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From LACO with love - Ruled by passion - The LACO Leipzig Erbstück reviewed



Watch Review by: Mike Stuffler

Watch Brand: LACO 1925

Watch Model: Leipzig Erbstück, reference no. 861936

Retail Price: €1648 (incl. VAT)

Written: November 2016​



Introduction

Being into watches for about four decades now I always felt and still feel attracted to aviator watches in general and Beobachtungsuhren in particular.



(1) LACO's historical link to B-watches

The German term "Beobachtungsuhr" dates back to navigator's watches of WW II.
Strictly translated it would equal to "observation watch", but on most watch related fora you'll read either "pilot's watch", "B-watch", "B-Uhr" or just "Flieger", which is the terminus technicus I like most.

These Beobachtungsuhren have been made for the German Luftwaffe by only 5 manufacturers

A. Lange & Söhne
Laco (Lacher & Co)
Stowa (Walter Storz)
Wempe (Chronometerwerke Hamburg)
IWC

and contained high quality pocket watch movements:

Lange & Söhne: Cal. 48/1
(due to limited capacities watches have been assembled by Huber/Munich, Felsing/Berlin, Schieron/Stuttgart, Schätzle & Tschudin/Pforzheim, Wempe/Hamburg)
Laco: Durowe cal. D 5
Stowa: Unitas cal. 2812
Wempe: Thommen cal. 31
IWC: Cal. 52 SC (SC = „seconde central")

The specifications of these watches were defined by the "Reichsluftfahrtministerium" (RLM) - "Imperial Air Ministry" as you can see in the attached sheet compiled by the RLM:



Due to these RLM specifications all B-watches had the following features in common:

- A case diameter of 55 mm
- Case back engraving with FL 23883 as well as on the left side of the case (FL =flight, 23 =navigation, the 883 was specified by the "Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt" - German Research Institute for Aviation -)



- Equipped with large crowns in order to be able to operate with gloves
- Hacking movement (the second hand stops when pulling out the crown / essential for a precise time setting)
- Breguet balance spring
- Regulated and tested as chronometers
- Long leather strap (to be worn on the sleeve of a flight jacket), most of them have been closed loop leather straps


A Lange & Söhne Beobachtunsuhr back then sold for 95 RM to128 RM.

If you are interested in military watches of WW II I highly recommend to visit the hompage of Konrad Knirim (Milit?ruhren: Collectors Site for Military Timepieces). From time to time Konrad shows up here on WatchUseek, however not as frequent as I would wish.

(2) Laco's history (briefly)

The Beginning
The company Lacher & Co. - the name LACO deriving from the first syllables - was founded by Frieda Lacher and Ludwig Hummel in Pforzheim in the middle of the 1920s. At the time, Pforzheim's many watch manufacturers used to fit their casings almost exclusively with Swiss movements, either delivered complete, or as individual parts - a considerable saving in customs duties - which could then be finished and re-assembled by the factories themselves.

Frieda Lacher and Ludwig Hummel's young business made a successful start, yet after a few years the founders were to go separate ways. Hummel continued to manage the greater part of the original company, the Laco watchmaking factory, while Frieda Lacher branched off into the production of precision parts for wristwatches, such as wheels and pinions. Later, under the direction of her son Erich Lacher, Frieda's branch was to start producing complete watches again. Erich Lacher entered the firm in 1936, which was then renamed the "Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik".



However, it was Laco-Durowe which developed to become a world-class brand and Pforzheim's main watch producer through the sister company "Lacher & Co.", run by Hummel. Hummel, born July 26th 1889 in Engelsbrand (in close vicinity to Pforzheim), wanted to do more than simply fit Swiss mechanisms into cases. Hummel, along with several other Pforzheim watchmakers, tried to gain indepence from the Swiss manufacturers, with the aim of producing his own line of watches. The fact that the wristwatch was comparatively slow to take off in Germany, and that many of Pforzheim's assembly plants continued to need the rough movements from Switzerland, made Hummel's plans somewhat difficult to realize.



The company continued to grow steadily until the outbreak of the Second World War, with the number of mechanisms produced per month increasing from to 20,000 to 30,000. Even during the war, LACO continued to manufacture watches and mechanisms, in particular the aviators' watches. In both models ticked a first-class Durowe 22 line pallet bridge movement, adjusted with chronometer accuracy.

