Posted on September 22 2021
It's a phrase you'll be familiar with in the world of watches. The cool new startups, selling on Instagram, use it all the time.
It's also how microbrand watch companies operate. Small production runs, direct sales and no middlemen.
But German pilot Helmut Sinn figured this out in the early 1960s.
He created his own aviation-inspired watch brand and sold directly to his customers.
High-quality Swiss-made watches sold to watch buyers, with no retailers or middlemen.
It was a good idea and led to a successful German brand that would later have its watches worn in space.
Let's briefly look at the company's history and then I'll show you the best watches that the company has to offer.
A Brief History of Sinn Watches
Sinn is a young German brand. It's doesn't have a century's worth of history like some of the more famous Swiss companies. Instead, it's a tale of a pilot making rugged tool watches for fellow pilots.
It's a brief tale. But a one of innovation and space exploration that even involves French brand Bell and Ross.
Let's go back to the beginning.
In 1961 Helmut Sinn, a flight instructor and former WW2 pilot, created his own watch brand. Although based in Frankfurt am Main, his watches were made in Switzerland.
In a break from convention, he sold these watches - produced as a private label - directly to customers. The business model was to bypass distributors and retailers.
Sinn's watches were rugged, with a strong Germanic influence. Crucially, they were built to function in tough environments. Although they've been worn by German Police and the fire service, the best advert for the brand came from their use in space.
In 1985 German astronaut Reinhard Furrer wore a Sinn 140 during the Spacelab D1 mission. This was followed by other Sinn watches used in space during the early 1990s.
That puts Sinn in a select group that includes Omega, Sturmanskie and Bulova.
The company had begun making watches for a new French brand called Bell & Ross. Then in 1994, Helmut Sinn sold his company to a Sinn employee, Lothar Schmidt.
Schmidt was an industry veteran having worked for IWC since the start of the 1980s.
His vision for the brand was ambitious.
He moved away from private label watches, extended their range and embarked on a series of innovations. Sinn released cutting-edge watches that were tested in challenging environments.
They experimented with titanium cases, anti-magnetic watches, Ar-Dehumidifying technology and used a new oil to create temperature resistant watches.
To give you an idea of how this worked in practice, Mario M. Weidner wore a Sinn chronograph during an Arctic Sea endurance test. The watch excelled in this environment.
And that is the story of the modern brand. From their recent use of Submarine steel to German commando frogmen wearing Sinn. This company pushes boundaries.
And they no longer cut out the middleman. The brand is more accessible to you now.
Where are Sinn Watches Made?
Sinn watches are made in Germany. They proudly state this at the foot of the dial. Sinn is based in Frankfurt Am Main where their watches are assembled and regulated.
In the past Sinn watches were Swiss-made, but production is now in Germany.
Are Sinn Watches Good Quality?
The consensus is that they are of good quality.
They should be. They're rugged tool watches that are created for tough environments. It's central to the brand's ethos.
Let me give you a few examples.
Sinn watches have been worn in space more than once. They have also been adopted by German commandos. And they are independently tested.
Germanischer Lloyd, the world’s largest classification society for maritime safety, has certified their dive watches. And their pilot's watches have been certified by Aachen University of Applied Sciences.
Sinn makes mechanical watches with movements supplied by Swiss manufacturers like ETA and Sellita. So they're German-made, with reliable Swiss components.
The Seven Best Sinn Watches
Sinn makes a lot of watches. Many with uncommon features. They're quite a hard brand to sum up in a single article. They made their name with pilots watches, but are now well-respected for their distinctive dive watches.
And to complicate things further, they do a line of elegant dress watches.
I've done my best to pick the seven watches that best represent the brand. The watches featured are my favourites from their Instrument, Diving and Frankfurt Financial District lines.
Despite Sinn being founded by a pilot, the watch that I most associate with the brand is a diver. The U1 is a very distinctive piece. It showcases the German interpretation of an underwater watch.
This isn't a sophisticated desk diver. Like a Doxa, it's a slightly awkward looking tool watch. Functional considerations appear to have trumped any aesthetic concerns.
You'll sometimes hear the word lego mentioned in the same sentence as the U1.
That's not to say that this isn't a handsome watch. It is. But that appeal comes precisely because of its rugged design.
The U1 is a chunky watch. The case is 44mm wide and it wears thick due to the prominent bezel and domed case back.
