As a brand, Sinn doesn’t market itself aggressively or speciously. I mention this because in these contemporary times, there is a zeitgeist of equating a high prices and overbearing marketing as synonyms for luxury or superlative-crafts few recall the golden age age for Louis Vuitton in the 1900s when the humble malletier had yet to become an allegorical face for contemporary luxury – instead, they were simply known for their well made, water-resistant travel bags and luggages – a necessity during when travel by steamship was the norm; this in turn fuelled and desire for their well-made goods which eventually promoted their evolution into a global brand behemoth.
Thus, when one looks at Sinn and its founding in 1961, you can spot a similar ethos and philosophy when it comes to making practical products which develop a cachet of desire all by itself. Helmut Sinn, a flight instructor and former World War II pilot birthed Helmut Sinn Spezialuhren in Frankfurt am Main for the sole purpose of crystalising his flight experience into the manufacture of watches and navigation instruments purposefully designed for pilots in mind.
Reasons to Enjoy Sinn: 1. They’re tremendously well made.
Truth is, Sinn isn’t the most famous brand. They might have been late-comers to the horological space race (won by Omega in case you haven’t heard) but they have nevertheless been to space, on the wrist of German physicist and astronaut Professor Dr. Reinhard Furrer when he wore his Sinn 140 S during his D-1 spacelab mission in 1985 and it wasn’t a one-trick stunt either, the Sin 142 S also followed astronaut Klaus-Dietrich Flade in the Mir-92 mission and once more in 1993 on board the NASA Shuttle Columbia where its cousin the D-2 chronograph joined the 142 on 160 earth orbits.
Still, it’s best years were ahead of them when engineer Lothar Schmidt acquired the company on 1 September 1994, ushering in a new-era of not just well-made watches but materially and technologically advanced timepieces; Helmut Sinn Spezialuhren becomes Sinn Spezialuhren GmbH and their first order of business – the Sinn 244 made with titanium and endowed with magnetic field protection exceeding the DIN standard for amagnetic watches.
2. Sinn’s technology is pretty cool too…
While Anti-Magnetism is quite well-known and almost a standard feature for METAS-certified Omega collections, watches like the Sinn 140 and Sinn 142 chronograph are equipped with Ar-Dehumidifying Technology. This technology solves a fundamental problem with mechanical watches: premature aging of oils due to seepage of moisture. Sinn’s Ar-Dehumidifying Technology protects the movement with a near anhydrous atmosphere with the innovation of a three pronged system: a drying capsule (a capsule filled with copper sulfate which absorbs moisture from the air inside the case and binds it permanently – the capsule turns blue as it fills), Extreme Diffusion-Reducing seals (EDR reduce the infiltration of moisture in the case to as little as 25% versus conventional nitrile rubber case seals) and protective gas filling. According to Sinn, even a water-resistant watch is not immune to gaseous water present in the atmosphere, as such water particles can penetrate the seal systems of a watch case.
Ironically, while fictional special operatives named Bond were enjoyed the use of dedicated dive watches on their missions, Sinn was busy equipping mission timers for the elite GSG 9 (Border Protection Group 9 of the Federal Police). The EZM1 and EZM2 watches were a special breed in the long history of martial/military watches.
For those of you who played Counterstrike or read the Tom Clancy Rainbow Six novels, you would know that the German GSG 9 elite police forces were not your usual SWAT team. Generally, they train alongside elite SEAL and Delta units during international counter-terrorism exchanges. The Sinn EZM 1 isn’t your typical destro or “leftie” watch either, it was purpose-built to have operational push pieces on the left for two reasons – 1. ease of use by the right thumb so you didn’t have to take your whole palm off your weapon grips while operating it. 2. If you intended to prone and take a secured firing position on the ground, you would place your left palm on the floor (while still holding your Mp5 or FNP-90 in your right, pushed against your shoulder) and then lie down. A watch with right facing controls would bite into the back of your left palm if you weren’t careful.
The EZM 1 was about as elite of a tool watch as it could get: an automatic Lemania 5100 movement with central stop watch seconds and shock resistance as per DIN 8308 (DIN or Deutsches Institut für Normung e. V. is similar to the ISO governing standard) and Anti-magnetism as per DIN 8309, rated to 30BAR water-resistance and bearing the AR protection and temperature resistance of temperatures from –20°C up to +70°C. In short, it’s a great watch for Arctic Batman or Desert Batman.