So it was that in 1933 he founded a mechanism-producing company (Durowe -Deutsche Uhren-Rohwerke) which, from the outset, was to supply not only his own LACO plant but other watchmakers as well. The production range was soon to include a wide assortment of high quality wristwatch mechanisms. On offer were two round mechanisms - 8 ¾ (cal. 318) and 10 ½ (cal. 410) lines respectively, and three non-round mechanisms - 5 ¼ (cal. 50), 7 ¾ x 11 (cal. 275) and 10 ½ lines - distinguished by an additional "F" for Formwerk. All of the models were pallet anchor mechanisms with clutch winds - by no means the general rule at that time. Cylinder anchor and pin pallet fork mechanisms were still favoured, with full pallet fork mechanisms tending to feature ratchet winds, whose quality and design were considered less sophisticated.



A company of international standing
The war ended catastrophically for almost all of the Pforzheim manufacturers, including LACO. During an air-raid by the Allies, all the factories were destroyed and more than 80% of the town itself was reduced to rubble. However, the work of rebuilding was to begin soon after the end of the war, and Laco and its sister firm were back in business again by 1949. Helped by the Marshall Plan, Ludwig Hummel built an impressively large 5-storey edifice to house Laco-Durowe, which was later further extended, so that by the middle of the 1950s 1,400 people were working there. Production of rough movements rose to 80,000 a month, giving some idea of the company's dramatic growth over this period.

The years up until 1959 may be regarded as Lacher's "golden age". LACO enjoyed a strong market position with the manual wind and - starting in 1952 - with the automatic models, while Durowe supplied various watchmakers with an ever-increasing number of reliable and high-quality movements.

Unique to Pforzheim
Seen through the eyes of collectors and enthusiasts of German precision engineering, this period offers a wealth of particularly interesting models.
Firstly, the "Laco-Sport" which introduced the "Duromat" - 11 ½ lines (552 cal.), the first automatic movement to be produced by Durowe as of 1952.
This movement, with its 18,000 semioscillations and two-directional rotor, based on the 422 cal. manual wind, made Durowe one of the first German manufacturers of automatics.
Neither to be forgotten is the 1957 Laco-Chronometer. A unique movement was developed especially - the manual wind 630 (13 lines) - with which Laco aimed to repeat the success of the aviator watches. Exactly how many Laco-Chronometers were produced is not known, but the number is unlikely to have been great.
Later Durowe brought out the slimmest German automatic ever (1963-4). The "Planomat" - 11 ½ lines, 600 cal. - checked in at a mere 4.6 mm, while the model featuring a date function (610 cal.) measured 4.75 mm.

Laco goes global
By this time, Laco-Durowe had already been owned for some years by the U.S. Time Corporation, better known as "Timex". As a result of a slump in sales, Ludwig Hummel sold the company to the American watchmaking giant on 01.02.59, Timex being particularly interested in Laco-Durowe's advanced research into the possibilities of electrical and electronic timepieces. With the emphasis heavily on this aspect of the business, the "Laco-electric" was to appear in 1961 - Germany's first reliably functioning electric watch. An attempt by a Mr Epperlein of Ersingen to introduce the first electric watch onto the market in 1958 had been largely unsuccessful, owing to design flaws. So here too, it was Lacher that was to set the technical pace.

The company did not remain in American ownership for long. On 01.09.1965, the Swiss firm Ebauches S.A. took over Durowe - however, Lacher & Co. and the brand name LACO were not swallowed up. The Swiss, who from now on wanted Durowe to produce only mechanical movements for ladies' and gents' wristwatches, acquired easy access to the markets of the then E.E.C.- today's European Union - through the German company. Durowe remained a dominant producer - in 1974, a total of 550,000 movements were manufactured.

However, the Japanese quartz revolution was to mean that even the once mighty Laco-Durowe concern soon sank into oblivion.

LACO reborn
Fortunately, during the 1980s someone at Erich Lacher Uhrenfabrik - which all these years had continued to exist and produce as Laco's "little sister" - still remembered the two companies' joint beginnings, and the prestige of the Laco name. Consequently, on September 8th 1988 the managing partner Horst Günther acquired the rights to the LACO name and logo, which enabled the company to start producing a modern range of high-quality LACO watches. Even today, most of these watches are mechanical - but they now tick with Swiss or Japanese "hearts". The fortunes of the firm were in the hands of Andreas Günther, the sixth management generation.

