We’ve covered Sinn plenty in the past, so most of our readers already know the spiel when it comes to this German favorite. But outside of their line of rugged over-engineered mechanical wonders, Sinn is also known for producing some fantastic low-tech entry-level replica watches like the 556, the recent 104, and the discontinued 656. Most who handle these timepieces would agree that their level of finish puts other brands selling similarly priced replica watches to shame.
However, none of these hold a candle to my favorite timepiece in their more affordable line-up, the Sinn 356 PILOT chronograph. In many ways, the 356 is everything one could hope for in a military-inspired tool replica watch, which shouldn’t come as a shock since the design is reminiscent of a pilot chronograph favorite, the IWC 3706. There are a number of variants in the 356 line: the 356 Sa with sapphire crystal, the 356 PILOT UTC with, you guessed it, a UTC complication, the 356 Sa GR with power reserve indicator, and the 356 Sa PILOT II with a copper dial.
There is also the 358 series, featuring a larger 42mm case for those with heartier wrists. But I’m a traditionalist when it comes to the 356, and I believe that the basic model is perfect in both form and function. Sinn obviously agrees, or else they wouldn’t have made the 356 a staple in their collection after initially releasing the Sinn 356 SPEZIALEDITION as a Japanese limited edition in 1996. So let’s get to the nitty gritty, shall well?
*Note: The 356 featured in these photographs is my own and is my most worn replica watch. As such, it has a number of dings and scratches.
The SUG-made case of the 356 is 38.5mm in diameter (excluding the screw-down crown and crown guards) with a lug-to-lug height of 46mm, putting it on the slightly smaller end of the spectrum. These dimensions, however, are slightly deceptive because the case is notably thick with a width of approximately 14mm. A lot of that comes from the beautiful domed acrylic crystal, which gives the replica watch some extra wrist presence while still keeping it accessible for those of us with smaller wrists.
Despite its thickness, the 356 is perfectly balanced. Unlike the Sinn 756, which can look like a tuna can with its monolithic cylindrical case, the 356 has a much more balanced profile that betrays its dimensions. The tall acrylic crystal pops off the case, which is visually broken up by the bezel, the narrow mid-case, and the rounded case back. The overall effect is quite pleasing and makes the replica watch easy to wear on either the bracelet or on a leather strap (I find that thicker/chunkier-looking cases have a tendency to look unbalanced on leather straps). The case back is stark and to the point, featuring the brand logo, model and serial number, anti-magnetic specification, and water resistance (10atm). The impeccable bead blasted finish ties all of these elements together and is the perfect complement to the tool replica watch aesthetic of the elegant replica watch.
The only change I would make to the case would be to have it tegimented, the process that hardens the surface of the case. But being that this is an entry-level model into the world of Sinn chronographs, I’m willing to look past that feature in favor of the friendlier price.
Dial, Hands, Lume, and Crystal
At first glance the 356 dial looks cluttered, especially when one considers how much information is stuffed into a relatively small amount of real estate. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that the 356 is actually quite legible for a chronograph of relatively diminutive size. For general timekeeping, a thin tick marks every minute at the outer edge of the dial, while a thick, bolded rectangle marks every 5-minute increment and hour. Arabic numerals can be found over the 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11 spots, with the 12, 3, 6, and 9 markers eaten away by the sub dials and the day/date window.
The dial layout follows the traditional Valjoux 7750 chronograph configuration, with the small seconds at 9, the minute counter at 12, the hour counter at 6, and the day/date at 3. The small seconds sub dial uses small ticks to mark each second, larger ticks to mark every 5-second increment, and Arabic numerals every 20 seconds. Likewise, the minute counter uses ticks to mark every minute, with a bolded tick at every 5-minute increment and Arabic numerals at every 10-minute increment. The hour counter is broken up into hours and half-hours, with ticks at every half-hour and numerals and dots marking every hour. All three sub dials are slightly recessed, and give the otherwise flat printed dial some depth.
