What makes these Sinn watches so different?

I had to get closer to the watches of the Sinn manu­fac­tory over a long process. Pretty subtle, these watches from Frank­furt. Very tech­nical. I had to look twice.

While many other brands, including watch brands, are trying to catch the brief atten­tion of their buyers, espe­cially through new designs, or add special mate­rials, or try to enrich their own brand with histor­ical refer­ences to the Bauhaus — somehow I didn’t find all these approaches at Sinn. This brand prob­ably wants to avoid being appro­pri­ated too quickly, I thought, and force myself to under­stand: We are dealing with an example of partic­i­pa­tory design, where use and design overlap and design deci­sions are trans­ferred to the user, but what I didn’t know at first, not to any users, but to very excep­tional ones.

Anyone who is often faced with high-quality prod­ucts, filters formal-aesthetic qual­i­ties first. With the porce­lain vase, no one asks any more about the usability of the vase — it is simply a vase. You place it there and look at it. This is where aesthetic stimuli, the surface, the painting, the form, the impact in the room have an effect. And yes, it took hand­work, many hours of hand­work, to make this vase like this.

These formal-aesthetic vari­a­tions are a reac­tion to the purist func­tional aesthetics of indus­trial modernism. Modernism produced a product aesthetic that was often reduced and func­tion­alist and mainly wanted to express excel­lent usability. This gave rise to entire inven­to­ries of prod­ucts that looked as simple as if they func­tioned partic­u­larly well, but basi­cally had no partic­ular instru­mental use. The user inter­face of these prod­ucts was simply clean. Its simplicity made it look like a tech­nical skill which was no skill at all.

It was different with the watches that have been produced since 1961 in a company founded by the pilot and blind flight trainer Helmut Sinn. The company took the path that no one else wanted to or could take: into tech­nical design. Espe­cially Dipl.-Ing. Lothar Schmidt, who took over the company in 1994, wanted to build the best tech­nical watches, watches for situ­a­tions where all other watches fail. In space, in the subma­rine, in the aircraft cockpit. Sinn’s tech­nical exper­tise was always needed when it came to the design of complex devices or crit­ical working envi­ron­ments. Where errors in time­keeping can have incal­cu­lable conse­quences. In 1985, for example, the physi­cist and astro­naut Professor Dr. Rein­hard Furrer proved for the first time, during the Spacelab mission D1 with Sinn’s first auto­matic watch (the Model 140 S), that Sinn auto­matic watches also func­tion in weight­less­ness. That was incred­ible!

Sinn devel­oped absolutely anti-fog and anti-reflec­tive diver’s watches made of subma­rine steel that can with­stand extreme diving depths thanks to a special hydro-tech­nology. Sinn has devel­oped navi­ga­tion on-board clocks which require the highest degree of accu­racy and excel­lent read­ability in all lighting condi­tions. Sinn devel­oped tech­nical inno­va­tions such as the Ar-Dehu­mid­i­fying Tech­nology, the Hydro Tech­nology or a special temper­a­ture resis­tance tech­nology, which to this day can only be found in watches from Sinn. Sinn manu­fac­tures the watches for the GSG9 maritime unit.

Read the moon with the JAGDUHR 3006

I needed some­thing to under­stand that the seem­ingly tech­nical restraint of Sinn watches was ulti­mately an expres­sion of what the gourmet calls “refine­ment of the senses”. Only those who have tasted the extra­or­di­nary know what they will miss when it is missing. Suddenly every­thing else becomes boring and super­fi­cial. Anyone who has special require­ments for their watch knows that the Apple Watch Hermes with its tita­nium surface and eye-catching apps no longer contains any secrets after three minutes.

