Le­ica’s New Look

WatchTime - - Watchtalk - By Lo­gan R. Baker

— Le­ica has long en­joyed the sta­tus of one of most well­re­garded cam­era pro­duc­ers in the world. Its wide va­ri­ety of makes and mod­els have a cult fol­low­ing thanks to their high level of Ger­man crafts­man­ship, the un­matched qual­ity of their lenses that are con­structed of metal and glass rather than plas­tic, and the pu­rity found in their pur­suit of man­ual pho­tog­ra­phy. In 2018, the brand an­nounced an in­trigu­ing new prod­uct line into its port­fo­lio of high-tech of­fer­ings that in­cludes cam­eras, mi­cro­scopes and now, lux­ury watches. The time-and-date-only Le­ica L1 and the Le­ica L2 GMT were the first two lim­ited-edi­tion watches to be in­tro­duced and fea­ture a level of horo­log­i­cal pro­fi­ciency far be­yond what you’d ex­pect from an ini­tial of­fer­ing. Un­like pre­vi­ous time­pieces that fea­tured Le­ica brand­ing, the L1 and L2 are pow­ered by an ex­clu­sive move­ment built for the brand by Lehmann Präzi­sion Gmbh out of Ger­many’s Black For­est that of­fers a num­ber of in­trigu­ing fea­tures such as a date con­trolled by a pusher and a push­piece crown that re­sets the sec­onds sub­dial to zero and en­ables the time-set­ting mech­a­nism thanks to a colum­n­wheel mech­a­nism. The metic­u­lous ap­proach that Le­ica is known for in their cam­era pro­duc­tion has trans­lated seam­lessly to their watches with plenty of call­backs to their cam­era mod­els and fine de­tails ga­lore. We re­cently sat down with the Chair­man of the Board for Le­ica Cam­era, Dr. An­dreas Kauf­mann, and Jérôme Auzan­neau, the Global Di­rec­tor of Life­style and Ac­ces­sory for Le­ica, to learn more about the brand’s horo­log­i­cal ef­forts, what the fu­ture might hold for Le­ica’s time­piece divi­sion and the cross­over ap­peal be­tween pho­tog­ra­phers and watch col­lec­tors.

LRB: Can you dis­cuss the de­vel­op­ment of the Le­ica L1 and L2 GMT?

AK: Le­ica would some­times look into watches. There were dif­fer­ent rea­sons for it, but one was that we are in pre­ci­sion me­chan­ics any­way. The first se­ri­ous ap­proach was [a lim­ited edi­tion] in 2013-14 with a small house from Geneva, Val­bray. At this time, around 2013, I de­cided we have to go dif­fer­ently. Be­cause when Le­ica does a watch that is true to its her­itage, it should be dif­fer­ent. Ger­man de­sign, that’s a given, but the tricky part is do­ing a new move­ment in Ger­many. We found an in­ter­est­ing com­pany based in the Black For­est to part­ner with, a com­pany called Lehmann. They do a small amount of watches by them­selves but are also sup­pli­ers to the watch in­dus­try. But first, we had a me­chan­i­cal de­signer, who was for­merly one of the me­chan­i­cal de­sign­ers for A. Lange and Söhne, and he in­vented the push-craft [crown] for us. We have two patents on it. This is also, I would say, an in­ter­est­ing step for a com­pany who was in fine me­chan­ics but not so much in watches, to do some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent. Be­ing able to set the se­cond to zero makes sense in a way be­cause we can ad­just [the time] much more pre­cisely. Also, the push el­e­ment for the date makes sense be­cause you al­ways miss it, or when you let it lie down some­where, the date will al­ways be wrong [when you pick it back up].

LRB: Why do you think there is so much cross­over ap­peal be­tween watch en­thu­si­asts and pho­tog­ra­phers?

AK: I wouldn't call it syn­ergy, but there’s a re­la­tion­ship, I would say, based on cer­tain de­sign el­e­ments. For Le­ica, it’s a watch that you won’t find any­where else. And for cer­tain peo­ple, that can make a lot of sense.

JA: For pho­tog­ra­phy, there is al­ways this con­nec­tion to time. Al­ways. The con­nec­tion to how you know the prod­ucts were in­vented, en­gi­neered and pro­duced, all the same. The aes­thet­ics, the same. It’s what a col­lec­tor would be af­ter.

