Sinn-Spezialuhren out of Frankfurt, Germany is best known for its high-tech tool watches that have one of most robust cult followings in the watchmaking industry. Sinns are more often described as “tool” watches, fulfilling one dedicated function particularly well. Divers, pilot watches, dress watches, and chronographs from Sinn all have excellent reputations. Each Sinn timepiece is made by hand in Frankfurt Am Main and Glashutte, Germany in small batches, and a total of approximately 12,000 Sinn watches are made each year. For comparison’s sake, about a million much pricier Rolexes are made each year.
Two of Sinn’s dive watches, the U1 and U50, are among the brand’s toughest and most beloved. They’re essentially two sizes of the same watch, albeit with slightly different specifications. The U1 debuted in 2005 and amassed a cult following for its toughness, legibility, and mindblowing 1,000-meter depth rating. The big 44mm case diameter, however, made it difficult for smaller wristed wearers to accommodate, so the brand followed it up with the U50 in 2020. The U50 is, essentially, the same as the U1 but shrinks the diameter to 41mm, reduces the thickness from 14.7mm to 11mm, and changes the mechanical automatic movement from a Swiss Sellita SW200-1 to the SW300-1. Sinn goes the extra mile to add anti-magnetic properties. In addition to the impressive list of technologies present in both watches, the U50’s 500-meter depth rating for the case size is remarkable.
The bead-blasted German submarine steel used in both the U1 and the U50 bears mention because it’s especially resistant to corrosion, unlike the typical 316L stainless steel used in most watches today. The bezel also gets what’s known as Sinn’s Tegiment technology that hardens the surface of the metal to 1,200 Vickers or (five times that of stainless steel), rendering it highly-resistant to scratches and impact. Upgraded models go so far as applying the Tegiment treatment to the submarine steel case and bracelet.
Although they are impressive in terms of materials, construction, and everyday toughness, the styling of the U1 and U50 are polarizing. Each model has squared-off syringe hands with matching blocky baton markers. Some have even called the hands “LEGO condoms,” which is hard to unsee once you hear it. On top of that, both the U1 and the U50 employ bold red coloring on the hands, bezel markers, and the dial logo. Because the hands are wide and also have green lume that shows up as white during the day, the red pops quite noticeably. With the blocky shapes, it’s a bit of a stark look that gives some potential buyers pause.
There are various permutations of the U1 and U50 that remedy the coloring, but none does it better than the Professional versions of these watches. What they provide is a more purposeful, stealthy, and practical version of both the U1 and U50 Professional models. The U1 Professional came out in 2017 and the U50 Professional in 2022. They were made in extremely limited numbers for the North American market only. A mere 100 U1s were made, and the U50 were built to the tune of 150 units. Both watches sold out very quickly, and you can only find them in the aftermarket now for quite a bit more than their original $2,670 and $3,330, respectively.
The Pro versions of these watches didn’t emerge solely from Sinn designs, but arrived thanks to direct input from Chris Shortell. Chris worked for NYPD for 21 years and the last 7 years in Florida. He’s now a licensed Private Investigator working for a high-end security company. Himself an avid watch collector, Cool Material connected with Shortell for some insight into his influence on these iconic Sinn watches.
Cool Material: From your Instagram account and your presence on watch forums, it’s clear you’re passionate about watches. What got you started?
Chris Shortell: I’ve loved watches since I was very young. As a child of the ’80s, I had all sorts of digital watches and video game themed watches. I had one with a playable version of Q-Bert. I had a pretty nice Swatch collection that would probably be worth something today if any of them had survived.
As far as my watch obsession as an adult, I’m sure it had a lot to do with finding the forum now known as DWC, The Dive Watch Connection, where I’m now one of the administrators. I was introduced to this forum by my friend Jay, who was a member. I bought a strap from him off the Watchuseek sales forum, and since we lived very close to each other, he invited me to his home to see his incredible collection of Panerai and Rolex watches. I had a very humble collection of inexpensive watches at this point. This really opened my eyes and made me want to see what else was out there.
