Leica Introduces the L1 and L2 Watches

Powered by a proprietary movements made in Germany.

Leica has just rolled out its own line of wristwatches, the first products from Ernst Leitz Werkstätten, a newly established division of the German camera maker that will produce, and not merely license, Leica-branded luxury goods.

A contraction of Leitz Camera, Leica’s inaugural collection of watches comprises the L1 and L2. While earlier Leica watches, like the Valbray shutter watch, were licensed products, the L1 and L2 are proprietary.

Both share the same steel case that’s 41mm in diameter and 14mm high, though the L2 will also offered in 18k rose gold. The L1 and L2 are available only with black dials, though a pair of special editions with red dials to commemorate the opening of Ernst Leitz Werkstätten will soon be rolled out.

The watches are the work of Achim Heine, a German industrial designer whose repertoire includes several products for Leica, but also furniture for the likes of Vitra. Mr Heine injected only subtle references to Leica cameras into the watches, including a ruby cabochon on the crown that evokes the famous Leica red dot, and a domed sapphire crystal shaped like a lens. The visual nods to Leica cameras are subtle enough that the watches evoke other German timepieces, most notably the Nomos Zurich.


Functionally is where the L1 and L2 are the most interesting. Both have a patented “push-piece” crown and zero-reset seconds. Pressing in the crown brings the movement into time-setting mode, while simultaneously resetting the seconds hand to 12 o’clock. A circular aperture at three o’clock indicates the crown position: white means neutral while red indicates time-setting mode.

The date is advanced via the pusher at two o’clock, while the L2 has an additional crown at four o’clock that rotates the inner 12-hour bezel for the second time zone. And both models have the power reserve display at nine o’clock.

Leica L2 watch

Leica developed the watch with help from Lehmann Präzision, a machine tools and components maker located in the Black Forest, an area in Germany historically known for jewellery and clockmaking, and the home of watch brands like Junghans. Lehmann’s primary business is producing manufacturing equipment and precision parts for industries as varied as aviation and watchmaking, but in 2011 it started producing watches as well as its own movements.

Leica L1 and L2 watch movement

The L2 with its second time zone mechanism (left) and the simpler L1

Consequently, Lehmann was responsible for much of the Leica watch, including the movements, though the watches are put together at Ernst Leitz Werkstätten. The L1 movement includes the time, date and power reserve, while the L2 has the addition of a second time zone plus a day and night indicator.

Leica L1 watch movement

Both share the same base calibre that’s hand-wound with a 60-hour power reserve, featuring an open-worked wheel train bridge that reveals the going train. Constructed for Leica, the movement is distinct from Lehmann’s own calibres.


The L1 and L2 are just the start for Ernst Leitz Werkstätten, which is located in the newest section of Leica’s headquarters in Wetzlar, an hour’s drive from Frankfurt. More watches are planned in the coming years, as well as other luxury products, all of which will be made in Germany.

Leica’s diversification is unsurprising, given its incredible brand equity that is more akin to that of a luxury goods brand than an electronics manufacturer. In fact, Leica is upscale enough that Hermes has collaborated with the camera maker on several occasions, wrapping cameras and binoculars in its pricey leathers. In 2012 Leica debuted the M9-P Edition Hermes, a camera packaged with three lenses priced at US$50,000.

Producing around 100,000 cameras a year, Leica’s signature rangefinder starts at about US$6000 and often crossing the US$10,000 mark, meaning that its clients can well afford a high-end wristwatch. With modest production numbers of the L1 and L2 planned, at least in the beginning, finding homes for Leica watches should not be difficult.

Price and availability 

The Leica L1 will be priced at just under €10,000, or about US$11,500, while the L2 will be priced above that. The watches will be available in the third quarter of 2018 at select Leica stores worldwide as well as a handful of watch retailers.


 

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Hands-On with the Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 “Chiron Sport”

A supercar gets its super-watch.

Parmigiani is one of the most under appreciated modern day watchmakers, producing high quality watches, inside and out, albeit with styling that is not to everyone’s taste. Its strengths are most evident in its most avant-garde watches, namely the timepieces produced in collaboration with carmaker Bugatti.

There are generally two classes of automobile (or sci-fi) inspired watches – ones with automotive elements bolted on, like a wheel rim rotor or brake calliper hands; and the other that have been mechanically constructed in a manner that’s different and three-dimensional. Watches in the latter category are more impressive, and also more expensive, including timepieces like the Hublot MP-05 LaFerrari, MB&F HM4 Thunderbolt, and Parmigiani’s top of the line Bugatti watches.

