I have never been a fan of flashy and in-your-face watches. I prefer a subtler approach to my wrist wear, opting for timepieces that are utilitarian in both design and purpose. Unfortunately, my tastes run counter to the trends of the watch world today, where shiny wrist-clocks reign supreme. Granted, most brands offer a variety of styles in their catalogues, but I would not be amiss to say that over-designed and oversized watches are still supremely popular with the general buying public.
This is where the Germans come in. Generally speaking, German brands offer watches that are just as well designed as their Swiss counterparts, but are also functional, innovative, and over-engineered (in a good way). The entry-level Damasko DA36 sitting on my wrist right now is a testament to that fact, exemplifying the beauty of simplicity while touting a number of patents that should rightfully put other manufacturers to shame.
But here’s the downside: most of these beautiful watches can only be admired from afar. You won’t find Sinn or Damasko at your local AD, and the few distributors who do sell these brands focus almost exclusively on e-commerce. I don’t know about you, but if I am going to spend my hard earned money on a watch, I’d like to see it in person first.
And that’s why I get excited whenever the WatchBuys road show rolls around. WatchBuys, as most you may already know, is a direct-to-customer distributor for a number of wonderful German brands like Sinn, Nomos Glashutte, and Dornblueth & Sohn. Eschewing a brick and mortar location, WatchBuys instead opts for a national tour, traveling to cities across the country to meet their customers and to show off their wares. Nothing is sold at these shows, so you get to enjoy a pressure-free environment while checking out some of the most coveted German timepieces out there. I was fortunate enough to get a spot to this year’s New York road show, which was largely a Sinn affair. Here are some of my personal highlights.
Sinn – 104
It’s no big secret that Sinn is one of my favorite brands, so I immediately gravitated to one of several Sinn tables. The first watch to catch my eye was the Sinn 104. The 104 is one of Sinn’s newest watches, offered as an entry level younger brother to the 103 series of chronographs. To be perfectly honest, I was underwhelmed when Sinn first announced the watch, believing that Sinn was just aping a popular line for the sake of profit. It wasn’t until I had it strapped to my wrist that I changed my mind.
Though the design cues are evident with the familiar case, bezel, dial, and hands, the watch doesn’t feel like a cheaper alternative to an already beloved watch. Sinn captured perfectly the vintage look and feel of the 103 line and stripped it down to create an effective three-hander with a day/date complication. The thickness of the 103 (a mere 11.5mm versus the 103’s 17mm) is also much easier to swallow and, when coupled with the high polish finish of the case, ensures that the 104 will look right at home dressed up or down.
Sinn – DIAPAL collection
I own a Sinn 756. In my eyes, it’s one of the most beautiful flieger chronographs out there. It’s masculine without bordering on the absurd, and with its uncluttered bi-compax layout, it is also one of the most legible watches in my collection. It is also built like a tank, feature a good chunk of Sinn’s impressive proprietary tech. However, I do admit that at times the watch can look a tad dead, especially with its flat printed dial and bead-blasted case. The DIAPAL version, however, livens things up with the two-tone dial, skeletonized UTC hand, and finely brushed case finish. Likewise, the 358 DIAPAL and the 103 DIAPAL do the same for their respective series. Looks aside, the DIAPAL technology is impressive and worthy of note, and it’s one of the many reasons why Sinn is blowing similarly priced watches out of the water.
Sinn – SZ01
With the death of the functional and rugged Lemania 5100 came largely the end of the central minutes chronograph counter. A void needed to be filled, so Sinn, one of Lemania’s biggest customers, began development of the SZ01 in 2003. The SZ01 is a heavily modified Valjoux 7750 that is designed for maximum legibility. This is achieved in two ways: first, 60 minutes are counted in one sweep of the hand instead of the more common 30 minutes, and second, the minutes counter is at the center of the dial.
Housing this wonderful movement are two watches: The EZM10 TESTAF and the re-launched 140 series. Much has already been said about the EZM10. It’s big and bold, it’s military and tactical, and it houses nearly all of the impressive Sinn tech we’ve come to appreciate, from the tegimented case and bracelet to the DIAPAL escapement. The new 140 series is a blast from the past rooted in Sinn’s military and space flight history when, in 1985, astronaut Reinhard Furrer wore the 140 S during the D-1 Spacelab mission. The 140 A is a limited edition of only 500 units, and of all the watches at this year’s road show, the 140 A was the true showstopper.
The satinized and polished case is tegimented and is a nice contrast to the normally bead-blasted look of tegimented cases. The beautiful black dial is layered with two white recessed sub-dials, creating a visual pop that gives the watch face some depth. The 140 A also features Sinn’s Ar-Dehumidifying Technology, ensuring that the face won’t fog up if moisture ever penetrates the case, and a slew of other features as well. The watch feels and looks substantial when worn, with its cushion case design, but is tempered by its vintage styling so as not to be too overpowering.
Nomos Zürich Blaugold
Nomos is a favorite here at worn&wound, which shouldn’t be too surprising since Nomos is a manufacture that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for their watches (when compared to the watch world at large). We’ve reviewed the Nomos Club, singing its praises for its beautifully restrained design, in-house movement, and reasonable price point. I was able to check out a number of Nomos watches at the road show, including the new Ahoi and the feminine Tetra line.
But the watch that really caught my interest, as well as the interest of a number of other patrons, was the Zürich Blaugold. The Zürich line features some of the more refined watches in the Nomos catalogue, partially due to the gorgeous case designed by the late Hannes Wettstein. The Zürich Blaugold takes that case and pairs it with a beautiful galvanized blue gold dial with rhodium plated hour indices. The dial also features a subtle sunray pattern that really catches the light and makes the dial pop.
On the flip side, the epsilon movement, an automatic in-house caliber, is beautifully decorated with Glashütte ribbing and Nomos-perlage, blued screws, and engraved rotor. My only gripe with the watch is that it runs a bit large for a dressier piece, especially with the thinner bezel and elongated lugs, but the darker dial helps temper the size.
Junghans Max Bill
A few weeks ago I toyed with purchasing the Max Bill Ref. 3701, a small Bauhaus-inspired hand cranker. I ultimately held off, deciding that the size would probably be too small and the lugs too squat. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Max Bill line at the road show. I had always wanted to try them on, and I had no idea that WatchBuys stocked the brand (they didn’t until recently). The chronoscope is a beautiful timepiece, vintage in it’s design and feel, but modern in its size.
My favorite, however, was the automatic Ref. 4700 with the date complication. The size is perfect for my 6.75-inch wrist and the beautiful Bauhaus typography and convex crystal really bring the watch together. I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger on the 3701 as the 4700 is now on my shortlist. It’s a great choice for those who prefer a more modest size but still love the vintage styling, require a date window, and have an appreciation for the Bauhaus aesthetic.
Sinn Military III: a Sinn made specifically for the Japanese market, though WatchBuys was able to get their hands on a couple of pieces.
Bruno Sohnle Mechanik IV Blue Hands: A brand that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. The Mechanik IV comes with beautiful blued hands and attention grabbing blued hour markers.
written and photographed by Ilya Ryvin