Take a good look at that case. It's made from German Submarine steel. It's bead blasted and the bezel comes with Sinn's Tegiment technology that reduces scratching.
And the rest of the watch follows that lead. The dial is a straightforward matt black. The thick, prominent hands are a contrasting white, with red touches for extra legibility. The dial is spartan and practical.
Like Seiko's iconic SKX007, the crown is repositioned to 4 o'clock. I like this. It minimises knocks that the crown might take and it helps with comfort.
And the result of all this attention to detail? The U1 is a bombproof dive watch with a massive 1000M of water resistance. And it's all powered by a Swiss Sellita automatic movement.
This is a watch that stands out. If you lead an active lifestyle, but still want an automatic watch, the U1 can take anything that you throw at it.
Sinn U1 1010.010
The 856 is a core part of Sinn's range. It's a relatively plain aviation watch that has a lot better specs than you might expect from a quick glance.
Stylistically, this is recognisable as a German pilot's watch. Some of the other variations stick more closely to the established Flieger template. But I prefer this pared-down design.
Outwardly, this is a very legible tool watch. The numerals are simple and the hands are bold. They're all lumed and make for a very practical timepiece.
But where this watch wins is in the details that aren't so obvious.
The 40mm case features Sinn's Tegiment coating again - as does the bracelet. The case also protects the Swiss automatic movement from humidity, moisture, and magnetism. Without going into too much detail, Sinn uses a copper sulfate capsule inside the case and also pumps in Argon gas.
So despite being designed for flight, with those features and 200M of water resistance, this would make an excellent field watch.
At 40mm wide and 11mm thick the 856 is comfortable and versatile. I'd suggest that this is the best Sinn model if you want to go to the heart of the brand.
Sinn 856 856.011
Like the 856, the 104 model takes its inspiration from an aircraft cockpit. It's a little more complex and refined, but just as practical.
The 104 is a vintage-looking pilot watch. But in keeping with a diving ethos, this aviation piece has good water resistance and a rotating bezel.
I described the 856 as being a versatile watch, and the 104 is even more so. It has a similar mid-sized case and a black dial with clear white numerals.
But the more traditional dial layout and leather strap soften the look somewhat. It hints at an aviation background rather than screaming it like the 856.
As you'd expect, it houses a Swiss automatic movement. In a nice touch, this is visible with its decorated rotor, through the exhibition back.
And that sums up the 856.
It's more deliberately stylish than the last two models. It's still a high-spec piece - it has the sapphire crystal and screwed-down bezel - but it doesn't go over the top. There's no 1000M of water resistance or a case filled with Argon gas.
Instead, there's an elegance that I really enjoy.
The neat syringe-style hands aren't as bold as the U1's and the numerals are smaller than the 856's. But the overall effect is outstanding. Enough vintage charm to catch your eye, but without mimicking a previous era.
Sinn 104 ST SA A 104.010
The Sinn 356 SA III is a classically styled and classically-sized pilot's chronograph. It's more ornate than most Sinn models and will appeal to fans of vintage watches.
First, let's deal with the size. This model is 38.5mm. A couple of years ago you may have suggested that this was too small. There'd been a trend for watch sizes to creep up.
But that is no longer the case. Sub-40mm watches are back. The new Rolex Explorer is 36mm and a hit.
So the 38mm case suits me. And like my Bulova Hack, this smaller diameter is offset by the depth. The 356 is 15mm thick, meaning it's still a substantial watch.
It's also a busy watch. The silver guilloche dial includes three sub-dials and both a day and date window. But it's not a cluttered dial. Sinn has still managed to include the Flieger wording and clear numerals.
And it's those nice touches that make this watch a success.
The contrast of colours on the dial, the neat date windows and the vintage-looking syringe hands. Together they give the watch a very authentic and attractive appearance.
It's a pleasing mix of functional pilot's watch and tasteful jewellery.
With an automatic Sellita movement - finished by Sinn - and a domed sapphire crystal, this watch ticks all the boxes that it should.
Forget water resistance and anti-magnetic features. The 356 is all about aesthetics and offers something different to the brand's tool watches.
Sinn 356 SA PILOT III 356.0721
Sticking with this theme, I'd like to highlight the 910 SRS chronograph. It's another attractive piece that harnesses the design power of the past. This time in a slightly larger package.
