Leica’s New Look
— 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