Within the last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing the Sinn 556i and the Archimede Outdoor Protect. We also have a review of the Damasko DA36 Black in the works. All three are “entry-level” German-made tool watches with nimble cases built for active lifestyles that are still office appropriate. One is a cult favorite, being well regarded by all who own or handle it, one has sort of gone under the radar, but is due its day in the sun, and the last has a strong cult following. Two are a bit more expensive, the other a hard-to-beat value. One is a bit more stylish, one a bit bland and the other sort of in between. For the fun of it, I figured we could look at these watches side-by-side, looking at where they are similar and where they differ.
Oddly enough, the Sinn 556i and Archimede watches come in at the rather specific 38.5mm, despite having very different designs. First off, if you ever need proof that watch only needs to be 38.5mm to get the job done, these two watches will do the trick. They are both large enough to have presence and look masculine, but they are small enough to be agile and modest, all while sporting 200m water resistance. These aren’t flashy watches by any means, but they aren’t lacking in looks either. The Damasko DA36 is a touch larger at 40mm, having a bit more of an aggressive build.
Design wise, the 556i has a classic pilot’s design with thin lugs and a nicely proportioned bezel. It’s a safe but timeless design that is executed to perfection. Edges are sharp and the satin finish, while potentially easy to scratch, has a beautiful sheen.
The Outdoor has a barrel case with hooded lugs that is altogether surprising. It’s a clever design with interesting facets that give it a modern feel, and prevent it from snagging terrain. While the design wont be as appealing to everyone, I happened to like it a lot. It’s different enough to make the watch unique, but not look strange.
Oddly enough, the Archimede Outdoor Protect features a hardened steel case, with a 1200 vickers surface while the 556i does not. This is strange as that technology is typically associated with Sinn’s Tegimenting process. Whether Archimede contracted SUG (Sinn’s case manufacturer) to do this or they found another way is unclear, but what is clear is that, at the price, Archimede beat Sinn at its own game.
The DA36 has a similar shape as the 556i, but is a bit larger at 40mm. What sets this case apart (and Damasko as a brand) is the tech included. First, it has a nickel-free ice hardened steel case with a rating of 710 vickers, which is available in PVD (shown) or bead-blasted. While “softer” than Sinn/Archimedes 1200 vickers (all of which are much harder than standard stainless steel) it is hardened all the way through. Supposedly, with a hard impact the surface-hardened steels can “egg-shell” or sort of crack along the surface.
This is probably only in very extreme circumstances that would jeopardize the watch as whole regardless. Either way you are getting something very impervious to scratching, which is the biggest benefit. Within the hardened steel case, there is a soft iron anti-magnetic cage protecting the movement up to 80,000 A/m.
The DA36 also has Damasko’s patented crown system, which features a screw in tube for easy replacement, Viton gaskets and permanent lubrication via a special lubrication cell. Yup, the crown alone has more tech than most watches out there, and since it’s made of hardened steel, it’s more durable to begin with. Yet, despite this overbuilt system, the DA36 is rated to 100M.
The 556i is known for its minimalist approach to the pilot’s dial with solely the use of white linear markers on a gloss black surface. It’s a striking design that manages to come off as both technical and sexy. As a sport watch it maintains high visibility, as a casual watch, it’s got style to spare. There is an aviator version as well called the 556a for the same price, which has a 12, 3, 6, 9 layout on a matte surface, but the 556i stands out with its intense starkness.
The Outdoor has more of a purely functional design, but with some clever features. The dial is very deep, available in matte black or full-lume, and has both numerals and rectangular markers. What it lacks in style, per say, it makes up for in legibility. This isn’t a dial you have to look at twice to read. Especially since it has a tall chapter ring with markers printed on the inside, a detail I’ve never seen before. They let you read the minute at even very low angles.
The DA36 is straightforward with a classic pilot inspired layout with large numerals, clear markings and a big bold triangle at 12. Adding some personality are cross-hairs that run from 12-6 and 3-9, an off-center day-date, and a tennis-ball yellow seconds hand. I’d place the DA36 in the middle of the spectrum from the 556i to the Outdoor, being less stylish than the former, but more exciting than the latter.
As far as dials are concerned, the Outdoor might be more effective in an active environment, while the 556i and DA36 will get more compliments in the office. The Outdoor is so matter of fact, so purposeful that it does lack a bit of charisma, though it’s not an unattractive dial; it’s just all business. The 556i, though stark and minimal, appeals to both military and graphic aesthetics. It’s restrained and almost mysterious. The DA36 has the classic, but tame appeal of a Flieger with a few modern twists that make it more sophisticated.
It’s also worth noting that the Outdoor has the best lume of the group by a large margin. The BGW9 on it is well applied and glows very bright. Both the 556i and DA36 are surprisingly lacking in this department. (The Damasko DA37 is a full-lume version of the DA36. I would assume the DA37 out performs the 36, so if lume is a deal-breaker there is an option)
The 556i features an ETA 2824-2 of either elaboré or Top grade that is visible through a sapphire display back. The Outdoor features a Sellita SW 200-1 and the DA36 has an ETA 2836-2, neither of which feature display backs though there is an option for the Outdoor that runs an extra $90. These 2824-2 and SW 200-1 movements are essentially interchangeable, by design, with the SW 200-1 being regularly used to replace ETA 2824-2’s as they become harder to obtain. Sinn too uses Sellitas in some of their models, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 556’s get them in the near future. So, there isn’t much of a difference here, in either watch you are getting a high quality Swiss-made automatic. The Sinn might be a higher grade though.