To celebrate the watchmaking company's 75th anniversary, Lacher re-issued 75 of its legendary '40s pilots' watches - 80% of the parts used having been replicated from the original model. All the other components, in particular the pinions and the wheel plate for the indirectly driven central second hand, were manufactured in limited quantities. The 75 limited edition watches sold for 7.500,--DM a piece.
As the anniversary edition of the LACO pilot's watch was such a great success the company decided to launch a new pilot's watch series of even higher quality at the beginning of the year 2003. These five new models are available exclusively with refined mechanical movements (Côte de Genève and blued screws) which can be seen through the exhibition back. All those models are equipped with stainless steel cases and a domed sapphire crystal. A luxury presentation box including a spare leather strap underlines the high quality of this new series of pilot watches. Furthermore it comprises two models with a case diameter of 36 mm which makes them also available for ladies.
Restart with new owners
LACO sailed through troubled waters for some time (members here will remember the "Support LACO Chronograph") and finally LACO had to file for insolvency on 30.06.2009.



They tried hard to recover and recapitalize the company and to try to save the work places in Pforzheim. Intensive negotiations with various companies took place. Amongst those interested the KIENZLE AG mistakenly turned out to be the right partner. For a very short period LACO was to be found under the umbrella of the "Kienzle Lacher Uhrenmanufaktur GmbH" but KIENZLE went into liquidation very soon.
Already in spring 2010 LACO re-started with eight staff members and turned back to their roots: They now focused on manufacture instead of industry. This new direction finally was a successful way into a more prosperous future.

In the meantime, a new CEO (Uwe Rücker) is on board, LACO is back on the track and doing well.
Since that time, not only the traditionally successful treasuries as the Flieger-Uhren have been refined under the new leadership. Since 2010, LACO has successfully managed to launch about two dozens of new models onto the market.

The watch as such

I know that "homage" is the most and widely misused term in the watch world. In an almost accurate meaning of the word and relating to watches a "homage" should be something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of a predecessor.



That being said it is evident that every "Erbstück" produced by LACO is a very well made and thoughtful "homage" to the Lacher & Co. observation watches made during World War II.



So it is no surprise at all that the LACO Erbstück collection consists of both iconic dial configurations, Baumuster Type A and B.

Cases are available in 42mm and 45mm. Movements are the venerable work horse ETA 2824-2 and its family member ETA 2801.

Innovative treatment of the surface in various levels of aging is simulating signs of wear and tear, thus giving the watch the very special appeal of a historic timepiece. But this watch that bears scratches, supposed traces of rust and comes with an antique strap is actually brand new.

LACO has developed a process that gives watches an artificial patina of age, enhancing them with historic charm.

The name - Erbstück" (translates into heirloom) - was created when Bhanu Chopra and I met with Laco's new CEO Uwe Rücker and Dorothea, Ursula and Sarah at LACO's booth in Basel.
In March 2016 LACO presented the prototype of this timepiece at Baselworld, the most important international watch and jewellery fair worldwide. To managing director Uwe Rücker, the response of visitors to the booth of the family-owned Pforzheim company, was "overwhelmingly positive."

Here are some Baselworld 2016 pics to show how the prototype looked like:











By then the prototype of this watch shown to us had no name. It took us only a couple of minutes of joint brain storming et voilá we thought out a suitable name in almost no time.

The "Erbstück" was born. The name was perfectly obvious. Usually you'd call it a inherited time piece, a drawer or attic find, and also most of those pieces would show signs of (heavy) wear and tear. To find a NIB WW II-Beobachtungsuhr is almost impossible and so every Erbstück also creates the impression of having been worn for several generations.

Pilot watches have been LACO's playground for over 80 years. Just how clinged owners of these traditional timepieces are to their treasures becomes apparent when even heavily scuffed and extremely stressed specimens show up in Pforzheim for repair.
"Over and over again our customers have let us know that scratches and other marks of the ravages of time are precisely what constitutes the character of their watches, which is why they particularly appreciate them" CEO Uwe Rücker stated. That is how the idea originated to artificially help the decades' long ageing process along, thus transforming the original into an antique replica with just a few days of work.

To create an "Erbstück", the case of a stainless steel pilot watch is individually hand-finished by a metals expert to produce the "visual effect of rust". The dial is given an "aligned" patina to underline the wear and tear effect. The prototpye's hands' luminous material was uneven and cracked to the extent that it no longer appears to exist on the hands. That changed insificantly with the current line-up.

The thermically blued hands are still hand-finished and artificially aged by sticklers for details and generally completely coated with Superluminova (C3).
Partially cracked hands are available on special request only. I decided to go with hands being well artificially aged but "complete" for the sake of readability. Even those are hand finished and you can see some spots of color deviations.



