Why would a brand introduce a new product line? You’d expect the answer to be short and simple: to make money. But the truth of the matter is that the answer to this question is rarely straightforward.
If done in the spirit of innovation, the new venture requires investment into research and development, head count, and marketing budget—and even then, returns are not guaranteed. This question becomes even more acute when the product in question is mechanical timepieces, because, let’s be honest, the demand is niche.
But in an odd, slightly parochial way, it is that exclusivity that makes mechanical timepieces so appealing. It also explains Leica’s decision to launch a new line of watches earlier this year. The high-end camera maker still hand-makes its products in its manufacture in Germany. It focuses on craftsmanship, exclusivity and emotion–adjectives that could very well describe some of the most renowned haute horlogerie brands.
In fact, Leica does not see itself as just a camera maker. It has built up a community of photographers who can share their works at the Leica galleries, or over coffee at the Leitz cafe. While having a Leica slung on their shoulders is akin to a tribal mark, having a Leica watch on their wrist reinforces the sense of community—at least, that’s what the brand hopes to achieve.
Thankfully, the brand’s decision was not a pure marketing effort that resulted in buying an ETA movement, and slapping on the Leica logo on the dial. When Leica launched the third wave of its Leitz Park campus in June this year, it also opened the Ernst Leitz Werkstätten, a watch manufacture where timepieces are designed and assembled.
So far, two limited edition collections have been launched: the L1 and L2, which are wholly made in Germany. The movements have been developed in conjunction with Lehmann Präzision GmbH, a German production company that specialises in precision manufacturing for the optical and watchmaking industries.
Thus, the components that have been used within the timepiece are of top-notch quality, and this can be evinced by the open caseback used for both the L1 and L2. The sapphire caseback affords a view of the beautifully polished and finished movement, a decision that allows wearers to truly gauge the high level of quality that the timepiece vaunts.
There are many design elements that are uniquely Leica and are evocative of its photographic legacy, as the watches were conceptualised by Professor Achim Heine, who oversees the designs of the cameras. For instance, the sapphire glass is cambered to imitate the camera lens. The crown—that oft-neglected child—is where the magic happens. The push-piece needs to be activated to put the crown in time-setting mode, an action reminiscent to the changing a camera setting.
Both the Leica L1 and L2 are manual-winding, measure 41mm, and feature a small seconds sub-dial; date window; power reserve indicator and a crown status indicator. The L2 features an additional module that operates the second time zone display. Both are available in stainless steel, and the L2 comes in an additional snazzy rose gold case.