The Sinn 356 Pilot Chronograph – Why Should You Need One?

The Sinn 356 Chronograph is a pilot watch that belongs to the Sinn Instrument Chronographs collection. Ironically, despite its considerable reputation, this pilot watch flies under the radar. Sinn is known to make a lot of excellent timepieces. Although they aren’t the most famous brand, their level of craftsmanship gives them an identical reputation. The Sinn 356 is a pilot chronograph with qualities that can reach heights. Though it is not one of Sinn’s most modern or popular creations, the 356 can hold its own and challenge your expectations.

This article aims to give us a better understanding of the Sinn 356 Pilot Chronograph and its variants. Hopefully, this helps you decide if the Sinn 356 is the ideal timepiece for you. 

Everything We Need to Know About the Sinn 356

Sinn manufactured the 356 in 1996 as the successor to the 256 Pilot Chronograph — featuring a more refined and elegant look than its predecessors. Although the Sinn 356 chronograph has garnered some age, the watch carries a design and function that transcend its era and can fit in similarly just like any other modern timepiece. 

There are two versions of the 356: The base variant and the SA variant. The beloved German watch company had three SA variants as alternative options for the original timepiece. Each version of the 356 SA showcases different-colored dials with a satin-finished steel case. With that said, let’s get right into the specifications of the Sinn 356.

front view of Sinn 356 Chronograph watch

Dimensions of the Sinn 356

With regards to its overall size, the Sinn 356 is proportionally average. The timepiece has a case diameter of 38.5mm with a thickness of 15.5mm. It also has a band lug width of 20mm and a lug to lug distance of 45.6mm. Without the strap, the timepiece weighs 71 grams which should neither be too light nor too heavy. All aspects put together, the watch is well-balanced and can lay on anyone’s wrist with relative comfort. 

Bead-Blasted Case 

While the SA versions use satinized steel, the original Sinn 356 features a stainless steel casing that has been bead-blasted to achieve its confident dull sheen. The case is beautifully beveled to give the 356 a smooth and sleek look that fits all occasions. The bezel is also wonderfully crafted and fastens the dome-shaped acrylic glass neatly. Wearers can access the chronograph function of the 356 through pushers stationed at the 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock of the timepiece. 

All models are pressure-resistant and screwed with a large crown to protect the inner mechanisms from pressure changes. The reason for this design dates back to the 20th century. At that time, pilots would often wear gloves to protect their hands from the conditions of flight. Since the pilots wore the gloves throughout the flight, adjusting their timepiece proved to be an infuriating task. As a solution, Sinn and other watch companies applied larger crowns so pilots would not have to remove their gloves.

Bead-Blasted vs. Satinized

What’s the difference between bead-blasted steel and satinized steel? First of all, both kinds of finishes are processed differently. Bead-blasted steel is the result of projecting spherical-shaped media to a steel surface. In effect, the steel obtains a uniform and streak-free exterior. Achieving a satin finish is done by brushing an abrasive material vigorously on steel. After the steel is polished and softened, the outcome is a modern-looking matte finish that is also resistant to corrosion.

The second difference comes from the sheen. Bead-blasted steel offers a dull and non-reflective look, while satin-finished steel looks shinier and sharper. Due to this, the case of the standard 356 is not as reflective as its SA variants. Another difference comes from their resistance. Unfortunately, satin-finished steel is more resistant to corrosion and scratches compared to bead-blasted. If not maintained properly, the case of the standard Sinn 356 will corrode faster than its other versions.

Does that mean satin-finished steel is better than bead-blasted steel? In terms of resistances, satinized steel is the clear winner. How about for appearance? That will all boil down to your preferences. Both types of finishing look good on the case. Whether bead-blasted or satin-finished, it is of great significance to carefully maintain the case of the 356. Doing this will allow its clean and elegant look to stay with you for many years to come.


The standard Sinn 356 and its SA-I variant bear the same matte black dial with a syringe-like minute and hour hands. The dial consists of three recessed subdials and a bordered day and date window. This design allows the subdials and the window to be more discernible without compromising the main dial.