LRB: Who do you be­lieve is the Le­ica watch cus­tomer? Is it pre-ex­ist­ing watch en­thu­si­asts or are you at­tract­ing the Le­ica Cam­era cus­tomer that might not have a time­piece and el­e­vat­ing them into the lux­ury watch bracket?

AK: I think the Le­ica cus­tomer we’re think­ing of al­ready has quite a few watches. So there’s prob­a­bly an over­lap, but the ap­peal has a sort of cross­over with peo­ple who might have heard of Le­ica, but are not into cam­eras, but are into small-pro­duc­tion watches. I would say only 10 per­cent of our cus­tomers are col­lec­tors. Which means they col­lect quite a few things like cars, cam­eras and even watches. So there’s a sort of [nat­u­ral] over­lap.

LRB: What has sur­prised you about the watch in­dus­try? Has there been any­thing that you didn't ex­pect, or any is­sues that came along the way that were to­tally new?

AK: Since we’ve worked on this pro­ject, since 2013, there were cer­tain things we al­ready knew the­o­ret­i­cally. But when you, for in­stance, sud­denly find out that there are only a few pro­duc­ers of sap­phire crys­tal and most of them are blocked some­where [in the] sup­ply chain, oh my god.

JA: De­sign-wise, you see the pre­ci­sion of these move­ments as a chal­lenge. [In our watches], the power-re­serve in­di­ca­tor works like a shut­ter. If you put too much paint, you block the sys­tem. The watch in­dus­try doesn’t know about it. It took us a few weeks to re­al­ize the thick­ness of the paint was ac­tu­ally block­ing the sys­tem.

AK: Also, if you have to rely on Swiss com­pa­nies for the pro­duc­tion of hands ... there are only a few com­pa­nies who can do it and they are also usu­ally blocked by oth­ers. So [ours] were done in-house by Lehmann. The good thing is with our part­ner (Lehmann), we in­vested into part of his fac­tory for dial pro­duc­tion, so soon we will be able to do it com­pletely on our own. So we’re not re­ly­ing on the Swiss sup­ply chain there. at also means you can change things rather eas­ily. Usu­ally when you or­der some­thing [from the] Swiss they say, “Three months.” And then it comes and you say, “Oh, this is wrong.” They say, “Oh, we'll do it again.” An­other three months pass. [Now], this is six months de­layed for the mar­kets. That’s what we learn. We didn’t know that when you need to or­der some­thing from Switzer­land, some of the sup­pli­ers get nasty.

JA: But you see how for the first at­tempt, Le­ica is go­ing into ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion as a man­u­fac­ture more so than most renowned [brands]. For ex­am­ple, our hands: in-house de­sign, in-house pro­duc­tion, in-house fit­ting. This we would not out­source. The trend over the last 20 years in Switzer­land has been ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion; here at Le­ica, it’s done right from the be­gin­ning.

AK: One thing which can’t be done is the sap­phire glass. JA: Sap­phire glass, and the es­cape­ment. Like ev­ery­body.

LRB: How of­ten will you be re­leas­ing new mod­els? Will it be once a year, ev­ery few years?

AK: Well, hope­fully next year there will be a third. Which will be a huge step, so fingers crossed. It comes with the me­chan­ics, then you do the ren­der­ings, you do the de­sign and you go and do the pro­to­type process. Then sud­denly you find some­thing out, then you go back to ren­der­ings, et cetera. Apart from that, we have quite a few ideas. And we prob­a­bly know how to do it, but it would be a bit early to talk about it. Two things are quite ob­vi­ous. This is not self­wind­ing, so what would be the next step?

LRB: An au­to­matic move­ment. AK: You said it. And at the mo­ment, these watches are only for males.

LRB: Can you tell me any­thing else about the up­com­ing L3 with alarm?

AK: Well, there’s one sim­ple goal, the alarm should have a melo­di­ous sound. It should sound nice to the ear. They’re work­ing on it now. We’ll know more prob­a­bly in April or May when the first pro­to­type can be checked.

JA: The sound of a Le­ica is a very spe­cific sound. It’s a me­chan­i­cal sound. So here again, a new in­ven­tion. Just tak­ing this idea of hav­ing a cam­era, which is ei­ther si­lent or the sound of the shut­ter. That’s the goal.

The dial and move­ment view of the Le­ica L1 watch

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