The brand logo “Sinn” can be found above the bordered day/date window, while the model name “FLIEGER” can be found right under it. The date wheel is white text on black background, a detail I highly appreciate as it matches the matte black dial and doesn’t disrupt the cohesive and effective design flow of the 356.
The hands on the 356 are also quite interesting. The minute and hour hands are nearly identical in design except for their lengths. Both hands feature rectangular bases with thin baton-like tips that extend out to either the numerals representing the hour (hour hand) or the ticks representing the minutes (minute hand). The large chrono hand features a spade-like tip, while the two smaller chrono hands feature stylized arrow points. The small seconds hand is a simple baton hand.
Lume can be found on the Arabic numerals, the hour and minute hands, and the tip of the large chrono hand. The legibility is quite strong, and though it’s no Seiko, the 356 glows green well into the night. As I am very picky about lume, it does bother me a bit me that the lume on the hands appears to have a greener hue than the lume on the numerals. Overall, I would have preferred the use of BGW9 on the 356, as I think the stark white you get from BGW9 is a perfect complement to the matte black dial.
Now let me get to the contentious part: the domed acrylic crystal. I understand all the advantages of sapphire over acrylic. Heck, in most instances, I’d be right there with you complaining about a company cutting corners and using plastic over sapphire. But in the case of the 356, the choice is a definite practical and aesthetic win. I purchased my replica watch second hand and it came to me covered in scratches. After a couple of minutes with a cotton rag and a dab of Polywatch, the crystal looked as good as new.
Since then, I’ve smacked the crystal against doors, frames, handrails, and desktops. Outside of the occasional scratch, which I can easily buff out, I’ve had no major issues. If it had been sapphire, there is a chance that I could have shattered the crystal, a definite no-go if your goal is to make a military-inspired tool replica watch. Aesthetically speaking, there is something about the way a domed acrylic crystal captures the light and distorts the dial that cannot be achieved with sapphire. There is a softness to it that really makes the dial standout, and it’s definitely one of nicest visual features of the 356.
As I’ve already mentioned, the 356 is traditionally powered by the ever-reliable Valjoux 7750. A lot has been said about this ubiquitous movement that I don’t feel the need to repeat myself here. It is, however, important to note that Sinn’s latest batch of chronographs seem to be equipped with the Sellita SW500 caliber, a drop in replacement for 7750. This is surely a result of the recent ETA squeeze on third-party manufacturers by the Swatch Group. It would be your best bet to contact your authorized dealer to find out what caliber is ticking away inside any potential purchase. Nevertheless, I’ve heard good things about the SW500 and am confident that Sinn takes whatever steps necessary to ensure they’re putting out a solid product. If anyone has any long-term experience with the SW500, please chime in below in our comments section. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
The 356 is sold on either leather strap ($1,710) or H-link bracelet ($1,930). I opted for the H-link bracelet, and would urge anyone considering the 356 to do the same. Sinn’s H-link bracelets are known for being both comfortable and well made, and the 356 looks great on the bracelet. Visually, the bracelet adds some heft to the replica watch, and its weight provides a nice balance to weight of the case. The clasp, which is signed, is of the somewhat standard flip-lock variety, but it does the job and feels secure. And yes, there is an option for micro-adjustment. If you’re not a fan of the bracelet, the 356 looks great on a variety of straps, from NATO straps to riveted pilot straps.
The Sinn 356 is a wonderful choice for anyone looking to enter the world of Sinn. It’s rugged, attractive, and extremely well made, and its versatility makes it the perfect go-to replica watch. Of all my pieces, it gets the most wrist time and the most attention. With prices steadily rising in the replica watch world (Sinn’s prices included), the 356 remains an affordable option for those interested in a high quality German-made chronograph, especially if you’re able to find one second hand. And while there are more affordable options out there, few have the personality of the 356.
For purchase in the US, head over to Replica WatchBuys.