Leica’s Time ma­chines


LEICA HAS ES­TAB­LISHED a new divi­sion to de­sign and man­u­fac­ture lux­ury me­chan­i­cal watches. It makes more sense than you might ini­tially think. For starters, the company’s founder back in 1869, Ernst Leitz, trained as a watch-maker in Switzer­land be­fore set­ting up his epony­mous op­tics company in Ger­many. And many of the skills in­volved in mak­ing Leica’s clas­sic M series rangefinder cam­eras – par­tic­u­larly the rangefinder mod­ule it­self – trans­late into the cre­ation of high-end watches which also re­quires pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing. Con­se­quently, the new Leica watches have been en­tirely de­signed in­house and are be­ing man­u­fac­tured by a new en­tity called Ernst Leitz Werk­stät­ten which is lo­cated in the same Leitz Park com­plex in Wet­zlar as the cam­era and lens fac­tory. The move­ment has been de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with an­other Ger­man company, Lehmann Präzi­sion, so it’s unique to the Leica watches. It com­prises over 240 com­po­nents which are hand as­sem­bled. The ex­ter­nal de­signs are by Achim Heine who has al­ready de­signed a num­ber of cam­eras for Leica (in­clud­ing the D-Lux) and also binoc­u­lars. He has de­lib­er­ately cre­ated cam­er­a­like de­sign el­e­ments such as push-piece crown which repli­cates the ac­tion of a shut­ter but­ton – most watches have crowns that are pulled out to en­able the time to be changed. A separate push but­ton sets the date. In­ci­den­tally, the crown also in­cor­po­rates a small ruby which is in­tended to be sym­bolic of the Leica logo – the logo it­self doesn’t ap­pear on the watches be­cause it was con­sid­ered “dis­turb­ing” on such a clas­si­cally styled dial. How­ever, the “Leica” name on the dial uses the same style and font as on the top of the M6 and this is also car­ried through to the num­bers and other in­scrip­tions. The backs of the stain­less steel cas­ings are trans­par­ent with moulded sap­phire glasses which mimic the front el­e­ment of a lens and also al­low the pre­ci­sion move­ment to be seen in all its glory. A power re­serve in­di­ca­tor is de­rived from the de­sign of the Le­icame­ter which was the at­tach­able ex­po­sure me­ter for the orig­i­nal M3.

There are two mod­els called the L1 and L2 which mainly dif­fer in the styling of the di­als, but the lat­ter has a sec­ond time-zone GMT and a day/night in­di­ca­tor. Pro­duc­tion vol­umes will be small and ini­tially set at 400 pieces for this year, but in­creas­ing grad­u­ally to around 2500 pieces a year. In com­par­i­son, Leica is cur­rently build­ing 18,000 M cam­eras an­nu­ally. Not sur­pris­ingly, the Leica watches won’t be cheap, with the Ger­man price around 10,000 Eu­ros (A$15,500) for the stain­less steel ver­sion, and a whole lot more for the planned 18-karat rose gold edi­tion of the L2. That said, Leica isn’t en­ter­ing the lux­ury watch mar­ket just for the fun of it. Company chair­man Dr An­dreas Kauf­mann is a watch en­thu­si­ast and has been plan­ning this ven­ture for nearly a decade. He be­lieves the Leica watches can com­pete with the many other pres­tige brands, “That’s the aim. Not in the quan­tity, but in the qual­ity”.

Dis­tri­bu­tion will be through Leica’s own stores glob­ally and se­lected lux­ury watch deal­ers. Visit www.ernst-leitz-werk­staet­ten.com

The L1 and L2 mainly dif­fer in the styling of the di­als, but the lat­ter has a sec­ond time-zone GMT and a day/night in­di­ca­tor. Note the small ruby set into the crown which is in­tended to be sym­bolic of the Leica logo.

Both the L1 and L2 have a sap­phire crys­tal case back so the move­ment – de­signed by Leica – can be seen in all its glory.

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