And now for something completely different.
Here’s a look at a watch that isn’t entirely new but quite rare to come across and a whole lot of fun to handle. Meet the Valbray for Leica EL1 chronograph, a limited edition produced for the 100th anniversary of the iconic German camera manufacturer.
As far as independent brands go, Valbray is as niche as they come, creating watches inspired by the world of photography. And yet, thanks to social media efforts, a more accessible price point than the average independent brand or watchmaker, as well as a unique unique feature that appeals beyond the confines of traditional haute horlogerie and over-engineered complications that the average person simply doesn’t care about, Valbray appear to be enjoying a fair bit of buzz at the moment.
And if there’s one model that epitomizes the brand’s obsession with all things photography (especially analog), it is without a doubt the Valbray for Leica EL1.
Like every Valbray watch to date, the EL 1 Chronograph features the brand’s proprietary diaphragm system, inspired by a camera’s shutter. Besides offering the ability to practically have two dials in one watch – in this case a time-only dial as well as a chronograph, it’s pretty darn cool to operate.
Here’s a quick video I made with my iPhone, demonstrating how easy it is to open and close the diaphragm:
The name EL1 is a tribute to Ernst Leitz, one of the founders of Leica (I didn’t know this before, but the brand name Leica is the contraction of Leitz and camera). From what I was told by Valbray founders Côme deValbray and Olga Corsini, the partnership between Leica and Valbray came about quite organically, where Leica wanted to create a special commemorative timepiece for the brand’s 100th anniversary and had heard about what Valbray were doing.
I don’t usually care much for co-branded watches, but with Valbray’s niche photography-inspired pieces, teaming up with Leica was almost logical. And while the EL1 is based on their emblematic Oculus Chronograph collection, it’s the subtle differences and Leica-themed elements that make it such an interesting special edition piece.
The Valbray EL1 comes in two case variations, either grade 5 titanium with a sandblasted finish or titanium with a black DLC coating, a nod to Leica cameras that often come in either silver or black. Measuring 46mm wide, the EL1 wears slightly smaller than advertised (definitely a good thing), thanks to the relatively wide bezel that integrates the diaphragm’s opening and closing mechanism.
While somewhat tame in its silhouette, you can tell that the people behind the design of the case were clearly after something that was ergonomic and pleasing to touch, full of curves and rounded edges. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise though, as one of the two co-founders’ background is in jewelry design for some of the most revered names.
Valbray’s patented Oculus diaphragm system, consisting of 16 super-thin blades that open and close thanks to a mechanism within the bezel is directly inspired by a camera lens’ shutter diaphragm. It’s quite smooth to operate, again thanks to the wide bezel and finger-friendly surfaces.
The dial itself is decorated with an applied metallic honeycomb grid as well as the signature Valbray “V”. The other elements however recall the layout settings of older Leica cameras. The constant seconds for instance is designed after the isometry button/dial, while the metallic 4.5 markers recalls the aperture of the earliest Leica camera ever made.
The display back features a smoked sapphire crystal recalling a photograph film development “dark room” with the markings left transparent, revealing the Valijoux 7750 based movement with a custom rotor. Nothing exceptional here, but then again one does not buy a Valbray for the movement.
Both watches come with a second strap inspired by, well, a camera carrying strap!
Okay, so Valbray watches may not be for everyone. I’ll admit that in this price segment, there are countless choices from both big as well independent brands with more horological pedigree, so to speak. But if you’re the type of buyer or collector that appreciates diversity and things that are a little different (or just really love photography), then Valbray may be well worth considering. And for me at least, the EL1 is the one to go for.
The Valbray for Leica EL1 is Limited to 50 pieces in sandblasted titanium and 50 pieces in DLC-coated titanium, with a price tag of EUR 17’999. They are available exclusively at Leica boutiques around the world as well as a handful of Valbray retailers.
More information on www.valbray.ch