The name - SRS - comes from the watches chronograph feature. Stopp-Retour-Start refers to the Valjoux 7750 Flyback movement.
This is a stunning watch.
The cream chronograph style isn't unique to Sinn, but they've executed the style beautifully. The dial is busy with three sub-dials and a neat date window at three o'clock.
While the dial isn't symmetrical, I like that the date window and logo are placed on one side. They're separate from the chronograph dials and easy to read.
The slim hands contrast with the off-white dial, as do the red accents. And the strap also utilises red stitching, finishing off the colour palette nicely.
Again, this isn't designed as a rugged tool watch in the U1 vein. Instead, it's a dressier piece that gives more than a nod to history.
But don't be mistaken. This isn't a dainty watch.
The case is 41.5mm wide and over 15mm thick. The large crown and pushers add to the overall size.
Both the front and the back of the watch feature a sapphire crystal. Through the back you can view the attractive Swiss chronograph movement, which for me is a big plus.
So it's not a small watch. Despite the vintage inspiration.
It's also not an inexpensive watch. A German-made timepiece with a Swiss mechanical chronograph movement never will be. Only the Chinese do budget mechanical chronographs.
But it's a very handsome watch, with great build quality and a tried and tested look.
Sinn 910 SRS 910.020
The Sinn 903 Navigator looks suspiciously like a Breitling Navitimer. And there's an interesting story why.
When Breitling went bankrupt at the end of the 1970s Sinn bought the rights to make a Navitimer style watch. So the 903 is Sinn's version of the Breitling classic. Albeit, more affordable and slightly smaller.
Like the Breitling original, this is a complex watch. The dial, with its contrasting sub-dials, is very busy. Besides the chronograph feature, it also includes a rotating inner bezel.
It's arguable whether you'll use these features.
But as a historical watch, with lineage beginning in 1952, these are features that real pilots used in the real world.
And it's that authenticity that has kept the Naitimer at the forefront of Breitling's range. It captures a golden era of air travel.
The Sinn, being almost identical, captures that mood too. All the major designs points of the Navitimer are here.
And the movement? It's the same Sellita chronograph as used in the 356 Pilot. Again, it's customised and visible through an exhibition back.
The other specs are as you'd expect. The only point to note is that the water resistance is a token 100M.
If you want a Breitling Navitmer homage, the 903 is at the top end. It has the Navitimer design with German and Swiss workmanship.
Sinn builds watches for very specific purposes. But that doesn't have to just include the needs of pilots and divers. The Frankfurt Financial District collection is designed for workers in suits.
So these watches are stylish, understated and include features useful to those working in mainland Europe's finance capital.
How does that work in reality?
The 6060 is a Worldtimer. It has the ability to display three timezones - always handy if you work in international finance.
It's not as complicated as it sounds.
The first timezone is recorded with the normal hands and the second uses a small GMT hand. The third can be set by rotating the inner bezel using the crown at 10 o'clock.
In keeping with the need to compliment workers formal dress, the watch is restrained and subtle. It's almost simplistic when compared with the busy chronographs above.
Like the functionality, the colouring is simple too. A standard black dial with white hands and markers. Again, it's the tool watch ethos. No filler, just functional features and the ability to easily read the time.
This might not have the typical Sinn DNA. But the solution to a specific timekeeping problem is typical of the brand.
If you fancy a Sinn dress watch, start here. They have some stunning models in the Classic collection, but I prefer the Financial District models. They offer another side to this exciting German brand.
Sinn Frankfurt 6060.010
Sinn is a German brand that makes high-spec tool watches. But I'm using the word 'tool' loosely. Yes, they create tools for divers and famously for pilots and astronauts. But they also make tool watches for finance workers in their home town, Frankfurt.
It makes for a compelling brand.
Sinn has elegant dress watches and chunky divers with more water resistance than you'll ever need.
I've highlighted the best in this article.
A mixture of divers, aviation and dress watches. As you'll have noted, they're all German-made and have mechanical Swiss movements.
I won't lie. That comes at a price. Sinn watches aren't as affordable as many of the other watches I feature on this blog.
But then, a watch made out of Submarine steel and filled with Argon gas isn't a typical watch. That awesome functionality comes at a cost. But it's a reasonable price to pay. Sinn watches are more affordable than many Swiss luxury brands.
So dig in. Follow some of my affiliate links and then come back and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.