Leica, ready to flip?

After five years of using Leica products, I can safely say that Leica does make fantastic products, and expensive as they might be, they are going to last what seems like a lifetime. I bought my Leica SL, about three years ago. It was so advanced and perfectly built that even today, I find it at par with recent competitive products. The lenses — especially the M class of lenses — cost a lot of money, but I am leaving those for my godchildren. In other words, the very qualities that make Leica products expensive, make it hard for the company to monetize their customer base. With overall camera market shrinking, thanks to the rise of computational photography, like all its rivals, Leica must see the writing on the wall.

LeicaL1So the company does the next best thing — brand extensions, also known as milking the brand. For instance, it launched two new watches, L1 and L2, which even by the imagination of a drunk gambler in Vegas, these watches aren’t exceptional or exceptionally designed. Just reading the specs, and looking at the designs, it is pretty clear they are NOT worth the $10,000-plus price tags.

There are many better German-made watches, that cost less money, and are better examples of Teutonic minimalism. My friend and editor of watch industry’s most important website, Hodinkee, Stephen Pulvirent, has an exact and opposite opinion, though his readers agree with me. As one of the comments withering states, “Dentists now have a watch.”

For me, these watches are what I said earlier they represent is a desperate desire to milk the Leica brand. As a former cynical business reporter (and now a full-time investor), I see these brand extensions — cellphones, headphones, pens, and watches — as a secret desire of company’s ownership flip the company to a deep-pocketed buyer, preferably among some big luxury conglomerate like Richemont or LVMH. Hermès at one point owned a part of Leica, and I would rather have them own the vaunted company than some of the other conglomerates. Of course, there is Huawei, which is not shy about brandishing their Leica affiliation. Maybe they wouldn’t mind overpaying for the brand.

I will say when camera reviewers and others more polite than me won’t say: when you see Leica watches, you know time might be running out for the iconic camera company.

A letter from Om

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