[Video] Missed Review: The Sinn EZM1, The First Mission Timer

In the opening scene of The Big Lebowski, Sam Elliot delivers a perfectly dry monologue about The Dude being, not a hero (‘cause what’s a hero?), but simply “the man for his time and place.” When I think about a watch that’s perfectly of its time and place, for some reason, my mind goes straight to the original Sinn EZM1, a watch that coincidentally hails from the same era as the enigmatic Coen brothers film. Unlike The Dude, there is plenty about the EZM1 that makes a whole lot of sense, which makes it all the more stupefying that we haven’t really seen anything like it in the years since. What is it about this watch that’s so captivating? And why don’t we see more watches like it today? In this Missed Review, we aim to explore these questions, along with an assessment of just how well it holds up nearly 25 years later. 

Sinn’s EZM series of watches are each built around a singular concept to benefit their somewhat niche use cases. They are, quite literally, mission timers by name, at least that’s what I’m told “Einsatzzeitmesser” (the word from which we get EZM) practically translates to in english. The EZM4 was built with the medical professional in mind, and the EZM7 for firefighters, to name some examples. This has led to some rather unique dial and case designs within the EZM range, which we’ve explored before here, and here. This concept began with the EZM1 in the late ‘90s.

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[Video] Missed Review: The Sinn EZM1, The First Mission Timer

Case
Titanium
Movement
Lemania 5100
Dial
Matte Black
Lume
Tritium
Lens
Sapphire
Strap
Titanium H-Link Bracelet
Water Resistance
300M
Dimensions
40X46.5mm
Thickness
16mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Screw Down
Warranty
NA
Price
$

The Sinn EZM1 is an unusual watch in the best of ways. It also set a visual identity, perhaps unknowingly, that persists to this day. They’ve come back to the watch a few times now over the years, including just earlier this year with a second release of the EZM1.1 – but none have captured the essence of the original in quite the same way, if you ask me. The 1.1 models gained an aggressiveness pleasantly absent from the initial production run of around 3,000. Though to be fair, this was always a watch designed for extremes, so perhaps it’s merely grown into those shoes over time. Whatever the case, the original just hits a bit different, as they say, almost like a rug that ties the whole room together. 

First shown in 1997, the EZM1 was built with a few simple goals in mind: a chronograph with high water resistance, and uncompromised legibility. Being Sinn, their interpretation of these parameters was a bit different than what we’ve seen from other brands with similar goals. As a result, nearly every feature of the watch has been implemented in a somewhat unusual, though highly effective manner. And in every way but one, it holds up remarkably well today as a useful, modern design. We’ll get into that one exception later. 

The EZM1 was introduced alongside the EZM2, a dive watch built for the Border Protection Group 9 of the Federal Police; it used their new HYDRO technology to eliminate fogging and optimize underwater legibility. In contrast, the EZM1 was developed at the behest of an officer within a special combat unit of the German customs authority, the Zentrale Unterstützungseinheit Zoll (ZUZ). Early issued examples are signed ZUZ at the bottom of the dial, to signify the unit that would be putting the watches to use. Another batch of 10 examples was produced for the Customs Central Technological Group (ZTZ), and even included a few with right handed controls.

ZUZ signed EZM1 / Credit: Sinn

A side note here to mention the thoroughly odd limited edition EZM1 done in collaboration with the Japanese streetwear brand, A Bathing Ape (BAPE). Just 100 examples of this variant were produced, each featuring the signature BAPE camo applied to the case, dial, bezel, and strap. The circumstances around this collaboration are unusual, and the watch itself may only appeal to the presumably small overlap in fans of German tool watches and Japanese streetwear culture, but it does indeed exist, and it’s not the only BAPE LE watch that’s been done since. This watch is so unusual, we reached out to Sinn directly to better understand its origins. Keep an eye out for a separate article on this collaboration coming soon. Ok, back to the standard spec EZM1. 

The BAPE EZM1 / Credit: Shuck The Oyster

If I’ve learned anything in my time around watches, it’s that a need born of a truly niche use case creates some of the best watches. I’ll cite the Tudor FXD, and the old Omega Soccer Timers as just a couple examples. The EZM1 is no exception to this rule, and when done properly, as this certainly is, there’s no compromise to the broader practicality of the watch. The EZM1 is a very approachable watch that happens to make a lot of sense in the day to day activities of a regular civilian such as myself. 

While it may not be as versatile as something like the 556, it also doesn’t get some of the hallmarks you typically find on tactical tool watches, from oversized hands and numerals, dial and bezel scales, helium escape valves, or big crown guards. All things considered, this is a relatively subtle watch that practices restraint when it comes to its prime features. This is exactly what makes it such a great all around watch with way more flexibility than you might imagine given its origins within the hands of elite armed forces. 

