We covered the announcement and launch event live from Wetzlar in 2018. Leica has been quiet about their re-entry into high end watchmaking since, but last week, we received news that the new watches have landed, and Leica Singapore is accepting orders.
As a start, please read our full review of the L1 and L2 based on our hands-on in Wetzlar during the launch event in 2018.
The following discussion will be based on the understanding of the original review linked above.
Leica L1 and L2 wristwatches: available now
The watches retails at SGD14,950 for the Leica L1, and SGD 21,300 for the Leica L2. Prices are inclusive of GST. Orders can be made now for delivery in the next months in 7 Leica boutiques around the world, including the Leica Buoutique in Raffles Hotel, Singapore.
The design of the Leica L1 and L2 draws inspiration from previous engineering masterpieces made in Wetzlar. The watches’ exterior was conceptualized by Professor Achim Heine, who have designed numerous Leica products. The design is based on the brand’s amazing history and his profound understanding of the Leica’s aesthetic principles and design code. The design of the watches make subtle references to the rich history of Leica.
As with the launch, two models are available. The L1 is the base model, with hour, minute, small second, date window, power reserve indicator, and an operating status display, while the L2 adds a second time zone GMT, day-night display. Both movements are the same, with the L2 having an addition 24 hour module to power the day-night display. The second timezone is displayed as a rotating inner bezel which can be move bi-directionally in 1 hour increments by the crown at 4 o’clock. Both models have a date pusher at 2 o’clock, which advances the date by one day with each push. This button is stylized to look like the footprint of a Leica M camera.
As with the prototypes, the power reserve indicator is an arc aperture on the dial to show either white (good power) or red (low power) as a representation of the old light meters.
What has changed
Changes are mostly aesthetic: some for practical reasons, and some for design. The cabochon which was specified to adorn the crown is replaced with a red ceramic dot. This is done for the practical reason as the initial idea called for a red ruby, which is rare and very expensive at the size required. And to our eyes, the red is more prominent in the commercial release versus the prototypes, and more in line with the practice in Leica cameras which have used red dots at strategic locations, but never featured precious stones.
Leica says the sapphire glass dome over the dial is made to resemble the front element of a lens and is new. But it looks the same as the prototypes we photographed in Wetzlar. Perhaps the curve is more pronounced in the commercial release, but without the benefit of doing a side by side comparison, we are not able to confirm this is the case.
What has not changed – the good stuff
The same Lehmann movement remains, which is a good thing, as the movement has good visual appeal. As we understand it, the watches are designed in collaboration with Leica, and manufactured by Lehmann Präzision in their facilities in Hardt, Germany. However, final assembly and some hand finishing is done at the Ernst Leitz Werkstätte in Wetzlar. When we visited in 2018, we were shown the workshops which have been outfitted with watchmaking facilities.
The movement is also quite beautifully finished, though stopping short of the highest levels of haute horlogerie. The bridges do feature some outward angles, though inward angles are absent. And the edges of the bridges have a lip which is slightly raised and polished. Anglage is then executed on this raised edge. And the inner side of the bridges appears to be a sand blasted frosted finish. The final appearance is one which looks very accomplished, and rather pleasing to the eye.
The push button to change the crown’s operating mode from winding to time setting remains the same, safe for the change from cabochon to a regular steel pump pusher with red ceramic dot. When the coaxial button on the crown is pushed, a red window appears on the aperture left to the date, the seconds hand is hacked and resets to zero.
“Together with Markus Lehmann, we expanded and fine-tuned the idea of the push crown. In contrast to conventional designs – whereby the crown must be pulled out to stop the movement and adjust the time – we wanted the crown to be pressed down, like the release button of a camera. The moment you push the crown, the watch stops and the small second hand jumps to zero. Another click releases the movement again. This is an unusual detail that perfectly fits in with Leica.”Professor Achim Heine explains.
However, neither of these functions are new. The zero reset has been available since the A. Lange & Söhne Langematic in 1997, and the setting mechanism for almost as long in Renaud et Papi designs which have appeared in Richard Mille and Audamars Piguet, as well as in Grönefeld watches. But Leica says there is a patent on the crown mechanism. We were not told if the patent is held by Leica or by Lehmann, but the patent covers the push to engage feature. The Lange implementation of zero reset of the seconds hand is engaged by a pulling the crown out, and the Renaud et Papi function selector is set with a button on the case side. The Leica L1/L2 implementation combines both useful features into one, and is cleaner design with the use of the coaxial pusher. Engagement is precise, with a good tactile feel, which is reminiscent to pressing the shutter button on an M camera.
Also unchanged is the “LEICA” in bold letters on the dial. And as we suggested in our original review, we wish they would have chosen to use the Leica script logo in its place. Otherwise, the black dial with appliqué indices are nuanced and the layout is highly legible and clean looking. Contrast is excellent. The design of the indices follow the same blueprint as the hour and minute hands with a look which reminds us of the Art Deco stacked rectangles. The slimmer upper element is longer, and is lume filled.
Also unchanged is the original production goal of approximately 500 watches a year.
As we have addressed in our original review, the watches are not targeted at the watch collector market, nor the connoisseur horologist. It is perhaps not even for Leica camera enthusiasts who are keen and collect watches. We said it then, and will say it again. The target market, though not expressed by Dr. Kaufmann and his team, is clear to us. The watches are targeted at the well heeled Leica camera enthusiast, who is looking for a watch to complement his photography gear. And to this end, the L1 and L2 are perfect foils.
In examining the traditional horology enthusiast market seriously, the value proposition of the Leica L1 and L2 are not that far fetched. We think it more credible for Leica to seek out to design and manufacture a wristwatch (albeit with an exclusive partner), take the important step of finishing the watches themselves than it is for say a photographer to design, totally outsource manufacture and sell watches under his own name. And we do know of at least one from the latter who is successful, and even won a GPHG Prize.
The watches are in stainless steel cases, and feel rather light to the hand and on the wrist. The 41mm case diameter also is a good size, though some may feel that the case is quite thick. We feel that this comes with the territory, and is a strong Teutonic character.
While many of the elements are derived from Leica’s rich history as the inventor of compact cameras we know and love, the watches look fresh and modern. Perhaps, even leaning towards the Bauhaus styling of simplicity. However, the beautifully executed art deco index and hand detailing balances that very well. It very nearly and almost is in danger of being generic looking, but not quite, and we think it has a distinctive look and feel.
Leica Chairman Dr. Andreas Kauffmann has made the right decision to use a German manufactured movement and for the assembly and final finish to be done in his premises. The result is a beautiful product which is “Made in Germany”. And one that defies any comparison. It is not a high brow all out assault at haute horlogerie as proposed by Lange or Moritz Grossmann. Nor is it aimed at the high end luxury market to which its pricing aspirations may suggest that it competes with offerings by Glashütte Original or from small independents like Kudoke, Lang & Heyne. But the watches remain persuasive with Leica’s own unique aesthetics and brand value. And that special bit of Leica history and mystic appeal.
The commercial release watches were photographed in the Leica Store in Singapore. Leica SL2 with APO-Macro-Elmarit-TL 60 mm f/2.8 ASPH.