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of their buyers, especially through new designs, or add special materials, or try to enrich their own brand with historical references to the Bauhaus — somehow I didn’t find all these approaches at Sinn.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