The Vision

How the idea for a Leica watch took shape: Dr. Andreas Kaufmann talks about the background

Dr. Kaufmann, how did the idea of a Leica watch come about?

The idea of producing a mechanical watch has been around for quite a long time; it was already being considered when the era of the quartz watch was coming to an end, in the late eighties, early nineties. In a 1996 licensing agreement, that grants the trademark rights for Leica for 99 years and details which products can be manufactured under its flag, watches are mentioned in the second place.

When you look at the rangefinder built into the M, made up of well over one hundred parts, it’s like the small movement. A watch produced by Leica therefore, always has to have a mechanical movement. The link to mechanics is something Leica stands for.

And then – it must have been around 2012 – I said, “let’s do something about it now.” We started out by talking with various manufacturers, including Hanhart, a small German brand located in the Black Forest. Back then, the designer, Achim Heine, had already built a mood board for a watch, that was to be based on a Hanhart movement.

So, at the time you didn’t intend to build your own movement?

No. At first it was about doing something special. Hanhart had some older movements in its repertoire, which could have been modified to Leica’s requirements; but nothing came of it for a number of reasons. We also spoke with the founder of Chronoswiss, Gerd-Rüdiger Lang. Chronoswiss was the only new watch brand created in Germany at the end of the eighties. As a German watchmaker, he also managed to push through a few things that are now common in highquality watches. For example, the glass back was his idea. Lang was the first to create an awareness of the actual inner workings of a watch. The somewhat larger crown also came from him, an idea that he derived from the old pocket watch.

In the end, we didn’t go on to collaborate with Chronoswiss either, but we were able to put together a network of partners, with whom we could imagine producing a movement. On the one hand, there is the designer Achim Heine, whom I very much appreciate. In 1999 he also introduced Leica’s new design language and corporate identity. Up until 2008 he was one of the company’s main designers, while also already involved in watches. On the other hand, there’s Reinhard Meis, a builder from A. Lange & Söhne, who was retired at the time; and there’s Lehmann Präzision GmbH from the Black Forest. This resulted in the creative entity that developed the Leica watch. Some of Mr. Meis’s ideas, such as the patented push-piece crown, are included. Things became protracted, however, because developing a movement is a very painstaking job.

You don’t develop a movement just like that; but with time we had simply found the right arrangement.

Does this mean that the movement has been developed from scratch?

Completely! It has never existed in this form before. Lehmann produces the movement for Leica, and we finish it off at the Ernst Leitz Workshops in Wetzlar. It’s a complicated and expensive matter. You don’t develop a movement just like that; but with time we had simply found the right arrangement. I have always said, “the Leica watch has to come from above.” If a mechanical watch wants to be a counterpart for the M, then it has to represent and exhibit something unique. I think we’ve managed to do that.

So, the development of its own movement was more of a necessity than a wish?

From the perspective of the market it was a necessity. ETA – a firm belonging to the Swatch group – produces wonderful mass movements; but there was a Damocles sword situation, because the Swatch group had warned that at some point they wanted to stop delivering companies that make alterations to their movements. This depends on the outcome of various antitrust lawsuits. ETA controls around 70 to 80 percent of the market. Another company is Sellita. The Seiko Group also has some things available at reasonable prices. There are wonderful, durable, industrial movements produced in the millions; but we decided to go for something of our own, and this now is the result.

What classification does the movement have then? Has it been subjected to a chronometer test?

It sits in the highest class. We can only subject it to the chronometer test once we’ve decided whether to comply with Swiss or German chronometer regulations. The movement itself is extremely complicated, extremely difficult, and extremely expensive. The simplest of the watches will cost no less than 10 000 euros. And, of course, the gold edition will sell for a lot more.

So the aim is to keep up with the big guys?

Yes, that’s the aim, and we also think we will manage to. Not in the quantity, but in the quality. We have the right partners to do so, and we will, of course, build up the corresponding customer service department, also in Wetzlar.

The design reference of our Leica cameras is never an end unto itself, but has a reason to be, a functionality.

What can you say about the design? It sounds like it was a pretty tough process, that ended up looking like a train station clock at first.

We’ve opted for a very classic German design for the first watches. In this regard, we were very involved in designing it with Achim Heine. That’s the good thing about him, because he can be flexible. In the end it was down to millimetres. It was about proportions: how do we position the small circle for the seconds correctly? What should we do with the lettering? The basic design was clear, but then things really got going. In Germany we have, for example, the very respected designs by Nomos, a reduced Bauhaus in fact. In our case we believed we could justify a line somewhere in the middle. If you look at the connection to the M, for example, then this fits with Leica.