EZM2 (left) with the EZM1

What is it about this watch that’s so curious? The saying ‘more than the sum of its parts’ comes to mind here, and the EZM1 is most definitely that.

Right out of the gates, the EZM1 makes an odd impression. First, the controls are all situated along the left of the case, and while it’s clearly a chronograph, there are no sub dials in sight. In fact, thanks to the use of red on the matte black dial, it looks like a time only watch with a timing seconds hand parked at 12 o’clock. A closer look reveals a date aperture under the 3 o’clock position, and another timing hand at rest underneath the seconds hand. This is in fact, a 60 minute chronograph with the timing hands, both seconds and minutes, mounted on the central hand stack. 

Sinn is using a modified Lemania 5100 to achieve this layout, and while centrally mounted chronographs aren’t unheard of, they’re certainly far from commonplace, especially when it comes to “field spec” type of service watches like this. The thought here was to distill the basic timing elements down to their bare bones basic, and strip everything that could be considered a distraction away from the design. To that end, we’re left with, well, a very straightforward timing device that, in my use, doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything. It feels like a regular time and date watch when the chronograph isn’t in use, and when it is, you’re not hunting for the right little sub dial, you simply read the measurement off the same scale already in use for the hour and minute hands. It’s efficient, but it’s not perfect. 

A benefit of having the minute totalizer relegated to its own sub dial is that it can be read outside of the influence of the hour and minute hand, reducing any potential confusion about which hand is which. Sinn combats this potential point of friction in a couple ways. First, about three quarters of the timing hands are black, leaving just the top third visible to quickly differentiate themselves from the fully lumed hour and minute hand. Next, the tip of the timing minute hand gets a pair of wings, setting it apart from the syringe shaped minute hand of the watch. Combined, these features work relatively well, though I’d contend that, were the tips of the timing hands presented in a different color, they’d be even easier to use.

Assuming you know which hands you’re looking for when timing an event, reading them together is a much smoother experience, as you’re able to do so around the main chapter ring of the watch. It’s an experience that feels so natural, that I’m genuinely curious as to why we don’t see this configuration used more often. Presumably, the matter comes down to the modifications needed by the movement to support the layout. It’s worth noting that the EZM1.1 limited edition watches use the same layout, and get Sinn’s SZ01 movement, which is based upon the Valjoux 7750 platform. Whatever the case, it creates the opportunity to present some seriously creative takes on the traditional chronograph layout and I’d welcome a broader adoption than it currently enjoys. 

The dial layout is only part of the equation here, though. The left handed controls aren’t in fact for the benefit of left handed individuals. They are placed there to point away from the bend of the wrist, and to make chronograph actuation a more ‘sure-footed’ exercise. Where you’d traditionally use an index finger to start timing, here, the wearer uses their thumb, pressing the button at 8 o’clock. 

I wear watches on my right wrist, so I’m a bit out of the intended use range, however I still find this particular execution manageable (more so than other destro style watches, at least). The crown and pushers are tightly integrated to the case design, meaning there’s minimal overhang to run interference at the bend of the wrist. Further, coming over the top of the watch, I can still actuate the chronograph with my left thumb, bracing the watch with my index finger. 

I don’t often think about the ergonomics of a chronograph, especially as it relates to the overall on-wrist ergonomics of a watch, but the EZM1 kind of forces you to confront it. These are the small things we often take for granted, or just don’t really take into account when assessing the merits of a watch. Setting ergonomics aside, it’s just a really cool look in this instance thanks to the tight execution, and the sleeves which the buttons themselves sit in. One reason I don’t mind screw-down pushers is their ability to create visual continuity with the case. Rather than a component sticking out of the case abruptly, it creates a transition from one element to the other (also why I shy away from wire lugs). The EZM1 is the best of both worlds, with a more usable pusher design (obviously), and a visual connection to the case itself.

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Another thoughtful transition Sinn created for the EZM1 is the bezel assembly and insert in the lead up the crystal. Measuring from the base of the bezel assembly to the top of the crystal, you’ll find approximately 6mm of the total 16mm of total case thickness. The bezel is set at an angle, meaning the numbers on the bezel fall away from the dial. Those numbers, by the way, are the only numerals to appear on the entire watch outside of the date window. 