I particularly like the structure of the handset due to its design. The thickness of the lower part of the arrows allows the alpha handset to be more noticeable, and its upper, more slender arrowhead pinpoints time precisely without meshing with the other dials. 

White-colored numbers, hour markers, indexes, and subdial handsets are scattered across the dial to counteract its dark flat surface while giving it a minimalistic yet sophisticated two-toned look. The digits for 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock, and 12 o’clock are unregistered in the dial to make space for the positioning of the day and date window and the subdials of the dial. All numbers and handsets are coated with luminescent colors to allow easier reading at night.

The 356 SA-II and SA-III use a copper and silver electroplated guilloche dial, respectively. Having the dials of the SA II and III electroplated gives it a premium chrome style that can catch the eyes of any viewer. Describing the process of making an electroplated dial is not an easy task, but a summary of the process is available in Sinn’s Technology Glossary.

All versions have the Sinn and Flieger (Pilot) signature positioned at the top and bottom of the day and date window.

Acrylic Glass

An acrylic dome-shaped glass shelters the dial of the standard Sinn 356. Acrylic glass is a type of protection made of Poly-acrylic Esters. The material is flexible, impact-resistant, and is a more cost-effective substitute for sapphire. Users can opt to have the acrylic glass replaced with sapphire glass for more long-term durability.

Despite being regarded as glass, acrylic has more resemblances to hard plastic than actual glass. That said, the glass is highly resistant to breaks, weather, and corrosion. While this type of material is impact-resistant, it has a softness that makes it susceptible to scratches. Too many scratches will hinder its wearers from reading the dial effectively. With that in mind, Sinn ensures that their users can hide light scratches with a good amount of polishing.

SA versions of the 356 come with a dome-shaped Sapphire glass as standard. The interior of the sapphire dome is coated with an anti-reflective inlay — allowing wearers to view the time from different angles and lighting conditions without any distortion.

SW 500 Movement

A Sellita SW 500 uses a mechanical, self-winding mechanism to operate the Sinn 356. The SW 500 is based on the Valjoux 7750 and is known for its resilience and durability. It is a relatively large and thick movement that bears 25 jewels to reduce wear and tear. The system produces 28,800 oscillations per hour and is anti-magnetic. A seconds stop function is also present in the mechanism for wearers to synchronize time with reliable precision. 

The movement of the 356 is protected by a stainless steel caseback that is screwed down (along with the crown) for more efficient water resistance. The SA variants utilize a sapphire crystal caseback that is similarly screwed down. Since the SA case backs are transparent, wearers can view the inner machinations of the 356 in all its intricate glory.

Comprehensive Strap Selection

Sinn provides its customers with the option to choose their preferred leather, stainless steel, or silicone strap for the 356. The catalog of leather bands for the Sinn 356 is composed of a wide-range selection that features cowhide, calfskin, horsehide, and alligator leather. Customers can also choose between a two-link, bead-blasted, stainless steel bracelet or a black silicone strap with a large-scale or small-scale folding clasp.

Personally, the timepiece looks stylish with any strap on it. I suggest that you pick one that allows your watch to lay comfortably on your wrist. Alligator leather may be the safest and most refined material, but it is also the most luxurious among the four.

Water Resistance

Despite being a pilot’s watch, all versions of the Sinn 356 are waterproof and can endure water pressure for up to 10 bars or 100 meters. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a bar is a type of measurement equivalent to 10 meters of water pressure. Timepieces of this kind of caliber can resist rain splashes and shower water without a problem. While it is unsuitable for extreme water sports such as deep-sea diving, the timepiece can withstand more leisurely activities such as swimming and snorkeling. 

Up Close with the 356 Flieger Family

It would be disappointing if I keep mentioning the variants without giving you an illustration of their unique appearances. Without further ado, let’s meet the other attractive individuals that complete the Sinn 356 Pilot family.

1. Sinn 356 SA

front view of Sinn 356 SA watch
Photo by Sinn

The first SA variant of the 356 Pilot is the most identical to the standard model. With sapphire glass and a satin-finished casing as the only difference, the 356 SA offers its wearers a similar timeless look with a little more luxury and a lot more durability. The changes may not be dramatic, but the switch from bead-blasted to satinized steel will increase the overall corrosion resistance of the watch. Sapphire glass is also much more resistant to scratching than acrylic. Shaping the sapphire was a strategic move by Sinn as it increases the capabilities of the sapphire to resist impacts.

