Premium camera brand Leica is focusing its lens on the watch business, and it says it will apply the same “German-made” principles of precision engineering to its new product line. The debut models are a time-plus-date Leica L1 and a GMT-equipped Leica L2, both of which feature a patented crown mechanism that pushes in, like a camera button, rather than pulling out like conventional crowns.
The watches, including the movements, are made by Lehmann Präzision, a German mechanical engineering firm that makes high-precision machinery for the watch industry, as well as its own line of mechanical watches under the name Lehmann. The movement and most of the watches’ components were developed and are being produced in the Lehmann factory in Germany, but the watches were designed by Leica in partnership with longtime collaborator Achim Heine, a professor of experimental product design at the Berlin University of the Arts. They include subtle references to signature features of Leica camera designs. The domed sapphire crystal recalls the front element of a camera lens; the patented push crown reflects the release button of a camera; and the red ceramic inlay on the push-crown is an homage to the signature “red dot” for aiming sight on its cameras, which is also a symbol of the brand.
According to Leica, the L1 and L2 were designed according to the principle of “Das Wesentliche” (“the essentials” in English) with clean lines, smooth surfaces and formal minimalism. The dials are made of sleek, matte-black aluminum, with white indications that take up as little space as possible. There is a small curved power reserve window, a small seconds subdial and a circular mode indicator. The rhodium-plated hands and indexes are pencil-style, with small points at the end of straight baton shapes.
They contain the purpose-built L1 and L2 manual wound movements, with hours, minutes, small seconds and power reserve indicator. The L2 is all that plus a GMT, with a 12-hour track along the inner bezel for the second time zone. Both movements have a 60-hour power reserve and a patented push crown that resets the small seconds hand to zero. In conventional designs, the crown must be pulled out to stop the movement during adjustment, whereas on the Leica watches, the crown is pressed down, like the release button of a camera. When it is pushed, the watch stops, and the small second hand jumps to zero. At that point, the dot in the mode indicator to the right of the center turns red—another homage to Leica’s red dot symbol. Another click releases the movement again, and the dot returns to white. The 41 mm x 14.5 mm cases come in 316L stainless steel with polished and satin surfaces and beveled edges. Both L1 and L2 are water-resistant to 50 meters.
Leica cameras have a reputation for being well-designed and built to last a lifetime, with great attention to detail and finishing, criteria that Leica says it will bring to its watch collections. “They will carry the heart and soul of Leica Cameras,” says the company in a statement, “and will be built according to the guiding principles of quality and design, functionality and durability, engineering excellence and long-term vision.” This is the brand’s first watch collection.
The Leica L1 retails for $10,000 and the Leica L2, for $14,000. Leica says it will produce 500 of each per year. They will be available in the U.S. at select Leica stores, beginning with the brand’s store and gallery in Los Angeles.