Wait, at –20°C won’t the oil congeal?
No. Because Sinn doesn’t design things for mere marketing appeal, their watches are actually built to perform at those specs and that includes the lubricants they use. In 1998, a SINN special oil 66-228 was invented to enhance temperature resistance so that watches could remain functional between temperatures of –45 °C up to +80 °C.
The sum total of Sinn’s technological inventiveness was exemplified in the Sinn 303 Kristall Chronograph and then it was put to the test at the Yukon Quest -a harsh 1,600 km arctic race between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska at the height of winter. Replicating the coldest, most treacherous 10-16 day journeys of historical Gold Rush and mail delivery dog sled routes from the turn of the 20th Century. A singular human ‘musher’, his Sinn 303 and 14 canines make the trip across not just dangerous hidden terrain but also unpredictable weather (for which there is no relief even in the event of a freak weather event).
Look Ma, No Oil: Development of DIAPAL Technology
Few are aware of this but Sinn was the first to go lubricant free (at least for the escapement) before it was all the rage with the use of silicon escapements. DIAPAL or DIAmond PALette technology allow oil-free escapements courtesy of polished diamonds in place of rubies and since diamonds (the hardest material on earth) hardly wear down at all, they ensure consistent amplitude for the balance through friction-free operation. This special combination of material and technology ensure lubricant-free long-term precision and it first debuted in the Sinn 6000 Jubilee Frankfurt Financial District watch.
3. Literal “solid” Gold (before it became a thing)
Today we have Ceragold, Magic Gold and a host of other hardened, scratch resistant gold composites but back in the day, Sinn was already paying the same attention to detail to case materials beginning with an innovation virtually unheard of in 1995 – hardened gold. Indeed, the first gold watch made by Sinn was a 22-carat special alloy with a high proportion of gold and yet matching the material hardness of steel. The company would only match this pinnacle of robustness almost a decade later with the Tegiment process.
Tegimentum (latin for protective layer) forms the philosophy behind Sinn’s Tegiment technology. First introduced in the Sinn 756 Duochronograph at Baselworld 2003, the innovation was initially used only on stainless steel cases but soon came to encompass all materials specially hardened by the brand.
Truth be told, the name Tegiment is somewhat a misnomer as it implies a superficial coating, the fact is that the material itself is specially hardened such that the first few microns itself are hardened thus providing a significantly greater level of scratch and dent resistance.
4. Two words: Submarine Steel
Rolex 904L steel sounds like a cool material but have you tried explaining the technical distinction to a non Watch Idiot Savant? Well, here’s a quick primer:
Most watches use normal annealed austenitic 316L stainless steels and they have 150 – 190 HV on a Vickers Hardness scale. When they are “ice-hardened” like what Sinn used to do before the development of Tegiment technology, it goes up to 700 HV which makes it fairly expensive.
The 904L steel used by Rolex for its watches, simply comes with a high content of Ni, Cr and Mo ((nickel chromium molybdenum) and it costs almost three times more than 316L. For all intents and purposes 904L enjoys slightly more hardness and better corrosion resistant properties, mainly in extreme and warm sea water environments.
904L vs. SUG Submarine Steel
Enter Sächsische Uhrentechnologie GmbH Glashütte or SUG. Founded in 1999, all SUG does is manufacture technologically sophisticated watch cases for Sinn Spezialuhren. Their patented blend of “Submarine Steel” or non-magnetic U-boat HY-100 high yield low-alloy Ni-Cr-Mo submarine steel (containing C, Mn, P, S, Cu, Si, Ni, Cr, Mo, V and Ti and made to MIL-S-16216K specifications – however, the exact composition is classified) has 300 – 400 HV unhardened. By the time it is “Tegimented”, it hits around 1500 – 2000 HV. A simple experiment: use your watch around zippered jacket pockets for a week and then examine your Tegimented Submarine steel U1 and compare it with a regular stainless steel watch. You will find virtually no micro-scratches on your Sinn U1.
