Luxury marques attempting crossovers into the watchmaking world isn’t new. Think Hermes, Bulgari, and Van Cleef & Arpels – longstanding craft and jewellery houses who have, in recent decades, strove to carve their own niche in the notoriously insular watch business. While the aforementioned companies boast histories in the accessories trade which, by association, is a distant cousin of the horological industry, the move by renowned camera brand Leica to offer its own line of high-end watches in 2018 was an altogether more surprising affair.
Even so, Leica is feeling optimistic about its crossover potential. The watches are just the beginning, says Jérôme Auzanneau, managing director of Ernst Leitz Werkstätten, the camera brand’s lifestyle division formed, also in 2018, to explore product expansion opportunities. Auzanneau suggests that besides watches, the brand will be looking at offering other craft-based luxury products. “Things that highlight Europe’s heritage of luxury craftsmanship.”
But back to the watches. Leica’s debut models, the L1 and L2, are no run-of-the-mill ODM roll-outs stamped with the company’s name. With a starting price of approximately €10,000, the watches had to live up to certain expectations. And in the flesh, they look like they do, brandishing exclusive movements with a high level of finishing and decoration, and pared-down designs that are nuanced and sophisticated. But it still begs the questions: Why watches? And more importantly, who would buy them? We pose these questions to Auzanneau.
Trying to get people to understand why Leica is making watches is always going to be tough, isn’t it?
Why is there a need for Leica to start a luxury and lifestyle division to support this?
Besides watches, what kind of ‘luxury lifestyle’ products will Leica offer?
Is it fair to say that this is unexplored territory for Leica?
Leica joins a list of non-traditional watch brands making high-end watches. How much of a challenge is this?
With Leica, we have decided to go straight for the 'full story'. Right from the start, our watches are made with exclusivity and authenticity in mind. We created a movement from scratch, and ensured that the design and finishing are of a top quality. It is very clear that this is not a gimmick.
Tell us about the movement company that you work with.
Can you elaborate on the design DNA of Leica watches?
There are other surprising aspects too. For instance, if you look at the curved sapphire, which resembles a camera lens, you'd think that it is made by Leica. Actually, it is comes from another supplier because the sapphire dial of a watch is very different to that of a camera lens. Elsewhere, the design of the hands and indexes are entirely unique, and they have been diamond-polished twice. There is a 'less is more' spirit to the watch, but even within this framework, there are many aesthetic nuances that the owner would discover upon spending more time with it.
How confident are you in convincing watch aficionados?
This story first appeared on www.crownwatchblog.com