Sinn 104 Review

By Greg Bedrosian

I woke up to a surprise email from my dad. His beloved Victorinox Swiss Army watch had stopped working. It needed more than a battery change. The quartz movement was broken and he faced the hard truth that it would make more financial sense to replace the watch than to fix it. He was “giving up” on Swiss Army after he had replaced several over the past few years.

We’ve all been there at some point. Luckily, my dad is aware that I’m a hobby horologist and asked for help finding a new watch. Of course I was thrilled to help. Not only because he was my dad, but because he was smart enough to realize how easy it is to get lost looking for a watch someplace between Amazon and a department store (and possibly make a bad decision).

I was determined to find some great recommendations for him. He did have a couple of criteria he wanted adhered to for the search.

  1. Not a Breitling Navitimer (his grail watch)
  2. Strong Lume
  3. Under $1,000 USD
  4. Durable
  5. Large Arabic hour markers
  6. Leather strap

I quickly narrowed it down to Sinn (pronounced Zinn) or Hamilton (pronounced Hamilton). After a little mental ping-pong on my part, I decided that the Sinn 104 St Sa would be the best choice for him. My Dad had a birthday coming up and a few conversations later with my mom we decided that she would buy him the $1,330 watch and that my wife and I would buy him a $90 Sinn reference SI-104 black leather strap (Good job, Mom!).

Sinn 104 Case

The case on the Sinn 104 is 41mm. Don’t let that spec fool you. I feel that it wears closer to 39-40mm. There are a couple of reasons for that. They nailed the slope of the lugs. I know everyone says the phrase “It hugs the wrist.” But this is for real. My Dad’s wrists are slightly larger than the 6.75” toothpicks that connect my hands to my forearms. Sinn really nailed the angle / lug-to-lug formula in the 104.

The lugs are straight, but instead of rounded edges they have a smooth 45-degree bevel. The lugs are about all you see of the case while it’s on your wrist. The short and flat crown guards are tastefully done.

Taking a closer look at the side of the Sinn 104 case reveals that most areas are polished. Considering how much of a tool watch this is, I was surprised to see that. I think that the polishing actually helped make the Sinn 104 more versatile and dresses it up just enough.

The case is constructed from stainless steel. Unfortunately, it’s not Sinn’s HY-80 “submarine steel.” That’s OK because your chances of being on the receiving end of a depth charge are basically zero. Still, the Sinn 104 is rated for 20 bar (approx 196 meters) of water resistance. As long as the crown is screwed down, you should have no problems submersing it in water.

The Dial Design

There are a few different dial variations on the Sinn 104. The watch here for review had Arabic numerals (one of my Dad’s requests). I would have preferred the “stick” indices. Other options for the dial include colors such as blue, green, and white.

The white syringe style hands remain the same throughout the 104 model line. The white paint used on the dark colored dial provides ample contrast. My favorite combination is the black hands that are unique to the white dial version. Whatever combination you choose, the legibility on the Sin 104 is excellent.

The Sinn 104 has a very clean dial. I really like how the day of the week and date are each boxed. Most of the dial versions for the Sinn 104’s day and date wheels are black. Just like the hands on the white dial, that model gets a white date and day wheel. I love a color matching date wheel. It would have been great to see matching blue and green date wheels.

On the 104, text is used sparingly. One thing that I didn’t understand was that the text “Automatik” was in German, but the dial also proudly stated “Made in Germany”. Shouldn’t it read “Hergestellt in Deutschland” instead? No, “Made in Germany” is actually used by German companies to show quality and reliability.


 
 

The Bezel

For me the bezel was one of the most interesting features of the Sinn 104. The bezel normally defines the “tool watch.” A tool watch bezel will usually have some sort of graduated scale with anything from minute increments to a siding calculator.

The Sin 104 appears have a dive bezel at first glance. However, going in for a closer look reveals that the bezel is bidirectional (rotated both ways). The five-minute increment scale is reversed, with “55” being at one o’clock and “5” being at eleven o’clock. This changes the 104’s “tool” function from elapsed time (like a “dive watch”) to a countdown timer.

“47 minutes until we are out of fuel and have to ditch” or “23 minutes until the cupcakes can come out of the oven and we can decorate them” …depending on the user.

The 104’s bezel action is smooth and secure. The firm, but easy action is one of the first things that you notice with the Sinn. It feels very over-engineered (in a good way) like many other quality German products. Sinn uses ball bearings under the bezel instead of a spring (like your Seiko SKX). Sixty clicks in either direction will bring the luminous inverted triangle back to twelve o’clock. My dad told me that he’s been timing laundry with it.