5. They make really normal things fun and interesting
Talk to your basic collector about the Unitas 6498 calibre and you’d basically find a disinterested shrug. Mention Sinn 6100 Regulateur series developed from it and you only begin to scratch the surface of what Sinn is really about. The Sinn 6100 Regulateur series is driven by a modified Unitas SZ04 movement with regulateur display and second stop function. While the aesthetics are attractive and distinctive, it’s what lies beneath which really highlight’s Sinn’s ability to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary: from DIAPAL to the modification and use of Glucydur screw balance and the Triovis precision adjustment system when they could have earned a more comfortable profit margin by leaving you with a stock calibre as some brands have?
There’s also the fact that Sinn routinely does insane things to put their watches through the paces. The 756 and 900 models were put to a particularly demanding tests to determine their robustness at the DEKRA Technology Center at the Lausitz Eurospeedway in Klettwitz, Germany; typically, the centre performs material tests for the international automotive industry. If that wasn’t enough, Sinn sent everything from dive to dress watches (757 DIAPAL, 900 PILOT, U1000, 6000 Frankfurt Finance District Watch and the 917 GR) to the Fraunhofer Institute for Operational Stability and System Reliability in Darmstadt, to test for, get this – extreme impact and vibration during testing on a simulated rough road track. Yes, even the dress watches survived.
6. They have testing standards. For PILOT’S watches.
There are COSC standards. METAS standards. And for Cartier Calibre Diver watches, ISO standards for diving. I didn’t know there were test standards for pilot’s watches. Apparently Sinn did and in 2012, Aachen University of Applied Sciences and Sinn Spezialuhren presented the first technical standard for pilot watches (Technischer Standard Fliegeruhren – TESTAF) ensuring that a pilot watch meets all time measurement requirements during flight operations in accordance with visual and instrument flight regulations.
If one is cynical, you could claim that it’s an inhouse test and think nothing of it. But in 2013, the German Institute for Standardisation developed the first rating standard for pilot watches in line with German Industry Standard DIN 8306 for diving watches. It’s a big deal considering how big the Germans are on precision engineering.
7. Guess who is joining the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC?
The Sinn 857 UTC of course. You would probably be familiar with the altitude record set by Felix Baumgartner when he jumped from the stratosphere wearing a Zenith? Well, on 24 October 2014, 57-year-old American Robert Alan Eustace parachuted from a stratospheric a 41,419 metres above ground with his Sinn 857 UTC, which has been integrated into the sleeve of his special suit. Man and watch survived the low pressure, freezing –77°C temperatures and a free-fall speed of 1,322.9 km/h, where Eustace proceeded to travel at Mach speeds. Today, the 857 UTC sits alongside the suit in the same hall of the Smithsonian as another historical great, the Speedmaster which accompanied Armstrong to the moon.
8. Baselworld 2016: Proving that when Sinn goes out of its way, they really go out of their way
For their 55th birthday, Sinn launched three anniversary editions to celebrate the occasion, my favourite Sinn 6200 Meisterbund I, the 910 Anniversary edition and the 556 Anniversary edition. In limited quantities of 55, 300 and 1000, the watches represented the both the watchmaking and material prowess of the manufacture.
The 910 Anniversary chronograph is a relatively affordable split-seconds chronograph featuring a split-seconds mechanism for recording intermediate times. For the more serious collector, the Sinn 910 Anniversary edition is designed with provenance in mind, featuring a historical ratchet wheel chronograph, harkening back to the industry’s hey-day when vintage chronographs from the 1900s were constructed this way. Technically demanding, utmost care and precision is required in assembly as the ratchet wheel controls start, stop and reset functions.
Coup de grace: Sinn 6200 Meisterbund I
SUG, the guys responsible for the nigh-invincible submarine steel is responsible for building and manufacturing the 8-carat rose gold case.While Sinn designed the ‘face’ following the fine tradition of their classic regulateur watches. Meanwhile, Uhren-Werke-Dresden (UWD) creates the in-house hand-wound calibre UWD 33.1 – used here in an Anniversary edition for first time in series production. A long time in development, the Sinn 6200 Meisterbund I also enjoys the prestige and provenance of having all essential components produced in Germany, an impressive summation of the prowess of German engineers and craftsmen.
9. They prefer to go direct to customer
In May 2015, Sinn Spezialuhren opened its new boutique at the Römerberg square in Frankfurt’s city. Its new sales and service rooms in the historic building “Zum Goldenen Rad” don’t just reaffirm its close affiliation with Frankfurt am Main but is also a testament in their belief that by going direct to the consumer, they can cut out the middleman and offer fair market value to their fans.