If you are into photography, you have most likely heard of Leica, a German manufacturer of perhaps the most prestigious and precise cameras in the world. (Although I love photographing watches I don’t consider myself a photographer so I might have gotten this part wrong.) It seems that whenever a budding photographer wants to turn pro, he or she turns to Leica. From what I understand, Leica cameras capture color and depth in different ways that other cameras do, whether you are looking at their old film cameras or their modern digital ones. Being better than most means Leica cameras are more expensive than cameras from other brands. I’ve never owned or even operated a Leica, but I know people who do and only swear by them. But did you know that Leica now makes watches too?
The brand released their first models last year, the L1 and L2, and just announced new blacked-out versions called the ZM1 and ZM2. (The main difference is the black theme on the dial and hands and the PVD coated cases.) I thought now would be a good time to take a quick look at these watches and discuss what makes them different from any other watch available on the market today.
Mechanical Watches that Work Like Leica Cameras
Before we get into the specifications, let’s discuss what exactly a Leica watch is. The way the ZM1 and ZM2 operate is the same as the L1 and L2. Which means the following: you need to forgo all of what you know about how mechanical watches traditionally function in order to understand how the Leica’s work. Since Leica makes cameras, the brand wanted to infuse some of that heritage in the way the ZM1 and ZM2 operate, to recreate some of the tactical sensations one experiences when handling a Leica camera, as well as how one uses them. All of this was done whilst providing the same functions that a traditional watch comes with such as the time, date, and a GMT function (for the ZM2/L2 models.)
The Leica ZM1 (and L1) is the time + date version while the ZM2 (and L2) is the GMT version. Both models come with an unusual looking crown that is decorated with a red circle. This button looks exactly like a shutter release button on a camera and its function is rather unique: when pressing the crown (button) down, the movement hacks (and the white dot on the left of the date aperture turns red) which brings the seconds hand back to the 12 o’clock position so that one can precisely adjust the time turning the crown in one direction or another. There is no need to pull the crown. When the time has been set, one has to push the crown down again and the movement resumes ticking. (And the red dot turns back to white.)
The pusher at the 2 o’clock present on both models changes the date forward each time one presses on it. Its operation, it seems, is reminiscent of that of old film cameras when one had to push a button to move the film to the next available slot. (Not sure how to accurately describe this operation as it has been a very long time since I’ve handled a film camera.) The crown at the 4 o’clock on the ZM2 (and L2) operates the 12-hour inner rotating bezel. The bezel works in coordination with another indicator located at 4 o’clock. It is a day and night indicator so that one knows if the time displayed on the inner rotating bezel corresponds to daytime or nighttime hours.
Specifications of the Leica ZM1 and ZM2
Given their impressive and unique ways of operating, it would be fair to assume that both watches would be on the larger side of things. Well, I thought so, however I was surprised to learn that the cases have a diameter of only 41mm. From what I could find out online, the ZM1 and ZM2 have a lug-to-lug of 48.1mm, a thickness of 14.5mm, and a lug width of 21mm. These are reasonable dimensions that would fit most people’s wrists. The thickness is even impressive given the fact that the sapphire crystal has a convex shape to mimic that of a camera’s lens. Furthermore, the movements are made in partnership with a German manufacturer and simply named “ZM1” and “ZM2” by Leica.
Given their unique design and movement, the ZM1 retails for around $10,000 and the ZM2 for close to $15,000. These are actually the prices of the L1 and L2 versions, and I assume that the ZM1 and ZM2 should cost about the same.
At first I thought the ZM1 and ZM2—and subsequently the L1 and L2—were expensive. But the more I thought about what these watches are and how they operate, the more my opinion changes. Offering a different way to adjust the time, change the date, and set time in a second time zone means creating a new type of movement. Once I read that developing a new movement from scratch costs one million dollars at the cheapest, so I can imagine that the unnamed calibers powering the ZM1 and ZM2 must have cost much more to develop. And this cost is reflected in the price tag of these watches.
From what I could tell from the photos and a couple of video reviews I found online, these watches are of high quality and a joy to operate. They also seem to be well finished and manufactured, and given Leica’s reputation, I would imagine they function just as well. Although $10,000/$14,000 is not at the reach of most watch enthusiasts, it’s nice to see a brand approach horology with a new perspective and to offer a different experience.Featured image: www.leica-camera.com