The Damasko features a similar movement, but with day/date complication that is customized to be displayed off-center on the dial, which is a great detail. The movement is described as “gilded” indicating it too is at least elaboré grade. Though there is no reason to suggest this, I do wonder if Damasko too will switch over the Sellita in the near future, utilizing the SW 220, which also has day/date. (side note, Damasko also makes some killer in-house movements which are covered in this article).
These are some of the best wearing watches out there. Watches you can put on and forget about, wearing them all day and into the night. They fit very well, having more than enough presence to add some style to your outfit, but are small enough to be discreet and restrained. As sport watches, they make so much sense. Why wear a clunky watch you might smack into something, when you can wear a watch that is very contained and well proportioned? Not that big divers and chronos don’t have their appeal (I write this while wearing a rather large 43mm chronograph), but there is a logic to smaller sport watches.
Once again, the 556i is a bit sexier, a bit more eye-catching, but the Outdoor and DA36 can look very smart in the office and other non-active contexts. All look great on leather, NATOs or bracelets and can be dressed up or down. The 556i’s bracelet comes at a premium, bumping the price up $240, but it’s a smart look. The Outdoor’s bracelet is, well, a must-buy option in my opinion. It’s also hardened, which is rare for a bracelet on an under $1,000 watch. It’s not a fancy bracelet, actually having a sort of vintage feel, but it works. The DA36 (non-PVD) recently became available with an ice-hardened bracelet that is, like their cases, totally over-engineered, adding the ultimate layer of scratch-proof ruggedness. Unfortunately, it also adds around $600 on to the price tag, making it a bit of a non-starter.
In the scheme of things, all of three of these watches are good values, though between them, you have a bit of gap. All are made in Germany, all feature Swiss-made automatic movements, sapphire crystals and great build and finishing. If these watches were by larger retail brands, they would all be several times more expensive (compare the tech and prices to that of Bremont or Bell & Ross…see what I mean?).
A new 556i, as of the date of writing this article, is $1,130 on a leather strap (up $40 since our review), the DA36 is $1,200 ($1,320 as shown in PVD) and the Outdoor Protect on a hardened bracelet is €596.64 (w/o VAT) or about $760. The $300 – $400 difference is fairly significant when you factor in the hardened case and bracelet. Though the DA36 is the most expensive, it is feature packed, making it a good value for those looking for those additional elements. Sinn’s least expensive Tegimented watch, the 856 (non-UTC) is $1,770, so $1,000 more than the Outdoor, $500 more than the DA36.
Of course, this all gets tempered by the second-hand market. On the forums a 556i can be had for $800-900 and the DA36 for $900-$1100. As someone who primarily buys second-hand, these are the prices I personally weigh on. The DA36 is particularly tempting used, as the ice-hardened steel will keep it looking new. While this narrows the gap, it doesn’t close it, keeping the Outdoor as the least expensive.
Maybe it’s a good thing or maybe it’s a bad thing, but all three of these watches are great. Each exceeds in one way or the other, over the other two. The Sinn 556i is the best looking, the Archimede Outdoor is the best value and the Damasko DA36 is the most overbuilt and the only day/date. In the end, the choice (if you are to choose just one) comes down to personal taste, budget and needs.
If you’re really going to put this watch through the kind of rough terrain a sports watch claims to be able to handle, then aesthetics are probably second and the Outdoor might be the best bet. It has hardened steel, 200m water resistance, great lume and is a lower investment should the worst occur, all of which make it great for outdoors use. Luckily, it’s design is tame enough to also be a suitable day-to-day watch.
If you’re really looking for a good everyday watch that can hold its own, that you don’t have to take off whenever things get more active or if you want to jump in pool, and will still look sharp in the office, the 556i is the way to go. It’s incredibly versatile styling makes it a great daily-wear (with the right strap, like a Cordovan, you could even pull of some formal engagements) though its satin finish does make it susceptible to scratching.
The DA36 is, in a weird way, the compromise. It’s an everyday tool-watch for those who get their hands dirty. The case is not going to show wear (under most circumstances), the crown tube is replaceable and the movement is extra protected against magnetism… The aesthetic is classic and masculine, so easy to pair with. So when you’re rewiring your guitar amp at your afterwork gig, the DA36 can stay on your wrist. That said, the poor lume might be a hinderance in some circumstances.
What’s really to be gained from this little comparative study? Perhaps just that Germany is the best place to look for a solid, affordable (though not cheap), sport/tool watch. Any of these choices will provide you with a long-lasting, well-built timepiece that you’ll be very happy with. If three-handers aren’t your thing, Germany is also the place to look for a killer chronograph… perhaps the next side-by-side will delve into those.