June 12, 2018: Wetzlar, Germany: Leica announces their re-entry into the world of watchmaking with two new exclusive designs with purpose built movements by Lehmann. This is not the optical company’s, famous for their Leica camera and lenses, first foray into watches. They had previously teamed up with other watch manufacturers for Leica branded watches. Perhaps the most interesting was the Valbray Chronograph to mark their 100th Anniversary in 2014. However this time, with the new L1 and L2, the design in done by accomplished Leica designer Akhim Heine, and utilizing the purpose built movement by Markus Lehmann. The watches are finished in-house in Wetzlar at the Ernst Leitz Werkstätten. Here is our hands-on review of the Leica L1 and Leica L2.
We covered the announcement event live from Wetzlar on our Instagram account @Deployant via a post of the watch with movement, and Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica making the announcement on Intagram Live. We also covered the story live on our Instagram Story. Immediate feedback, from the watch press not present at the event, who did not have first hand experience with the watches was largely negative. Most wondered why Leica was entering the watchmaking market place. They felt that Leica should focus on their expertise arena of optics and photography. Others criticized the design as being overly generic. Our learned colleagues do have their point, of course, but as most of them, save for Hodinkee, were not there during the launch, we recommend a generous pinch of salt. We were live on-site, and here is out hands-on review.
The project’s origins go back to 2012, when Dr Kauffmann started exploring the idea of a Leica Watch. He consulted some confidants, and may told him that it is not a good idea. He acknowledged that, but persisted and began work with experts from brands ranging from Audemars Piguet to Hanhart to Chronoswiss to A. Lange & Söhne. The resultant L1 and L2 is an amalgam of these discussions, with some elements which can be traced back to these brands.
From the start, he knew it was an ambitious project, but Dr. Kaufmann said, “It had to be done”, and so it was. The L1 and L2 are the first two products to be released in stainless steel. An L2 in precious metal is scheduled for later this year, and an L3, with a mechanical alarm is targeted for release in 2019. Although watches will remain a small part of the Leica empire, it will be developed as a product line, (Dr. Kaufmann estimates approximately 2% of total revenues to come from watches in the mid-term) instead of one off projects previously embarked on.
Review: Leica L1 and Leica L2
Two watches were announced in June 12. The Leica L1 which features time only with power reserve. And the Leica L2 with the addition of a rotating inner bezel for a second timezone and a day/night indicator. Both watches are built on the same L1 handwound base movement designed and manufactured exclusively for Leica, and equipped with a zero reset mechanism when the crown is pushed. An aperture on the dial changes from a white dot to a red dot, familiar to Leica users worldwide, to indicate that the crown is now in the position to set the time. Simultaneously, the seconds hand reset to zero.
A pusher at 2 o’clock acts as a date change system, similar to those implemented in Lange watches.
Each of the two watches are available with a black dial or a red dial, and currently only in a stainless steel case. Cases in precious metals are being planned for later this year.
The watches will be exclusively available in selected Leica boutiques, and selected retailers. Dr. Kaufmann revealed that production will be very limited. The target for this year is about 100 pieces, and in the long term, production should not exceed 5000 watches a year.
The price for the watches are not available at time of announcement but is expected to be very similar, and with the Leica L1 not to exceed € 10,000 inclusive of German VAT.
Case, dial and hands
Dr. Kaufmann revealed that the design goals that he set for Akhim Heine was that the watchs have some character taken from the Leica DNA, and it has to have a teutonic feel. The design draws from classical German thinking, mostly drawn from Bauhaus with the clean elegant lines.
The bezel is designed thin to reveal the dial, which showcases the clean, sleek lines. The markers are applied over a matt black or striking red dial. A slot at about 8 o’clock reveals a power reserve indicator on both watches, and designed to remind of the lightmeter in the legendary Leica M3 Rangefinder.
Another aperture reveals a red dot when the crown is pushed for time setting. At which time, the seconds hand also reset to zero, and the crown is free to operate the hands to set. On completion, another push of the crown will put the hands into operation mode, and the red dot disappears.
We find the layout to be clean and simple. The legibility of both L1 and L2 are very good. The only niggle is that we wished the Leica logo was in the classical Leica script and not the block letters chosen. We also heard a rumour that the Leica logo might be exchanged for a Leitz one at a later dare, but unable to confirm that.
The case is rather thick at 14mm for a dress watch, but on our wrists, it feels comfortable with the 41mm case diameter, and sits nicely under our bespoke cuffs.
The base movement is largely similar. both are handwound movements designed and manufactured exclusively for Leica by Lehmann Präzision. As the only difference between the watches is the rotatable inner bezel on the L2, which is effected only by the additional crown driving the inner bezel, the movement is the same.
Some critics have claimed that the movement is a re-hash of one of the existing Lehmann movements, but a quick check at the Lehmann website and a chat with Markus Lehmann revealed that he currently does not offer any handwound movements.
The layout of the movement bridges are very pleasing to the eye, and is very attractive. The curves showcasing the sharp outward angles on the main bridge is commendable. The finishing is also rather interesting:
The edges of the bridges are 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. Perhaps a bit reminiscent of the work of the Grönefeld brothers, although in the raised lip of the bridge edges are wider on the Dutch brand, and the bridges are executed in stainless steel. The Leica bridges are made of maillechort and rhodium plated. It is apparent that the finishing is machine executed, though it must be noted that the level of precision and skill needed for this level of work is very high.
We need to address the target market. This watch is 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. 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, we say all power to Leica!
However, looking at the traditional horology enthusiast market, 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.
The design of the Leica L1 and L2 may not necessarily be for everybody. But we think it is a rather beautiful design, Bauhaus inspired with its attendant clean good looks, high legibility “form meets function” detailing that makes the Leica watches rather good looking. Some say the design is generic looking, with styling cues suggested to be taken from the likes of Nomos and Junghans, but as these manufactures all draw design cues from Bauhaus, it is inevitable that there are similarities.
Overall, for us, the design and feel of the watches are satisfying. Is it justified at the € 10,000 price range?Only the final buyer can decide. But keeping in mind the intended market, we think the Leica L1 and L2 will be successful in the market.
Leica L1 and L2 Specifications
LEICA L1, LEICA L2*
Type of calibre
Hour, minute, small second, date window, power reserve indicator with closing wings,
operating status display, second time zone GMT*, day-night display*
28,800 A/h, 4 Hz
Stainless steel, 18 karat rose gold*
sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides, cambered, scratch-resistant coating
Transparent back cover
Sapphire crystal, screw-mounted
Patented crown allows hands to be set and seconds to be reset, separate date pusher, separate GMT crown*
50 metres (5 ATM)
Appliqué around the small second
Embossed calfskin with slightly cambered shape and matching stitching
Stainless steel buckle with engraved Leica logo
*Model: LEICA L2
Photo notes: All photographs with the exception of the impromptu portrait of Dr. Kaufmann was photographed with a Leica CL with the Leica 60mm macro lens and 18mm lens. The impromptu portrait was shot with an iPhone 8 Plus.