You could be forgiven for suspecting that a wristwatch from the German camera manufacturer Leica is simply a marketing ploy. In fact, at the debut of the inaugural watch collection from Ernst Leitz Werkstätten at Leica’s headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany, supervisory board chair Andreas Kaufmann made a point of showing off a selection of past Leica-branded timepieces built in collaboration with other companies that either relied on gimmicks or missed the mark aesthetically.
The new L1 and L2 wristwatches, by contrast, were created by the company from the ground up. Working with the German watchmaker Lehmann, Leica designed two original movements—a small-seconds for the L1 and a GMT for the L2—that are first constructed and assembled by Lehmann and then finished by the Werkstätten team in Wetzlar.
The watches’ styling was conceived by former Leica camera designer Achim Heine, who shaped the cases to be evocative of a camera body, with the push-button crown standing in for the shutter button. In fact, the crown even works like a shutter button; instead of pulling the crown out, you press it to stop the watch and allow you to set the time—another press restarts the hands. Thankfully, design references are subtle; even the brand’s signature red-dot logo is nowhere to be found at first glance, though the round crown-position indicator on the dial turns red when engaged.
Production of the new watches will initially be limited, but plans are to ramp up to 2,500 pieces annually. Final pricing is unknown, but the L1 is expected to come in below $11,650, while the L2 will cost more. Both models are available with either a black or red dial. When asked if Leica is in the watchmaking game for the long run, Kaufmann gestures around the newly completed, gleaming-white Werkstätten finishing room. “Of course,” he says. “We’ve invested too much already not to be.”