From the blueprint to applying the finishing touches everything is crafted by hand and driven by passion to deliver precision, clarity and character. All watches do of course have the LACO DNA in common, however - and this is pivotal to know - no two watches created are made the same. Admittedly they might look similar but they are not. Handmade in Germany conveys a meaning for every Erbstück.

The love to detail and the manufacturing process with its high ratio of hand-finishing have impact on the delivery time (presently 3-4 weeks) and - of course - costs which is almost the double (€850 vs. €1648).

When visiting the Munichtime 2016 I spent a couple of hours to handle the Erbstück in the flesh to make up my mind what Erbstück to order.

Munichtime pics:







My LACO Leipzig Erbstück





After having handled the Erbstück in Munich I decided to order the 42mm Leipzig Erbstück with the handwinding Laco 01movement (which equals to ETA 2801) in a mildly aged grade (Alterung "mittlere" Stufe). As already mentioned above I decided to go with hands being well artificially aged but "complete" for the sake of readability.

Case, Crown & Pushers

The perfectly sand-blasted stainless steel in antique look is only one of the eye-catching highlights of the LACO Leipzig Erbstück.







The case and diamond crown convey a unique antiqued look. Finished by hand case and crown look somehow distressed, rubbed off, weathered, dinged and (slightly) scratched but nevertheless very solid. I really like the look of this aged metal. No fear to leave any fingerprints on this specially treated stainless steel case.



The 42 mm diameter looks great even on a smaller wrist (6,5''') and with an overall height of 13 mm the Leipzig easily fits with any shirt cuff.



Of course the Leipzig Erbstück got the FL 23883 engraving on the left side of the case.



The crown is the typical diamond crown in the style we are accustomed to with regard to its predecessors of World War II.



However, the crown shows artificial wear and tear as well. Looking more closely at it you'd think it has got rusty and shabby during the run of time.





Out of the box you will not feel any friction when winding the watch. Winding the watch goes very smooth as it is supposed to. The crown itself feels solid enough to overcome thousands and thousands of pull out / push in and winding operations.

Following the patterns of its predecessor the solid case back is a press-on one with a noticeable gap to open up the back with a watchmaker's knife and engraved in the style the predecessors' case backs were engraved as well (inside):



Of course the "new" back is also elaborately finished by hand and does look like being rubbed-off, glossy at the edge, stained in the middle.





Movement

The watch is powered by an ETA 2801, elaboré grade. This 17-jewels-movement is known to provide a power reserve of +/- 42 hours and is commonly known as a very reliable workhorse as is its family member 2824-2.
It would be too early to give a full report on the accuracy of my Leipzig Erbstück because I wasn't wearing the new kid on the block every day. Bearing in mind it might need some run in time I am already quit satisfied as it performs out of the box with +3/+4 seconds/24 hrs.

Dial and hands



The LACO Leipzig Erbstück dial is manufactured following the Baumuster B requirements of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM).

With the exception of the use of Superluminova C 3 (; the original watches used radium) it is very close to the looks of the 55mm WW II Laco B-Uhr carried out in black matte.



Lume: The even minute numbers (10, 20, 30, etc.) and indexes on the outer circle are coated with luminous material, as well as the dots of the inner hour circle.
The odd numbers (15,25,35 etc.) and hour numerals are not coated and thus they stay white.

Of course the dial is aged as well to underline the vintage look and feel.



The luminous hands are thermically blued but that's par for the course. The compound used is Superluminova C 3. For the sake of better readability I decided to go for non cracked hands.



However, it should be noted that the hands are "decorated" by hand in a similar way case and dial are finished. So a closer inspection at day light will reveal that the Erbstück hands are partly artificially aged as well. They do feature darker spots/stains and these spots/stains as tiny as they are do have some (minor) impact at night.
There is less readability but the rest of the non aged Luminova compound is sufficient to warrant readability at night. I dare to say that night owls will not enjoy the watch as much as I do. The Erbstück definitely does not glow like a torch in the night. Then again, without these stains and spots the overall impression would not be the same.

The aforementioned fact implies that no set of hands is 100% identical to another set.

All three do fit perfectly, perfectly in length and width. The tip of the minute hand exactly meets the outer circle as it is supposed to do. Same is valid for the seconds hand. The shorter but bigger hour hand ends at the inner circle.

