A small but remarkably distinctive red dot is all that makes a Leica so distinctive amongst its mega-giant rivals. For a long time, the German brand has prided itself on producing premium photographic tools that have captured an unrivalled brilliance in colour and crispness, immortalising moments with a deft elegance that’s befitting of its cult status now.
Then there’s the unwavering commitment to preserving its style. Leica’s cameras have been continuously upgraded for decades but its basic design has remained the same. Winding its lever and pressing the buttons are experiences often compared to that of an analog wind-up clock, which brings us to the Leica L1 and L2, its first foray into the luxury watch game.
The worlds of motoring and watches often collide, but it’s not every day a camera brand becomes the focal point in the horological world. Still, it’s a genuine designed-from-the-ground effort by the vaunted camera-maker, which has toyed with the idea since 2012. The same minimalist, retro-futuristic facade is skilfully translated into the timepiece, thanks to German product designer Achim Heine, whose portfolio — by no coincidence — spans two decades of developing cameras and devices for the brand.
Leica fans will then see several trademark features revisited in the limited edition watches. The round ruby set into the watch’s crown evokes the famous logo, while the power reserve indicator is inspired by a Leicameter light meter gauge. All these are set against a matte black dial, with classically arranged applied indexes, central hours and minutes, small second at 6 o’clock, and baton hands. The date is displayed via a window at 3 o’clock, operated by a push-button just slightly north at 2 o’clock.
At 41mm in diameter and 14mm thick, the brushed stainless steel watches are hefty enough to be taken seriously. Complications for the time-and-date L1 and GMT-equipped L2 are made in collaboration with Lehmann Präzision, a Black Forest-based firm that not only makes high-precision watchmaking machinery, but also its own (albeit lesser-known) line of watches. Both timepieces share the base caliber of the L1; the L2 has an added GMT function and day/night indicator.
An aperture on the right of the dial exemplifies the German engineering excellence that’s been fervently emphasised throughout. It’s essentially a setting indicator, which changes colour according to the position of a nifty push-crown. A white aperture indicates that the watch is running and the movement can be wound; red allows for the watch’s time to be adjusted. A zero-reset mechanism of the small seconds is also integrated so the adjustment is as precise as possible. Its workings are just about as respectable as a chronograph’s.
The rest of the watches’ production is kept within the neighbourhood, helmed by Leica’s next door neighbour Ernst Leitz Werkstätten, who took extra care in delivering an industrial aesthetic that was equal parts refined and restrained.
If you’re getting serious déjà vu from Leica-branded watches, that’s because the brand had previously collaborated with Valbray on a limited edition for its 100th anniversary — although not designed nor made by Leica. The amount of effort put into the L1 and L2 is indicative of the brand’s commitment in developing this segment, evident from the announcement of an 18k rose gold version later this year, and the L3, an alarm watch.
The new Leica L1 and L2 watches are a quiet exercise in form and function. They’re a radical departure from what the brand has come to be known for, but we bet our last dollar that they’ll be just as celebrated as their trigger-happy counterpart.
(Featured image: Hodinkee; other images: Leica)