Breakdown: Valbray EL1 Chrono for Leica
There tends to be an overlap among lovers of cameras and mechanical watches, probably because both products share a tactical nature of use and a precise build. German photography brand Leica certainly shares a spirit with the perfection-seeking attitude of haute horlogerie — and now they have a more concrete connection. For their 100th anniversary, Leica teamed up with Valbray, an independent Swiss watchmaker, to create a commemorative timepiece based on Valbray’s signature Oculus diaphragm system. The result, dubbed the EL1 Chronograph ($24,500), features an iris-like shutter made from 16 single blades that either reveals or hides a secondary, inner dial.
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The collaboration between the companies is a perfect fit, and not just because anyone toting a Leica might already be looking for a fancy watch. According to Valbray, it was Alfred Schopf, chairman of the executive board at Leica Camera AG and an avid watch enthusiast, who approached Valbray’s founder, Côme de Valbray, who also happens to be an avid photographer.
Valbray has brought a bit of fun and creativity to the watch scene with their Oculus system, which enables the wearer to uncover the chronograph function or keep the dial minimalistic. The hours and minutes are most readable when the diaphragm is closed, but the watch looks best when the blades are half-open, with its rolled away shutter looking a bit like the rifling in the end of a James Bond intro, aimed squarely at the beautifully finished dial that’s been revealed.
That dial’s design is supposedly inspired directly by Leica’s first cameras, although only avid Leica fans will be able to catch the subtleties: The indication of the date at 3:00, the cursor at 12:00 and the hours at 6:00 recall the layout settings of Leica’s first models, and the seconds at 9:00 reproduces the design of Leica’s isometry button.
The watch is powered by the Swiss ETA Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement, which is visible through a sapphire glass on the caseback. It’s available in two models — sanded titanium or titanium with a black Diamond-Like Coating (DLC) coating — and comes with two exchangeable leather straps. Interested buyers will need to empty their bank accounts of $24,500, no small change, but not unheard of for fans of high-end watches. Or high-end cameras, for that matter.