Sinn’s 104: Pilots Not Required

There’s a lot of design space between Type A & B fliegers and data-crammed watches like the Breitling Navitimer or Seiko Flightmaster. That’s where you’ll find pilot watches like the limited edition Sinn 104 St Sa A B E, a watch that embraces the form in a contemporary way.

Sinn’s credentials begin with aviation, not watch making. Company founder Helmut Sinn was a World War II pilot and blind-flying instructor, and you can see that in the company’s design DNA.

Blind flying techniques developed because there were situations when a pilot’s instincts could not be trusted, such as when flying into a cloud bank. The pilot could have issues detecting the difference between the force of gravity and centrifugal force resulting from the plane banking. The aviator needed to fly by instruments alone in such situations. Instrument readability, therefore would be critical.

This is where the 104 is a standout. I have never held a more readable watch. Contrast between dial and hands is fantastic, though not the binary contrast of matte white and black you see on the Sinn 556, 656 or 856 for instance.  And while many companies use AR coating, Sinn seems to have mastered it. There are times when the crystal disappears completely. The attractive, dark blue sunburst dial is also subdued enough to not interfere with legibility in direct sunlight.

What makes it contemporary? Well, at 41 mm for the case and 20 mm lug width, it’s a bit smaller than some more traditional pilot watches. The dial does not evoke a cockpit instrument, and it’s not crammed with information. Some 104s with indices have much busier minute tracks, but I prefer this approach where the numerals stand out cleanly. Though it has some nostalgic ques, such as lume colour and the shape of the numerals, especially the 2s and 4, it doesn’t invoke classic flieger nostalgia.

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Sinn chose to use white hands, filled with the tan lume, so the hands really stand out on the dial. And the high polished case and syringed hands, along with a second hand with a lumed diamond toward the end, give it a certain swagger. This baby wants to be seen.

But let’s touch on the elephants in the watch review: faux lume, or tan as I think of it, and the whole “another limited edition” thing. I didn’t buy this watch for any vintage lume ques or because it was a limited edition (1000 pieces available). I pounced the moment I saw it because it wasn’t black and white or a colored dial and black bezel. I’ve been following Sinn for a while because of their reputation for affordable excellence and engineering. All I needed was to find one with a colorway that worked for me, and this was it. I personally think the tan lume goes well with the dial and deep blue bezel.

For those who appreciate higher contrast than the tan lume offers, Sinn has those versions in their stable. They launched the 104 St Sa I at Baselworld in 2013, and now have a variety of configurations available with numerals or indices.

Like many Sinn watches, the 104 does have a tool watch aesthetic, with angular lugs featuring a pronounced chamfered edge. The deep blue anodized aluminum bi-directional countdown bezel has silver numerals and indices framed by silver on the inside and outside, emphasizing the detail of this dark dialed watch and bezel. Again, readability is king with this watch.

What makes it a pilot watch? Readability, as mentioned is one thing. It also has a captured bezel, held down by small screws, to ensure it doesn’t pop off due to pressure changes.

Another aspect associated with pilots watches is also the first minor nit I want to pick, and that’s the crown. Pilot watches are supposed to have large crowns so they could be manipulated with gloves on. While the crown on the 104 is tall, and so very visible, even with small crown guards, it isn’t especially wide. That might be why the wider but shorter crown on my Oris Big Crown Pointer Date is much easier to manipulate.

Another reason the crown might be a bit hard to handle is because the case is entirely polished, except on the underside. The crown feels slippery. While I’ve noticed that the chamfered edge nicely reflects light like a gem facet, those who dislike shiny, shiny will not like this case.

My single biggest criticism is with the canvas and leather strap. It comes with tan and grey. I haven’t tried the grey yet, but the tan one is already fraying on the tongue end. I’ve had to cut off some stray pieces after only a few wears, and the holes don’t look very promising for long term wear. Not a big issue as it gave me an excuse to get a 20 mm Horween, but a definite miss.

Finally, this watch features the fairly ubiquitous SW 220-1, though this version has some extra polish and blue screws. A gold Sinn rotor with Geneva stripes bears the limited designation: Eine von 1000. A nice but simple touch.

Ordering a watch off of the Internet and based on brand reputation without having actually touched the product can be a risky proposition. But from feel to design, this one is a definite hit for me. Would I have preferred a mixture of polished and brushed on the case? Sure. But every time I turn my wrist, I am pleased, and what more could one want from a watch?