For more than 150 years, Leica has made a name for itself producing binoculars, microscopes, rangefinders, cameras, and other devices with high-quality optical lenses, but for the first time ever, the German-based company is expanding into high-end timepieces. Unfortunately, the new L1 and L2 watches somehow make Leica’s cameras seem like a real bargain.
It’s not entirely clear why a company that has traditionally focused on optics is branching out into this market, particularly in a time when smartwatches have become fierce competition for mechanical timepieces. But Leica has very much become a brand associated with luxury, and that’s what attracts buyers to high-end timepieces.
The Leica L1 and L2 were designed by Achim Heine, a renowned German designer who was also responsible for other Leica products. As a result, the L1 and L2 feature references and design cues borrowed from Leica’s cameras. Those include the appearances of the hands and indices marking every hour number, the knurled pattern on the dials, the domed glass on the front of the watch designed to emulate the appearance of a camera lens, and of course a red dot adorning each timepiece’s crown.
The L1 and L2 also feature a new mechanical movement developed in part with Germany’s Lehmann Präzision GmbH that’s left exposed on the rear of the timepiece through a transparent back also made of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. But the watch doesn’t just borrow design aesthetics from Leica’s cameras. On most mechanical watches, the crown is pulled out to stop the movement allowing the wearer to adjust the time, but on both the Leica L1 and L2 the crowns are pushed in like a camera’s shutter button. This stops the time keeping mechanism and moves the second hand to the zero position, until the crown is pushed again to release and start the movement.
Both Leica timepieces feature a 60-hour power reserve, but while the $10,000 L1 includes a veal leather strap, the $14,000 L2 swaps that for a strap made of alligator leather, and also adds the ability to set and view an alternate time zone using a second crown.