Specialist Picks • 21 Sep 2018

Exploring Sinn & Their Professional Tool Watches

by Tom Valcanis


The life and legacy of Helmut Sinn

In the German language, Germans are always looking to the future. One doesn’t say, “It is half past eight”, they say “Um halb neun” – half way to nine. One asks, “Wie spät ist es?” – How late is it? – compared to “What is the time?” in English. The Germans have a unique relationship with time, and by extension, watches.

Embodying the zeitgeistof a German’s conception of time and their place in it, Frankfurt’s Meisterhandwerk für Uhren Helmut Sinn was a mainstay in German timepieces for over 57 years – passing away sadly at the seasoned age of 101 only this year. Sinn sold the company to fellow engineer Lothar Schmidt in 1994. Even so, his namesake Spezialuhren – special watches – live on.

Helmut Sinn (Credit: Salome Roessler)

Sinn’s early chronometers for pilots and clocks for navigation were inspired by his days as a fighter pilot in World War II and a blind flight instructor. Founding his company in 1961 in Frankfurt am Main as “Helmut Sinn Spezialuhren”, his remit was clear from the beginning: these timepieces would be of the highest workmanship, more than earning their “special” moniker.

Herr Sinn and his watches were always at the forefront of chronographic technology and of business. For much of Sinn’s career, he bypassed the retailers and sold direct to its customers, passing on the savings to the buyer. Those buyers were numerous; selling chronographs to not only pilots but other professions reliant on precision and mission-critical quality.

Frankfurt, the birthplace of Sinn

The Marine unit of the elite Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (GSG 9) federal police are long-time Sinn users, as are fire service personnel, divers, and of course, pilots of all stripes. One of Sinn’s greatest achievements was seeing German astronaut Reinhard Furrer wearing the legendary 140 S chronograph on the Spacelab in 1985, proving a mechanical Sinn watch with automatic movement worked flawlessly in Zero-G conditions. A further trial proves successful with the refined 142 S on the Russian MIR orbital station.

CSG9 going through training drills (Credit: Matthias Loebach)

All Sinn watches are tested for professional use by the Technischer Standard Fliegeruhren (Technical Standards for Pilot Watches), meeting all time measurement requirements for VFR and IFR.

Sinn manufactured dehumidifying technology for their diving watches in 1995, followed up by HYDRO de-fogging and pressure resistance at all available depths. Other advancements are 2001’s DIAPAL which requires no lubrication of parts for long-time precision, and 2003’s TEGIMENT tempering process protecting against scratches using ordinary stainless steel. Sinn has won the prestigious German Goldene Unruh awards for their range of watches an incredible six times.

The 103 St – A No Nonsense Traditional Pilot’s Chronograph

Dependable, well-machined, and better yet, at a price within reach of most watch connoisseurs and enthusiasts. A thorough featured chronograph, it has a vintage presentation much like the pilot chronographs of Sinn’s original collection. The 103 St comes bordered with a bi-directional countdown bezel, 20 bar pressure resistance, contains a day/date indicator on the fascia, and a sub-dial layout at the 12:00, 6:00, and 9:00. Made of polished stainless steel and shock-resistant acrylic glass, one can customise the 103st with a transparent sapphire-crystal front or back. Running on the Valjoux 7750 self-winding mechanism, it’s currently the only production chronograph with this particular sub-dial layout. The layout itself is a nostalgic evocation; bearing the resplendence of instruments in an age of aviation where electronics and GPS were a mere pipe dream.

The Sinn 103 St Sa E (Credit: Hodinkee)

The U1 S – For Down Where No Sky Reaches

There are two common threads running through Sinn’s work; extremity and adventure. They are watches for the sky to the sea, and places hitherto unknown. This exquisite diver’s piece is made of high-strength, seawater-resistant German Submarine Steel. It’s case hardened by the TEGIMENT process, which also renders the case anti-magnetic. As one would expect, it is rated to 100 bar – 1km of pressure – satisfying any and all diving daredevils. The round captive diver’s bezel and practical, rectangular hands, and red-coloured second hand, ensure premium practicality. This captive design also ensures no knock violent enough can detach the bezel from the case. The movement is based on the SW 200-1 self-winding mechanism, although the U1 Professional dispenses with the date entirely. A 21-year veteran of the New York Police Department, a Mr. Chris Shortell, had some ideas for a tough new limited edition U1. Sinn thought them practical enough to implement, and thus we have the Professional edition. The Professional edition moves the winding crown to the 10:00 position from 4:00, and adds a generously thick black silicone band plus a black second hand. It’s unfortunately only available from Sinn’s North American distributor, and limited to a quantity of 100.

Black-coated U1 S

The 856 UTC – For Those With Hearts In Two Places

A silken bead-blasted stainless steel case made with the hardened TEGIMENT process, the Sinn UTC features a second time-zone feature with an added hour hand, pointing to a concentric 24-hour clock nested inside the traditional clock face. The added hour hand (usually reserved for UTC time, however you may set it for a second time zone) is rendered as black arrow with amber arrowhead for a specific purpose – navigation. Holding the watch horizontally and turning the 12-hour hand towards the sun will have the 24-hour hand pointing north (in the Northern hemisphere, so is the reverse for the Southern hemisphere.) Running on the ETA 2893-2 self-winding mechanism, it’s also protected from magnetism to 80,000 A/m or 1,000 gauss. A sapphire crystal glass houses the watch, which features Ar-Dehumidifying technology for greater reliability and fog-free operation thanks to a copper sulphate crystal built into the case. A practical and unobtrusive date window is built precisely into the 4:00 position. If you are one for stylish aviation watches that won’t get a scratch – TEGIMENT hardens the steel to four times normal toughness – the 856 UTC with “four hands” could be a timepiece that’s also a conversation starter. All are testament to the forward-thinking spirit of Helmut Sinn, one of Germany’s master watchmakers.

SINN 856 UTC (Credit: Worn and Wound)

Tom Valcanis

Tom Valcanis is journalist and writer based in Melbourne. He's held a deep fascination with watches and timepieces since childhood, influenced by his aviator father, his own love of astronomy and the history of human flight.


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