For a hunter who looks across the clear­ings with a steady eye, a robust and precise time­piece has a different meaning. The Jagduhr from Sinn, the 3006, is the watch of choice on the wrist of the profes­sional hunter. Thus, the already mentioned Ar-Dehu­mid­i­fying Tech­nology of the Sinn watch allows for increased func­tional and fogging safety. The satin-finished stain­less steel case has been surface-hard­ened with TEGI­MENT Tech­nology and is there­fore partic­u­larly scratch-resis­tant. The watch is also pres­sure-resis­tant up to 20 bar and vacuum-proof. With the moon­light display of the JAGDUHR 30063, the hunter can directly read the so-called Sauen­sonne. (Sauen­sonne is the huntsman’s term for a short period at night time three days before to three days after full moon, when the light is partic­u­larly good). On the clock, a curved yellow arrow in the styl­ized crosshair indi­cates the direc­tion of move­ment of the moon.

Those are details. One must not forget that even today, watches must still be time­keepers from time to time. If you’re late for an appoint­ment, you may have a situ­a­tion that needs explaining, and that can be solved. If an emer­gency physi­cian is late for a seri­ously injured trauma patient, two people have a real problem. Minutes and seconds can make the differ­ence between life and death. Rescue workers call it the golden hour: one hour to save lives, 60 minutes, 3,600 seconds. Time is always ticking in the back­ground during a rescue oper­a­tion, but where a rescue heli­copter lands, every minute counts. Within the first 10 minutes the patient should be recov­ered, the bleeding stopped, the oxygen supply must be there. What does an emer­gency physi­cian want to look at now if he wants to keep an eye on the time under this stress? He wants to look at an instru­ment with which the time period of an hour can be perfectly moni­tored. Sinn devel­oped the EZM 12 for this situ­a­tion.

The EZM 12 is char­ac­ter­ized by two rotating rings with outgoing and incoming minute scales. The inner rotating ring repre­sents the course of the “Golden Hour”, the outer rotating ring offers a count­down option, so that, for example, effec­tive periods of certain medica­tions or the remaining minutes until the rotors of the RTH start can be safely moni­tored. As a reminder of air rescue, the second hand was designed as a heli­copter rotor and combined with a pulse scale. This allows the heart rate to be measured every 15 seconds. When the rescue teams take off from the 70 heli­copter stations in Germany with their trans­port heli­copters to fly from clinic to clinic, many rescue workers wear the EZM 12. These people are the co-designers of the watch, the ones who need to know how the watch should look. This is truly partic­i­pa­tory design.

And now: design awards

I was almost disap­pointed. In my opinion, anyone who has achieved an accep­tance in the market through actual special­iza­tion that requires no further expla­na­tion does not need a design award. That’s why the breaking news that Sinn recently won two major design awards left me lost in thought for a moment. Was that good?

The reasons given by the jury of the German Design Award 2020, which awarded the EZM 12 doctors’ watch from Sinn, were plau­sible and true: “This extra­or­di­nary watch,” said the jury, “presents itself as compact, func­tional and prac­tical. On the outside, without sharp edges to prevent hooking in, the func­tion­ality for doctors for whom the product was devel­oped is imme­di­ately apparent due to the detailed edging and offers special­ized func­tions that are required in emer­gency situ­a­tions”.  Nothing can be said against this, because the German Design Award recog­nises the power of partic­i­pa­tory design at this point and fortu­nately does not focus on any aesthetic details. The second German Design Award for Sinn in the cate­gory “Excel­lent Product Design 2020” also provides the tran­si­tion to aesthetic quality that does not forget the bene­fits: According to the jury, the Jagduhr 3006 is a jewellery watch by day with a stylish watch band, dark green dial and a case made of hard­ened steel, but at night it becomes a tool for hunters with lumi­nous hands and time sections as well as a moon phase display.

However, the design awards do have their good points: they have a broad effect that not only confirms medical prac­ti­tioner or hunter; they also show others that good design concerns inner and outer values equally. Design is complex. Nowa­days design is no longer just product or graphic design, but also knowl­edge and action design. What Beuys proclaimed for the concept of art also exists in design, which is driven by social processes. With this insight, humanity is once again a step further. In awarding the two watches, the German Design Award did not high­light a spec­tac­ular-looking new product, but one that has been contin­u­ously improved over the years and by many, and in which the users were involved in the entire design process. In this case this is spec­tac­ular.


Pascal Johanssen