The teeth aren’t as pronounced as a diver. There are also twelve smooth spots between the teeth that line up with the hour makers. Needless to say, the bezel was one of my favorite features of the Sinn 104. I can’t wait to catch my dad messing with it while he is supposed to be paying attention to something else. Welcome to the #watchfam, Dad.

The Movement: SW 220-1

Like every other day-date watch at its price point, the Sinn 104 is powered by the ETA 2836-2, blah, blah, blah… Just kidding! The Sinn 104 is actually powered by the Sellita caliber SW 220-1 movement. I think that it’s great seeing larger independent watch companies like Sinn and Oris using Sellita instead of ETA movements.

With the SW 220-1 in the Sinn you get a hacking three-hander. The day disc operates inside of the bilingual date wheel. The days of the week are in English and German. You can select either. I know my dad will keep it in German to keep him in the mood while he cycles through all of Richard Wagner‘s thirteen operas. The day and date wheels change instantly, unlike the slow “Seiko-slide.”

The biggest negative with the SW 220-1 is that the power reserve is only 38 hours. If this watch is worn daily, it won’t be an issue due the rotor winding it automatically. However, with a 38 hour paper reserve, you really only get to set this watch down for a day before it needs to be hand wound and brought back to life.

The Sinn 104 has a display back, which showcases the SW220-1. The movement is handsome without over-the-top decorative finishing. This is going to be a really great feature for my dad. “Display backs” are a great way for someone new to watches to really appreciate a mechanical movement. The rotor is gold (plated) and has the “Sinn” logo on it. I would have liked to see the logo cut out of the metal like Zenith does.

Focusing on The Sinn 104 Strap

Another one of my dad’s requests was a leather strap. Sinn has a few options for straps and bracelets. The brown leather with off-white styling is totally my dad’s style. My personal preference is to always buy the metal bracelet and pick up a leather strap afterwards. Sinn offers an “H link” bracelet that is actually more Nautilus than Oyster. The other bracelet option is called a “Fine Link” that is similar to something you’d find on the five-link Breitling bracelet. The bracelets add $300-400 to the price of the watch, bumping the Sinn 104 to over $1,600. That’s a lot to ask.

The Breitling comparison is interesting because the Sinn leather strap and tang buckle look similar to the leather strap and tang buckle on a Navitimer. I think that the reason is the thickness and the lack of taper. The 20mm width only tapers 2mm. The lack of taper is not to my liking but it makes the leather strap feel much more solid.

Another thing that I didn’t like was how tight the strap was between the 20mm lugs. It’s almost like the strap is actually 21mm wide. I realize that 1mm doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a big deal in watches. It’s so tight that the lugs dig into the bottom side of the strap.

My Dad is a big fan of black / brown leather. His watch band, shoes, and belt must color-match. The plan was to get him the matching Sinn black leather band. They aren’t cheap. An OEM Sinn Leather strap is $90. I’m also worried that digging into it with a spring bar tool is going to damage the watch and leave him frustrated. Instead my wife and I got him a plethora of Barton bands with quick-releases on the spring bars from Amazon. The finalist were the black and brown leather straps and a black canvas strap. He kept the black and brown leather straps and we returned everything else. My Dad was happy and could easily change out straps on the fly without tools. More importantly, he now knows what to look for should he want more straps or to replace the existing ones when they get worn out.

Closing Thoughts

Is it easy to tell time? Yes.

Could I #watchfast it? Yes, but on a bracelet.

I know that this watch is supposed to be a “flyer” but that wasn’t the vibe that I got from the Sinn 104. I couldn’t get the theme song from Das Boot out of my head every time that I handled the watch. If the prop master from Das Boot or U-571 snuck in a Sinn 104 it wouldn’t have seemed out of place (even if watches from the 1930-40’s were much different).

The Sinn 104 was a joyous birthday success with my dad. We found a watch that checked off enough boxes on his wish-list. Since he’s owned it, my dad has only taken it off to shower and do yard work. He even sleeps in it! My Dad is a physicist, an engineer, and aerospace enthusiast. I’ve always tried to push him towards a Moonwatch. He’s always quick to remind me that the Breitling Navitimer is the “real space watch.” I’ve imagined one day inheriting my Dad’s “would-be” Navitimer. As of this article, it looks like it will be a Sinn 104 instead. That’s pretty heavy to think about. Simply put, the Sinn 104 is good enough that he won’t be upgrading anytime soon.


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