This was obviously also a fundamental point: to convey design elements from the camera to the watch?

We talked about this with Achim Heine for a long time; and he gave this much consideration. We then found four or five elements that could be applied in an interpretive manner. We avoided adding a red dot. A red dot only appears when you press the push-piece. But that’s not the “normal” state: it’s there when you push it, then it’s gone when you push it again. Why? Because a red dot doesn’t work on a watch; because if you do things properly a watch is something very symmetrical with a couple of proportional considerations. So the red dot is disturbing. But we include red in the crown, where there’s a small ruby. So, in a certain way, this serves as a reference to the Leica red dot.

How is the name Leica justified in the watch? Are the elements taken from camera design supposed to underline the relationships between camera and watch?

Yes. Leica’s design vocabulary goes all the way back to Ludwig Leitz II, who was the head of the research and development department back in 1939; and to Heinrich Janke, the father of the red dot, whom Ludwig Leitz employed in the early fifties. They were the famous M designers, who later also created the Leicaflex, the Leicaflex SL and the Pradovit.

When you read Janke’s design book, you suddenly understand what Leica did differently. It describes how Leica came to achieve its proportions. They were clearly derived from human forms, from the human head. The designers developed grids for the proportions, then looked to see how human proportions are actually structured. This means that when you look at Leica objects, you see proportions that come, on the one hand, from a technology design, on the other, from a human one.

When you take these principles and transfer them to something else, I don’t believe you can go wrong. Seen from this perspective, there is surely no harm in creating a certain relationship between watch and camera. For example, if you look at the Leicameter, the attachable exposure meter for the M3, this gives an idea for a different type of power reserve indicator. From the watchmaking perspective that was extremely difficult: it’s an unusual progress bar that goes from black to white. However, the design reference of our cameras is never an end unto itself, but has a reason to be, a functionality.

Can you tell us anything about the production numbers planned?

They will be small. Next year we probably won’t produce more than 380 to 400 pieces. At the moment we are producing up to 18 000 Ms a year. Consequently, we can only talk about a small serial run in this case. After five years we probably won’t be producing more than 2500 pieces a year of this type of watch.

Will it only be possible to acquire these watches through Leica?

The difference in Leica’s case is that, compared to other manufacturers in this field, we have our own retail stores. This means that the introduction will only be carried out through a few select Leica stores, and the employees there will be trained for this throughout the year.

Where do you see the connection between time and photography?

That’s an interesting question! But it’s not easy to answer. Maybe I can do it like this: a snapshot is an attempt to capture time. A watch can’t do that. In the case of ambitious photography it’s more than the snapshot, it’s more than just capturing time – it’s about art. That’s something different to measuring time. Photography freezes time; a watch allows you to structure the flow of time.

Why is Lehmann Präzision GmbH the right partner for Leica?

On the one hand, Markus Lehmann is your classic, industrial tinkerer, on the other, a watch enthusiast. That’s an unusual combination. His company builds incredible manufacturing machines for the watch industry, but also for the camera industry. For the so-called centering in lens production, we use Lehmann machines in part. Very sophisticated machines to correctly centre portraits Helge Kirchberger the individual aspheric lenses in the body of a complete camera lens. His main outlet area, however, is the watch industry. He builds very complex machines for it, virtually all the way to fully automatic.

So, on the one hand, Markus Lehmann delivers machines for the watch industry, while, on the other, he is a watchmaker. In addition, there’s the fact that he’s a Swabian, very precise and with Swabian characteristics: when he tinkers, you’re not allowed to disturb him. We are helping Markus with the building of a special electro-plating, so that we can also be more independent with the watch dials. The thing is that the way a watch looks is defined 80 percent by the dial – that was the design challenge for the Leica watch!

All in all, it was a long and very challenging process, but I think that we and our future watch customers will look at the result with pleasure. Watch products from Leica Wetzlar. For me it’s like things have nearly come full circle, because, after finishing his apprenticeship in Pforzheim, Ernst Leitz first worked in the Swiss watch industry, before coming to Wetzlar in 1864!

Dr. Andreas Kaufmann - Chairman of the Board of Leica Camera AG, has realised an idea that had been in the air for a long time: the production of a high-quality, mechanical watch.