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Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 17

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 20

The one that start it all, the Bugatti Type 370, was introduced in 2005 together with the Bugatti Veyron. Tubular with a transverse movement featuring vertically positioned gears, the Type 370 was ahead of its time. The Bugatti Super Sport watch that came after was less interesting, being wedge-shaped, slightly clunky and not that compelling technically.


But with the new Bugatti Type 390 wristwatch Parmigiani is back in form. Launched alongside the Bugatti Chiron Sport – a supercar with a top speed of over 400km/h and a US$3.4m price tag – the Type 390 a large watch with an arched profile that leaves it slightly slimmer than it appears.

The Bugatti Type 390 is nonetheless a large watch, measuring 42.2mm wide and 57.7mm long, standing 18.4mm high at the top of the tubular middle. The watch pictured has a custom livery specified by its owner, with fine perlage on the case sides. That can be replaced with other finishes, or even carbon fibre inserts. The case material and colour of the sapphire crystals can also be tweaked to the suit the owner’s taste.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 4

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 9

The unusual case form is a consequence of the unusually constructed PF390 movement, which is made up of 302 parts, or about double a regular tourbillon calibre. The PF390 is essentially a two-parter: the twin barrels and regulator stacked into a horizontally positioned cylinder, with the wheel train mounted on a perpendicular plane.

Parmigiani Bugatti PF390

The movement out of the watch case

One end of the cylinder has a sapphire porthole revealing the flying tourbillon regulator. The balance oscillates at 4Hz, or 28,800 beats per hour. While that’s the norm for ordinary movements, it is a relatively high frequency for a tourbillon, which typically run at 3Hz, or 21,600 bph. The higher frequency of the balance gives it greater inertia, and consequently stability, which is a useful property given the compact size of the tourbillon.

At the other end is the oversized crown that requires a push for it to pop out of the case for winding and setting. Because the crown is so large, it incorporates a torque limiting device to prevent the stem from being broken with overenthusiastic winding.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 10

A compact flying tourbillon

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 12

The cylinder contains two barrels, one of which is engraved with the signature of Louis Chiron, and the other his nickname in French, le vieux renard. Translating as “the old fox”, it arose from the shrewd driving of the Monegasque racing driver, whose racing career spanned the 1930s until the late 1950s.

Both barrels are coupled in series, meaning they unwind one after the other. Together they provide 80 hours of power reserve, indicated by a red pointer at one end of the sapphire window. Beneath the power reserve indicator are three sets of planetary gears that reduce the gear ratio and also transfer energy from the barrels to the wheel train.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 18

Parmigiani Bugatti Chiron planetary gear

The planetary gear

Parmigiani Bugatti Chiron barrels

The twin barrels out of the movement

Perpendicular to the cylinder is the wing that contains the hands and wheel train that is connected to the rest of the movement via a worm screw. It’s a skeleton dial with few moving parts beneath save for the gilded wheels of the going train; majority of the important bits, like the worm screw, can only be seen from the back.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 2

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 3

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Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 14

The polished worm screw


On this particular example the dial and hands are a bright blue that jumps out. Intriguingly the typography used for the hour numerals is similar to the custom font commissioned by Hermes for its Slim d’Hermes wristwatch. Parmigiani and the Parisian leather goods maker have a close working relationship – Hermes holds a 25% stake in Parmigiani’s sister company Vaucher – which might explain it.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 1

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 6

While the flamboyance of the construction and muted colours of the movement leave the finishing less obvious, the watch is carefully and finely finished, with components that feel exceptionally precise in their manufacture. All of the black-coated bridges are finished with straight graining on their tops, with their edges bevelled and polished. The same finish is applied to smaller components, like the escape wheel bridge beneath the balance.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 7

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 19

Other components also illustrate the care in finishing, including the brushed finish and sharply engraved, ink-filled italic script on both barrels. The large wheels of the gear train are circular grained and extremely refined in their details. Admittedly the bevelled edges lack sharp inward corners of high-end artisanal watchmaking, but the decoration here is as good as it gets for a big brand.

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 8

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 5

Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 watch 15

Price and availability 

The Parmigiani Bugatti Type 390 (ref. PFH390) is priced at SFr275,000 in titanium, and SFr295,000 in 18k white or rose gold. Prices include customisation of the dial, hands and case decoration.


 

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