Camera Ready: A Snapshot Of The New Leica L1 And Leica L2 Watches
Watchonista’s Senior Photographer Liam O’Donnell lends an f-stop or two of visual insight into the legendary camera-maker’s debut to the timekeeping game.
Photography and watch collecting go hand-in-hand. Even if you’re just taking wrist shots with your phone, a camera is a way to document the hobby and explore the subtle nuances of a watch.
When the legendary German camera-maker Leica announced they were getting into the watch manufacturing business, we got excited. After all, Leica cameras are much revered in photography, especially by street photographers and photojournalists – Henri Cartier-Bresson used one, as did Sebastião Salgado. Leica’s 35 mm models are considered by many professionals to be the finest ever made.
Our Senior Photographer Liam O’Donnell is a man who knows a lot about both watches and cameras. Naturally, we asked him for his reaction to these two new timepieces.
We’ve been waiting a long time for the arrival of Leica’s first foray into watches. In 2018 the company previewed two timepieces, the time-and-date L1 and GMT L2. However, the brand began conceptualizing watches as far back as 2012. The camera-maker consulted with many watchmakers, including Hanhart, Chronoswiss, and A. Lange & Söhne to study the scope of the project.
All of the consideration that went into creating these new timepieces is apparent. It’s not just a watch with a Leica logo, nor does its design aim to mimic a camera body.
“I think they’re beautiful,” says O’Donnell. “The Leica design language is present but it doesn’t hit you over the head.”
The look of both the Leica L1 and Leica L2 draws inspiration from previous examples of engineering that have emerged from the brand’s headquarters in Wetzlar, Germany. The exterior of both watches was created by Professor Achim Heine, who has designed all kinds of Leica products in the past.
As a result, the Leica L1 and Leica L2 contain elements that reference signature features from Leica’s rich history. Viewed from the side, the stainless steel case recalls the silhouette of the classic 35 mm camera body. The distinctive knurling on the patented push crowns of the chronograph and power reserve indicator, with gradually closing blades on the dial, and the domed crystal suggest a camera lens.
What O’Donnell likes best is that while these watches are appealing to Leica fans, they still stand out as an object of beauty to serious watch collectors. “The power reservoir at 9 o’clock, the movement finishing,” he says, “it’s all very restrained and reminds me of a...”
For photographers, these new Leica watches are also very satisfying to activate.
“I appreciate that they went with a manually winding calibre for that analog feel,” says O’Donnell. For example, in conventional designs, the crown must be pulled out to stop or hack the watch. Working with watchmaker Markus Lehmann of the German company Lehmann Präzision, the brand developed a depressing crown, similar to the release button of a camera. With the first click, the watch stops and the small seconds hand resets to zero; a second push releases the movement again. And in keeping with Leica’s German sensibility, it’s a unique but practical feature.
O’Donnell also notes that it’s not the first time Leica has used its photographic heritage to cross-pollinate (the brand collaborated with HODINKEE to launch the Leica M10-P “Ghost Edition” camera, styled after a vintage timepiece owned by HODINKEE founder Ben Clymer). But for its watchmaking debut, it is impressive.
It’s appealing to Leica enthusiasts, he adds, “but even if you just like watches it’s attractive.” Just as collecting vintage Leica’s can be an expensive hobby, the Leica L1 and Leica L2 are not value propositions. Starting at $10,000, adds O’Donnell, “it’s going to appeal more to the camera heads, to the collectors who buy the Ghost.”
Still, there’s a lot of bang for your buck. Both versions feature a handsome, matte black aluminum dial with white markers and minimalist rhodium and diamond-plated indices. The GMT comes with a day and night indicator; the polished case measures in at a sensible 41mm; and the domed sapphire crystal glass and screw-mounted flat sapphire case back feature an anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coating. The L1 comes with a black, veal leather strap with red lining, while the L2 is set on a matte black alligator strap, also with red lining.
Stay tuned for more of O’Donnell’s thoughts on Leica (the launch announcement came through just as he was shooting a feature on the brand).
Pricing and Availability
Currently, the timepieces are available at select Leica stores in Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Wetzlar, Moscow, Vienna, Dubai, and Los Angeles, with additional points of sale to be announced soon. The Leica L1 is priced at $10,000 and the Leica L2 is $14,000.