A timepiece built this way can effortlessly withstand the test of time while maintaining its deep and stylish appearance.

2. Sinn 356 SA-II

front view of Sinn 356 SA-II watch
Photo by Sinn

Beneath the sapphire dome lies a shiny copper interior. A closer look at the SA II reveals a uniform guilloche pattern that travels outward from the center of the electroplated dial. The distinct beauty of the SA II makes its wearers stand out from the mundane crowd with a powerful and fashionable statement. 

Despite boasting an intriguing design, it happens to be my least favorite member of the Sinn 356 family. To me, the other colors complement the entire watch better than the copper tone. Don’t get me wrong, the timepiece still looks astounding. It’s just my preference.

3. Sinn 356 SA III

front view of Sinn 356 SA III watch
Photo by Sinn

The SA III is the final entrant to the 356 series and is my favorite among the four. This marvelous piece possesses a silver-hued, guilloche-patterned, electroplated dial similar to the SA II. Despite the coloring, the dials are still highly legible. The blend of the satinized steel and silver interior gives the SA III an even complexion throughout its structure without melding the different components too much. 

I love the level of sophistication the SA III Pilot brings. If I had it, I would pair the timepiece with a stainless steel two-link bracelet. This kind of bracelet will allow me to keep the uniformity of the watch.

I’m Not a Pilot, Why Would I Need the Sinn 356?

Different people need different things. A carefully designed timepiece can go a long way in meeting the owner’s specific criteria. A diver watch specializes in water resistance, allowing it to stick by its owner’s side while traversing the mysterious ocean. Sports watches have features to let their users track their progress as they enter a healthier lifestyle. For socialites and secret agents, becoming dressed to kill is a feat that only a striking dress watch can achieve. 

However, some watches break the limit and become more than just a tool. The Sinn 356 is more than just a tool watch. It is a companion that’s always there for you when you need it. Yes, the 356 caters to pilots, but it is no stranger to everyday life. With such a versatile appearance and function, the watch can be what you want it to be. It is stylish enough to be used for special occasions and is strong enough to be brought underwater.

The Best Alternative to the Sinn 356

Hamilton Khaki Aviation X-Wind Auto Chrono

side view of Hamilton Khaki Aviation X-Wind Auto Chrono watch
Photo by Hamilton

If you want a different pilot watch, you can go for the Hamilton X-Wind Auto Chrono. With more crowns and a tachymetric scale, this piece from the Hamilton Khaki Aviation collection is more than just a substitute. The X-Wind uses the H-21, an automatic movement with a reserve of 60-hours. With the case and dial loaded with numbers and meters, the design of this particular Hamilton watch leans to a more technical side.

Personally, the dial of the Hamilton is not as legible as the Sinn 356. I also prefer the overall simplistic design of the 356. If this is the kind of watch you’re looking for, don’t let my preferences stop you. The X-Wind fetches a similar price tag of $1,870.

Final Thoughts

Though it is not the greatest among the Sinn Instrument Chronographs watches, the Sinn 356 is a stunning example of what the ideal pilot watch should be. It is a timepiece that can accurately display various times to its wearers, even when battling through extreme conditions. It flaunts a dateless style that can be directed to Sinn’s tradition in watchmaking throughout the years. All aspects considered, there’s barely anything to add or remove from the 356 to make it even better. Maybe the only thing the watch is missing is an owner? 

The Sinn 356 Pilot Chronograph fetches an average price of $1,700 USD to $2,400 USD, while its variant’s price ranges between $2,300 USD and $3,400 USD. It does require a hefty amount of money, but it is definitely worth your investment. With proper maintenance, this watch can probably outlive you. With that in mind, you won’t just be buying the watch for yourself. The Sinn 356 can be passed down as an heirloom to the next generation so that they too can love and respect the glorious timepiece just like you did.

Need a diver watch? Check out our guide to the Omega Aqua Terra 150m

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