There are many watch series easily recognizable to the trained eyes of watch aficionados; they hold such a unique aesthetic, you could spot them from across a room or street, in a photograph or on a movie screen. These include the AP Royal Oaks, the TAG Heuer Monacos, the Zenith El Primeros, and many others. A timepiece that perhaps best represents this category is the Breitling Navitimer: with its slide-rule bezel, meticulous dial, large size, and colorful overall look, it’s been one of the watches I’ve most enjoyed most encountering.
A few weeks ago, I thought I had stumbled upon a Navitimer (pictured below), but to my surprise it was in fact a watch produced by the German brand Sinn, namely the 903 St. This led me to a burning question: how could Sinn — a brand I am personally quite fond of for its variety of chronographs and pilot watches — be producing a modern piece inspired by a different brand? It’s not as if other brands haven’t done it before, but Sinn, while generally not as well known as other German brands, such as A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, and NOMOS Glashütte, is rather respected in most horological circles. Something didn’t seem right.
What I found was this: in the late 1970s, at the peak of the Quartz Crisis, Helmut Sinn, founder of Sinn Watches, was able to secure the rights from Breitling to begin producing a piece similar to the Navitimer, but under the 903 St name. Mr. Sinn, in an effort to offer his clients something both useful and unique at the time, was keen to produce a piece with a logarithmic scale and slide rule function — both features at the center of the new 903 St. From that time, Sinn has continued producing the series, improving upon the design every few years to eventually bring the market the modern 903 St as it is offered today.
This modern watch has quite a bit to appreciate. At 41 mm in diameter and made of steel, the unique case hosts one of the more distinctive dials, and set of functions, available in the modern market. With an internal rotating bezel and logarithmic scale, operated by an extra crown toward the 10 o’clock position, the watch correspondingly also features a chronograph, with vintage-looking pushers on the right side of the case. Deeper into the dial reside three subdials — for running seconds and for the minute and hour counters for the chronograph — while a red-tipped arrow hand counts the chronograph seconds.
You should also notice the subtle date indicator at the 4:30 position, along with the use of tick marks at each hour, with the exception of the Arabic numeral used at the 12 o’clock mark. The watch is powered by a Sinn-finished Sellita SW 500 automatic movement, visible through the sapphire caseback, and holding an average power reserve of 44 hours. This particular watch, available in three different color options and on either a leather or metal bracelet, can often be found for around $3,500, depending on the dealer.
The 903 St, sometimes referred to by Sinn as “The Navigation Chronograph,” has many unique details, influenced by both the vintage Navitimer (pictured above) and by previous 903 St designs. Most notably similar are the designs of the dial and case: with its logarithmic scale, high-contrasting dial, and slightly angled lugs, it’s no surprise that I mistook the watch at first to be a Navitimer. But in contrast to Breitling’s signature piece, you’ll notice the internally rotating bezel operated by the 10 o’clock crown; the substantially smaller, more vintage-esque case diameter of 41 mm (as compared to the Navitimer’s 43-mm or 46-mm sizes); and the sapphire caseback displaying the workhorse Sellita base movement.
The Sinn 903 St is neither a modern Breitling Navitimer re-creation nor a purely vintage-inspired piece. It is, in its own way, a contemporary chronograph able to stick out in a crowd. At 41 mm, with a few different color options, and with one of the most meticulous dials at this price range, it keeps and honors the design elements that brought this style of watch to popularity in the first place, while simultaneously expanding upon this design in order to cater to Sinn’s modern buyers. It is, in many ways, vintage-inspired, but it is undoubtedly a modern watch.