Sinn, a watch manufacturer based in Frankfurt, Germany, enjoys widespread popularity among watch enthusiasts around the globe. The brand proudly embraces the reputation of German engineering and the “Made in Germany” label. International watch blogs and magazines applaud almost every new model that Sinn comes out with, especially the limited models and new versions of their classics. The best example of this, introduced at Inhorgenta 2020, is the Sinn 158 (limited to 500 pieces):
As functional and technologically advanced as the latest Sinn models are, I personally feel that older Sinn watches have far more charm – in particular, the ones originating from Helmut Sinn’s time, so before 1994.
By the way, I’m not alone in my opinion – many collectors and Sinn fans say the same. A watch from that era is always worth somewhat more than once that’s debuted since. You can often see this in the listings, where it’s explicitly mentioned when a watch is “from Helmut Sinn’s time.” Those words have become a mark of quality to a certain extent.
But aside from the obvious nostalgia, there is another compelling reason why Sinn watches manufactured through the late 90s have a special value to collectors. It’s because these watches feature tritium dials – as long as they are still in their original condition. These watches are particularly beloved among collectors, and that’s not only because of the brand name.
Additionally, these dials age beautifully. Over the years and decades, the indices and numerals change color, as do the hands. Usually the result is a vanilla yellow or a whitish gray. Or both, as seen here:
And which Sinn models are worth taking a closer look at?
Well, actually, you can take your pick since all of them that fulfill the aforementioned criteria. There are plenty to choose from. However, some vintage Sinns’ prices have gone up so much (e.g., the Bundeswehr Chronograph Sinn 1550) that you’ll have to have over $3,200 on hand.
On that note, let’s focus on the models that have potential but fall in a more moderate price rang of between $1,000 and $3,000.
Here are my 3 favorite Sinn watches.
Sinn 103 – The Flieger Chronograph
The Sinn 103 is, without a doubt, this German company’s most iconic pilot’s watch – and has been since the late 60s/early 70s. Helmut Sinn was himself a passionate aviator, and the 103 is intertwined with both his personal history and that of the company. Over the last 50 years, there have been many variations of this model in terms of the dial design, the bezel, and the movement.
Connoisseurs will recognize that the watch from my collection shown above is somewhat of a rarity (no longer available), but it’s no vintage model.
However, that’s exactly the tip I would give to anyone looking to buy a (vintage) pilot’s watch with the potential to increase in value.
So, here’s my advice: Try to find a Sinn 103, and then make sure it was made before 1999. That’s when they stopped using the tritium dials that are so popular today. If you want to narrow your scope even further, look for a watch from 1994 or earlier, a.k.a. the Helmut Sinn era.
Most of these pilot’s chronographs are outfitted with the trusty and durable Valjoux/ETA 7750. Just about any watchmaker can perform maintenance on this movement, and it isn’t difficult to find replacement parts for it.
Now let’s shift from aviation to motorsport.
Sinn 144: The Racing Chronograph
Helmut Sinn was not only a pilot but also a rally car driver. There’s a reason why he was known as “fast Helmut.” That brings us to our second Sinn classic: the Sinn 144.
As opposed to the 103, this watch has an internal bezel equipped with a tachymeter scale (for measuring speed). The dial design also bears some resemblance to a tachometer. This is no coincidence. Overall, the 144 has some similarities with another chronograph connected to motorsport: the Orfina Porsche Design, which hit the market in 1972 and was one of the first black watches ever. Other manufacturers later looked to its design and more or less reinterpreted it. Among the watches to emerge out of this trend were Heuer’s Pasadena and Sinn’s 144. The latter was available as a black or plain stainless steel timepiece.
Because the black coating back then wasn’t particularly good, old watches tend to have some metal shining through, and they often look pretty worse for wear. Therefore, I would rather recommend the stainless steel version here, unless the watches were DLC-coated at a later date. (More on that)
When it comes to the movement, Sinn once again turned to the solid and unpretentious Valjoux/ETA 7750.
Here’s another tip: If you want something special, keep your eyes peeled for a Sinn 144 with GMT function. These watches are somewhat rarer and more expensive but definitely worth looking into.
My third and final tip has us heading to space.
Sinn 140/142: The Space Chronograph
Yes, this Sinn has been to space. German astronaut Reinhard Furrer wore his 140 during the 1985 space shuttle mission STS-61-A (also known as D-1). According to Sinn, it was the first automatic chronograph in space.
Although Furrer wore a slightly different version (the Sinn 141 S), the 140/142 has always been considered its legitimate successor and is, therefore, called the “space chronograph.”
Another thing you should know about this watch: Like the Sinn 144, it was also available with or without a black coating. At 43 mm in diameter, it is rather large watch with a bulky case. It also has an internal bezel that is operated via a second crown at 10 o’clock.
Sinn equipped with timepiece the Lemania 5100 with a 24-hour display. This movement is not as common as the Valjoux/ETA 7750, so you might run into some trouble with maintenance costs and replacement parts. It won’t be impossible to maintain, but it’s worth noting
As with the Sinn 144, ff you’re looking for something special, keep an eye out for a 140/142 with GMT function. It’s certainly a bit more expensive and not as easy to find, but it’s a very interesting watch.
So, those are my tips for (vintage) Sinn watches that are true collector’s items. Of course, newer Sinn watches are also a good choice – that’s not even a question. But as I said, older Sinns with beautifully aged tritium dials have more charm and potential to appreciate in value.