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INTRODUCING: Leica’s first serially produced watch, the ZM11

The Leica ZM11 in beadblasted titanium case with black-and-red dial.

With prices starting at S$9,200, the timepiece boasts impressive specifications with a renowned watchmaker partner for its customised movement..

When Leica first branched out into watchmaking under the vision of its enthusiastic owner, Dr Andreas Kaufmann, some questioned the wisdom of this decision. After all, this was a camera brand that was very specific in its identity: Leica invented the compact camera, and to translate that into watchmaking was a challenge. Although Leica had partner watches since the 1970s, it never produced its own designs.

The Ernst Leitz Werkstätten is where Leica's watches are assembled, next to its camera making facilities.
The Ernst Leitz Werkstätten is where Leica’s watches are assembled, next to its camera-making facilities.

However, a quick tour of Leica’s camera-making facilities in Wetzlar reveals many similarities between its primary consumer business – creating beautiful cameras and lenses that create beautiful pictures - and its new Watch Division, headed by Marcus Eilinger and Daniel Blunschi. From CNC machines precisely producing components accurate to the nanometer to using various materials – brass, aluminium, steel, and titanium, a Leica camera is just a bigger and more complex version of a Leica timekeeper. In fact, the control and packaging of Leica’s watches is accomplished at the Werkstätten of its Wetzlar offices.

Jean-François Mojon of Chronode SA.
Jean-François Mojon of Chronode SA.

Now, five years after the launch of the L1 and L2 (now known as the ZM1 and ZM2), the trio have introduced the brand’s first serial production watch, with a movement made just for Leica by Chronode SA. Chronode’s founder is, of course, Jean-François Mojon, whose work with everyone from MB&F to Cyrus and Hermès is well-known. (Little known fact: Leica itself has an intimate relationship with Hermès, which was a minority shareholder in the German company until Dr Kaufmann acquired it fully.)

Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, President of Leica.
Dr Andreas Kaufmann, President of Leica.

The ZM11 

The Calibre LA-3001 is Leica’s first owned movement, a self-winding time-and-date that runs at 4Hz and has a power reserve of 60 hours. Further information, including pictures, is forthcoming. (Update: According to Chronode, this is based off its C-102 movement, with a finishing that’s unique to Leica.) What is impressive is the movement’s performance: right from the start, it’s a COSC-standard (though not certified) movement, with –4/+6 seconds a day accuracy. Of course, this is in line with the brand’s focus on precision.

Chronode’s personalisation includes modifications to the bridges, a laser-engraved surface finishing, and anthracite NAC galvanic treatment on the bridges and rotor, among others. Leica’s logo is, of course, on the rotor as well. 

The Leica ZM11 in stainless steel case and bracelet, with blue sunray dial.
The Leica ZM11 in stainless steel with bracelet and blue sunray dial.

The ZM11 is named after one of the company’s newest flagship cameras and is monikered for the M camera rangefinders, which are an icon and share its “Essential Focus” identity. The dials are vertically brushed with a sunray finish and feature laser-cut slivers that, according to Marcus Eilinger, were inspired by the light coming through his partially opened window blinds in the evening. This allows light to play on the dial and even penetrate it slightly to reveal the watch’s inner workings. They are produced in Germany by a supplier. Eilinger adds, "There's a lot of complexity to the dual layer dial that are revealed only under a loupe. For example, the underlying layer is in fact a glossy black lacquered dial with galvanic treatments on the upper layer. This enhances the play of light on the display."

The applied indexes are gently rounded and coated with luminous paint, while the hands are diamond-cut, partially bead-blasted, and Super-LumiNova-coated. The minute track is in black with white markings that remind one of the design of an aperture ring, and the cylinder-shaped watch also references a camera lens, with a black coating around the sapphire crystal identical to the lacquered edge of a Leica optical lens.  

The Leica ZM11 in beadblasted titanium case with brown sunray dial and textile strap..
The Leica ZM11 in bead-blasted titanium with brown sunray dial and textile strap.

Three 41mm models are available. The steel model has a beautiful blue dial and an integrated bracelet that’s amazingly comfortable to wear. (We were impressed by how a camera maker has designed a mono-link bracelet that not only looks great but is really comfortable on the wrist.) The edges are chamfered, with a little cutout on each link like the shape of an M camera, and the surfaces are all brushed, just like its camera designs.

The other two are in bead-blasted grade 5 titanium that’s smooth to the touch. In one of these models, the flagship, Leica has created a black dial with red on the edges of the cutouts – two colours in Leica’s identity and a play on a reprography technique that changes the dial from black to red as the angle shifts. This model is limited to 250 pieces, has black lacquered hands and indexes, and is available with a black vulcanised rubber strap. A second model in a brown dial comes with a matching Cordura strap. Of course, you can also buy additional straps or bracelets and switch them around.

Leica has also designed an innovative Easy-Change locking system similar to that of camera bags or straps. Instead of fiddling with spring bars, simply press a red camera button at the back to release the strap and snap on another. While this is clever and cool, it does mean that you’re restricted only to Leica-sourced straps for your interchangeable options.

The Leica ZM11 in beadblasted titanium case with black and red dial.
The Leica ZM11 in bead-blasted titanium case with black and red dial.

What is really surprising is the pricing. The watches start from S$9,200 for the steel option (with fabric or rubber strap) and go up to ~S$11,800 for the titanium case with titanium bracelet. The titanium case with rubber or fabric strap is at S$9,900. And while it’s true that sub-$10k titanium watches are no longer uncommon, this comes with a COSC-standard, Chronode-designed movement. That makes the watch a great buy, in our opinion. It’s odd, though, that Leica, which prides itself on being Made in Germany, has gone from Lehmann Prazision, a German watch component and movement maker, to Chronode, which is Swiss. However, Jean-François Mojon is a perfect partner to work with, and with his robust movements, we can imagine other complications being added to this movement.

The ZM11 will be available from the end of November at the Leica store in Raffles Hotel, with rollouts in other Southeast Asian countries in the following months. To discover the watch and make a reservation, contact Leica Singapore for more information. While the watches are restricted to 33 stores for now, they will be available by the end of the year in all 100 stores. Leica is also exploring partnerships with retailers for Leica watch boutiques in the future.

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Editor

Darren has been writing about, and admiring the craft of watchmaking for over a dozen years. He considers himself lucky to live in a golden age of horology, and firmly believes that the most difficult watches to design are the simplest and the most intriguing to discover.


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