Crystal

The watch is fitted with a domed sapphire crystal which does not line up precisely with its bezel. It's raised a bit which - again - is in accordance with the looks of its historical predecessor and contributes to the vintage vibe.
The crystal is AR-coated on the inside only. Not sure if you can optionally chose for inside/outside AR-coating.

Strap
The LACO Leipzig Erbstück is fitted with a closed loop brown pilot calf leather strap with rivets, 20mm lug width. Close to the rivets the buckle side of the strap is embossed with "LACO".



This strap is a genuine antique one since it is made out of historic postal and military bags which makes each "Erbstück" strap one of a kind.



The strap surface feels soft, suede like. Despite how the top feels the strap is accomplishing its task. The shiny stainless steel parts are not treated in the way the case is, imho something LACO should think about.

Box and Manual

Whilst the LACO web site still mentions a "Black gift box, incl. cardboard box" my watch came in a lovely wooden box (walnut veneer) wrapped in a white cardboard box.



The wooden box itself is fitted with a yellow-brown (sand) colored inlay with two compartments, one for the watch, the other one for the manual.

The watch itself was provided with two tags, iF Design Award 2015 and bar code sticker on a small piece of leather "Laco 1925 Made in Germany".



In the second compartment you will find the guarantee card (hopefully the least you need), a small manual explaining how to operate the movements and giving some info on water resistance and hints on service and costs and a leaflet with very brief information on the Erbstück.



Price

Price is 1648 Euro.

Warranty

The watch comes with a 2 years warranty.

Summary

LACO surpassed themselves by launching the Erbstück models. As the title of my review already indicates the Erbstück line is made with love and ruled by passion which is embodied in every little ding, stain and spot.



However, the Erbstück is far away from being just a gimmick, it is inherently consistent, well thought, sophisticated. The aging process is state of the art and still the watch has an unbeatable vintage vibe.



On our PilMil forum a member most recently asked whether it is worth to pay the premium for the Erbstück given the "regular" Leizpig retails for €850.
There is no yes or no. Answering a question like this of course depends on personal preferences (and budget restrictions ?) We need to bear in mind that Erbstück cases, dials and hands are finished by hand, the process of artificially ageing cases, dials and hands is not only time-consuming it does take up a lot of manpower. To create an "Erbstück", the case of an "Erbstück" is individually hand-finished by a metals expert to produce the "visual effect of rust". The dial is given a patina and the luminous material is fitted with artificial spots and stains as well. Not an easy job. Not cheap either. The leather strap is manufactured from vintage postal and military bags. With every "Erbstück" you will get a unique item not existing a second time.
Worth the premium ? Most likely not for everybody, but YES.



I am happy I took the plunge. That being said I am sure that those not being a stickler for details will be very satisfied with a "regular" Leipzig as well. The Erbstück is just putting the cherry on the cake. You need to see it in the flesh and I am sure I would hear a WOW.

Hope you enjoyed reading my review. If there is any question left, do not hesitate to ask.
 

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Incredible review, Mike. More like an encyclopedic article on the history of Pforzheim watchmaking, the Laco company, and B-uhr, all in one. Thanks for putting together such a thoroughly researched, documented, and photographed article. It must have taken a lot of time, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Kind regards,

Myron
 

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Truly a work of art. Enjoy!
 

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|> |>

Not just a review, but a "lesson" in history as well.
Thank you so much for this, Mike.
This must have cost you quite some time and I, for one, really appreciate it all and thoroughly enjoyed the same.

|> |>
 

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What a great watch and a great review!

The Laco history on its own is amazing!

Really great watch, and definitely on my list for next year!......just need to clear some more space 1st!
 

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I have been looking forward to this promised review. I knew it would be good, but you have certainly overdelivered. What a great review and resource. Thank you for writing it!

I have been talking myself down from upgrading to a Laco B-Uhr for about two years now, and a review like this certainly pushes me further and further in that direction. I don't know that I will personally spring for an Erbstück, but I can absolutely see why one would. What a unique, beautiful and detailed work of art.
 

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Mike - thanks so much for the detailed review. The Leipzig looks amazing. Also very much appreciate your response on if the Erbstuck premium is worth the price gap. Much to think about on what is next purchase but the Leipzig or Memmingen Erbstuck are on the short list.


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Mike - love the pictures you have posted - would you mind posting a few on the wrist? Would like to get a perspective on how it looks/wears on a day to day basis. Thanks!


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Excellent review, very well written, comprehensive and informative. Can I ask for a lume shot or two, please?
Now I think this is the best modern B-Uhr watch made, character shapes beauty.
 
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