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.