The insert of the bezel is framed by a small section of steel, making for a segmenting of the bezel and dial. Again, a detail you don’t normally confront in a watch that somehow stands out with the EZM1. And that’s not the only odd detail about the bezel. This is a countdown bezel, with each five minute segment marked (the evens being a bit larger), starting with 55, and ending with 5. It’s also bidirectional. All this combines into a rather unique bezel experience that I gotta say, is one of my favorite passages of this particular watch. The design works, the feel of the rotation works, and the usability of the countdown, bi-directional works. 

There are functional elements that we see used so often we tend to kind of glaze over at their appearance. Rarely are they executed in a manner that makes us stop and notice them. Sinn hasn’t taken anything for granted in their approach to the EZM1. Something as innocuous as a bezel would have been easy to ‘phone in’ but they didn’t. This whole watch feels like the culmination of that approach. It would have been easy to use the standard chronograph layout and a regular bezel, but they didn’t. 

One of the less successful components, in my experience, is the domed crystal. Now, I enjoy a good domed crystal as much as the next person, but there are good domes crystals, and not so great domed crystals. This particular example domes to a single point, with a uniform curve throughout. This crystal catches reflections from miles around, creating a compromised view into the dial in many environments. In my view, a flat crystal would have done wonders here, however I’m taking this all from the perspective on dry ground, when in fact the domed crystal implemented here may be perfectly suitable underwater (high water resistance was a part of the brief, afterall).

The case design of the EZM1 is still in use today within the 103 range, and it’s not exactly original to Sinn in the first place, as it’s a design found on a variety of now vintage chronographs from the likes of Heuer and Wakmann. It’s a striking case with hard lines and a heavy chamfer along the lug. Sinn uses their Ar-Dehumidifying technology here, with Copper Sulfate capsule visible within the 3 o’clock lug. The idea here is that otherwise movement bound moisture is absorbed by the capsule, and the darker blue it gets, the more moisture it has absorbed. Of course, a blue capsule doesn’t mean a water logged movement, it’s really just an indicator that the watch, the movement, and the oils are operating within ideal conditions, and this is a watch that can operate within some relatively extreme parameters. The EZM1 is functionally reliable from –20°C (-4°F) up to +70°C (158°F), though I’m told it’s capable of going well beyond that.

Sinn’s Ar-Dehumidifying technology is interesting in concept, and along with the case being filled with Argon gas, is meant to purge any moisture from the interior of the watch. The capsule turning blue or light blue does not signify a water damaged movement, rather it’s doing its job of wicking up any moisture in the environment of the watch. As you’ve likely noticed, the vast majority of watches sold do not use a Copper Sulfate capsule, and yet, we have no hesitation buying and using them, even in wet environments. What benefit are we really getting with this capsule, exactly? Peace of mind, perhaps? I find the application of this technology interesting, but short of compelling in terms of practical benefits, at least in the manner it’s communicated at present. Is it really prolonging the life of the movement compared to one placed in a case without this technology? Still, it’s one of the quirks/curiosities that adds to the overall considerable character of the watch. 

If there’s one thing the EZM1 does well, it’s reminding us that just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it has to follow the status quo. There is nothing wholly unique about the EZM1 (other than the Ar-Dehumidifying technology), but it still manages to feel entirely original. Sinn stopped at every step to ask “why does it have to be that way?” and worked to devise a set of different solutions to better suit a specific set of needs. An approach I’d love to see more brands embrace.

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Surely, it’s not possible for every brand to modify movements to their hearts content to better fit a set of design goals, but it’s still worth challenging the “because that’s how we’ve always done it” approach. Whether it’s the orientation of a complication, or curve of a lug, or a bracelet clasp… great watches find ways to separate themselves from the masses in the smallest of details. The EZM1 isn’t perfect, but it’s very much in its own lane, and it doesn’t feel like the result of market segment research. Like a Westerley cardigan and a pair of jelly sandals, it won’t always jive, but when watches like this hit, they go on to enjoy the admiration of collectors and enthusiasts for generations, and the EZM1 feels like it’s destined for this category. 

Today, the EZM1 is a tricky watch to track down. Many in the hands of collectors and Sinn enthusiasts since its release, it’s never really had a chance to catch the modern hype train, but there’s a sizable amount of lore with this watch that seems pervasive within the community. When they do pop up, prices in the $6-10k range aren’t uncommon, which should say a lot about the revered status of the watch. 

If you haven’t caught on yet, this is a watch I’d love to see make a proper return. Further still, it’s a watch I’d like to see other brands take notice of, and inspiration from. Not to make a watch just like the EZM1, but to push them off the status quo, to ask “why” more often, and ultimately to make more memorable watches. Sinn has proven highly adept at this, and the EZM1 is perhaps the greatest expression of this mindset. 

See all of the Sinn mission timers at their website right here, and let us know your thoughts on the EZM1 in the comments below.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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