After a while I became involved with the original Red Bar. Back when we used to meet at a place in Koreatown that was actually named Red Bar. At that point I was hooked.
How did Sinn watches enter the picture in your burgeoning watch collection?
Sinn was one of the darling brands on DWC. I hadn’t even heard of it before that. I bought a U1000 S and wore it nearly every day for years. At one point I only had the U1000 and a Panerai 000. I swear that was the happiest I ever was with my watch collection. Of course I no longer have either one.
What was your relationship like with WatchBuys, Sinn’s North American distributor, and how did that lead to your influence on Sinn’s U1 Professional?
I became fast friends with Rob and Tim from WatchBuys after meeting them at a Road Show in Manhattan. That was probably 2013. We made it a point of making sure we would have ample time to socialize at the Road Show the following year.
After everyone left for the day the three of us sat around and talked about watches and a hundred other things. At one point one of them mentioned that they wanted to do limited run of U1s, but weren’t sure what direction they should go. I casually mentioned that I had some ideas and laid out my vision for the Professional (which wasn’t called the Professional yet). To my surprise, they loved my ideas and they brought me into the fold. Both Tim and Rob had some ideas of their own which really brought the watch together. To say I influenced them to create the Pro would be wrong. It was a group effort, including the great designers at Sinn who created plenty of mock-ups for us.
Part of your suggestions included changes to the coloring, crown position, logo, and crystal. What was the thinking behind those changes?
Honestly, it’s all just personal preference. I tend to like designs that are a little stark and utilitarian. I always felt the original U1 had too much red on the bezel and hands. I prefer the all business approach of the EZM 1, which was my biggest inspiration for the U1P (Imagine my surprise when Sinn introduced the EZM 1.1 a few years later). The Destro crown position is my preference, strictly from a comfort standpoint. I own a few of them and tend to wear them quite often. It’s not like you ever need to use the crown while the watch is on your wrist, so moving it to that position just gets it out of the way. The U1 is a big, heavy watch. Anything that makes it more comfortable helps.
The domed crystal was strictly an aesthetic choice. If you’ve seen it in person you understand. The dial practically jumps off the watch when viewed through the domed crystal. The added water resistance (its now identical to a U2) is just a bonus.
At this point the watch was getting very expensive for a U1, but Rob felt it needed one final change. We had it drawn up using the BGW9 lume instead of the standard green lume, and we all agreed it was the only way to go.
My favorite change, which is often overlooked, is the larger Sinn script on the dial. After we had the initial renderings done using the standard size script, it just looked wrong to me. We had Sinn’s designers increase the size and it brought the whole thing together. The symmetry of the Pro dial is what makes it so attractive.
How did your vast experience as a law enforcement officer influence the style and design changes to both the U1 and the U50?
When wearing a watch in law enforcement, it has to be comfortable and it has to be easy to read. That’s why so many cops wear G-Shocks and Garmin watches. Even though they’re not lightweight, the Pro watches are both very comfortable and supremely easy to read at a glance. I could try to sound tacticool and say the Destro crown makes it more comfortable when firing a rifle or breaching doors, but it’s really about the other 99.9 percent of the time you’re wearing it.
What has response been to the U Series Professional models? Any clues you can give on what’s next?
I was floored by the response to the Pros. I knew it was going to be a great looking watch that I wanted to wear, but I wasn’t sure what others would think of it. I’m in no way a watch designer. I have no formal (or informal) training in that area. I just went with my gut on what I thought looked good. I like balance and symmetry. It turns out a lot of people like the same thing.
I still get a thrill every time I see one posted on Instagram or one of the Facebook groups. Especially when it’s someone from outside North America. To know that a guy in Malaysia, Japan, or Germany went to the trouble of hunting one of these down means the world to me.
What’s next? Who knows. Maybe we’ll revisit the Professional theme down the road. I’d hate to dilute it, though. I’m still very close with the guys at WatchBuys, so who knows what the future brings. Sinn is doing pretty well without any help from me these days, so maybe I’ll just be a spectator for a while.