Leica Camera, a German brand synonymous with high-quality cameras and optical tools, has been meticulously crafting its path in horology. Though it’s been producing world-renowned cameras for over 154 years, its journey into watchmaking has been a more recent endeavor. Historically, the brand did have occasional flirtations with watches. But it wasn’t until 2018 that they took a definitive step, announcing their maiden in-house watch collection, which subsequently hit the shelves the following year with an additional design variation unveiled in April.
By the close of this year, Leica aficionados can anticipate an expanded collection, with seven distinct timepieces gracing the market. Marcus Eilinger, co-managing director of Ernst Leitz Werkstätten, the division responsible for Leica’s watch innovations, drew parallels between their cameras and timepieces. He noted the brand’s adherence to the philosophy of Das Wesentliche – a German concept signifying ‘the essential’. This ethos champions simplicity, stripping away unnecessary details to reveal the very core of the object. The operations, named after Leica’s founder Ernst Leitz, operate from the heart of Wetzlar, Germany.
Renowned for his collaborations on several Leica cameras, especially the M series, Professor Achim Heine of the Berlin University of the Arts has transitioned his design expertise into these timepieces. The initial collection featured the L1 and L2 models, priced at $10,000 and $14,000 respectively. These 41-millimeter stainless steel creations were later rebranded as the ZM1 and ZM2, where ZM stands for Zeitmesser – the German term for a timepiece.
Innovation and Craftsmanship: Leica’s Watch Collection
The Leica watch series boasts two remarkable models: Leica ZM 1 and Leica ZM 2, each with a Monochrom Edition. These watches serve as the embodiment of mechanical brilliance, pioneering in the watchmaking realm with their patented push-crown and Leica’s bespoke manually-wound movement.
The push-crown, inspired by the camera’s shutter button, is groundbreaking. Rather than the traditional pull mechanism, this crown is pushed to reset the seconds hand, complemented by a display that alternates between red and white to show the watch’s status. It’s an exemplar of Leica’s commitment to innovation and iconic design principles.
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Every Leica watch, manufactured in Germany, is the outcome of a close collaboration with Lehmann Präzision GmbH. The concept, manufacturing, and majority of the components originate from Lehmann’s Black Forest manufactory. The manually wound movement is a testament to the brand’s dedication to visionary technology, traditional craftsmanship, and unmatched Leica quality, resulting in a premium timepiece crafted entirely in Germany.
The ZM 1 and ZM 2 models display hours, minutes, seconds, a date window, status, and power reserve. Both are shielded with scratch-proof domed sapphire crystal, a transparent case back, and have a water-resistance of up to 50 meters. The power reserve promises a minimum of 60 hours, with blades reminiscent of Leica camera shutters. The ZM 2 further offers a GMT function with a single hand indicating a second time zone.
The Monochrom Edition: Epitomizing Minimalistic Elegance
The Leica ZM Monochrom Edition, staying true to its name, is a tribute to simplicity. Eliminating all colors except Leica’s iconic Red Dot, it emphasizes impeccable craftsmanship. The black-coated stainless steel case and bezel seem to draw light in, contrasting with the sandblasted, high-strength aluminum dial. The Monochrom Edition strap matches the leather cover of the Leica M11 Monochrom, enhancing its rugged appeal with a hand-stitched, thick black thread.
Leica’s venture into the watch domain is more than just creating timepieces; it’s about forging connections. The ZM Monochrom Edition, with its signature red dot, was unveiled simultaneously with the M11 Monochrom camera, aiming to intertwine thoughts of cameras and watches. The association of these watches with cameras isn’t just conceptual; it’s tangible, with the ZM1 Monochrom and ZM2 Monochrom watches possessing diamond-cut, sandblasted indexes and hands, and a strap resembling the M11 Monochrom camera’s black leather cover.
Leica’s history with watches also includes licensing its brand to third-party timepiece creators. Notably, the Swiss independent brand Valbray introduced the EL1 in 2014 to commemorate a century of the 35-millimeter camera crafted by Leica.
I am very happy that this long-term project has been introduced. I believe that, together with our partners, we have succeeded in developing a watch “Made in Germany” that is representative of Leica and embodies the values of our premium brand.Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board and majority shareholder of Leica Camera AG
Despite these collaborations, Leica’s majority owner, Andreas Kaufmann, envisioned a deeper involvement in watchmaking. While the costs of developing its movements remain undisclosed, the emotional connection and passion they infuse into these watches are undeniable. This dedication has garnered admiration from enthusiasts, with the first Leica watches, especially the Monochrom versions, selling out quickly.
Under the guidance of Daniel Blunschi and Mr. Eilinger, Ernst Leitz Werkstätten started with limited productions primarily targeting Leica customers. However, the future holds broader outreach efforts, with a shift towards watch clubs and lifestyle segments. Leica’s upcoming collection promises seven innovative pieces with a contemporary yet timeless appearance. The brand is also crafting a third movement, anticipated to be unveiled in 2025. Mr. Blunschi aptly summarizes the company’s journey in horology, stating that while they are overflowing with ideas, both Leica and watchmaking are not just about products – they represent a unique culture and ethos. Me, I’d probably buy one. I own a Rolex, but I also love the Leica brand, so over to the Leica Store I think I’ll go.