As Leica has increasingly moved away from its historic origins as a working camera and been transformed into a luxury commodity, it has been criticized by purists for what many think a craven pandering to excess – witness the “Sultan of Brunei” Special Edition Leica of 1995.
The reality is somewhat different. As early as 1929, only 4 years removed from the introduction of the original Leica A, Leitz was offering “for a small extra fee” a dyed calf leather covering in place of the standard vulcanite. The discriminating Leicaphile had the choice of 4 different colors: green, blue, red or brown. In the same year, Leitz also introduced the “Luxus Leica,” a standard Leica A plated in matte gold and covered with red lizard skin.
A rare calf-leather covered Leica A from 1930 – one of only three examples known to exist – sold for 120,000 Euros in 2011. Unlike the gold-plated Luxus, the calf-leather Leica A is understated, and in my opinion very beautiful.
In 1957, Leitz offered a gold plated M3 complete with gold meter and collapsible Summicron; in 1979, a 1000 unit run of gold M4-2’s were produced with gold accented Summilux; and in 1984 a 1000 unit run of gold R4’s. All proof that tastelessness and wretched excess have co-existed since the beginning with leicaphilia.