luxury apparel to cosmetics and healthcare. Image credit: AMSilk.
Clearly, the biofabrication industry is poised to transform the way products are made — but it’s no easy task. “Creating new materials is immensely challenging, requiring years of scientific R&D before you can even begin product testing or development,” says Kleins. “It takes even more time to prove to global brands that biofabricated materials live up to industry standards in terms of manufacturing and performance.”
But the future is now and the world is ready. AMSilk and OMEGA have demonstrated that biofabricated materials are ready to hit the commercial scene. Watch straps are just the beginning: now we just have to wait and see where else these biofabricated fibers will carry us.1